The conversations I’ve been having with Democrats lately are depressing. It’s not just that they are resigned to losing Congress in 2022, it’s that they are resigned to losing our democracy in 2024.
They believe that Republicans are rigging the system through gerrymandering and rule changes that allow legislatures to undermine the electorate. They think that we are headed for an extended period of minority rule under an autocratic system that will keep the GOP in power despite the will of the people. They might be right.
There’s little doubt that the Republican base believes The Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. They’ve got an entire national propaganda apparatus that spreads the lie and justifies the actions of those who will subvert the electoral process to ensure GOP victory. They’ve downplayed the attack on the Capitol calling the invaders “tourists” or mocking the prospect of success. They’ve compared an attempt at ending our democracy with the riots that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Formerly responsible Republicans refuse to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions. The GOP leadership uniformly denounced Donald Trump for inciting the attack and then promptly refused to hold him accountable. Now, they say they want to move on.
The assault on democracy is multi-pronged. Republican elected officials gerrymander districts using technology to carefully draw districts that ensure GOP success and limit competitive races. The outrage of the GOP base is reaching fever pitch with the distortions of the propaganda machine, ensuring high voter turnout and support for rule changes that will allow GOP elected bodies or appointees to overturn election outcomes.
In GOP world, any Democratic victory is tainted by fraud. New Jersey, they claimed, was a stolen election when Democratic Governor Phil Murphy eked out a victory that he should have won by double digits. In Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin pulled off a major upset, nobody questioned the results. It’s a world of delusion that enables the crushing of democracy.
Democrats have yet to mount any sort of unified or effective response to what feels like a freight train of illiberalism coming down the tracks. None of their election reform bills can get through Congress. And while the GOP base seems increasingly angry and motivated, the Democratic base seems increasingly splintered and apathetic. The left lacks a propaganda network to keep them outraged or the leadership to show them a clear path forward.
The combination of a GOP united around a lie and a quest for power and a Democratic Party that can’t unite around anything leaves a feeling of hopelessness and despair. The future looks bleak. Gerrymandering will almost certainly ensure Republicans control the House of Representatives even if Democrats nationally receive a majority of the vote. Similar scenarios will play out in state legislatures like it has here. Evenly split electorates result in veto proof majorities for the GOP.
I suspect the fears will come true, in part, because that’s the history of our country. Periods of expanded access to the ballot like we’ve seen since the Civil Rights Movement are followed by periods of reactionary illiberalism. In the wake of the Civil War, we saw an explosion of democracy in the South that was followed by a period of minority rule kept in check by violence and intimidation. Today, the reactionaries are not only armed, they are celebrating vigilantism, promoting people like Kyle Rittenhouse to hero status. Polite Republicans may disagree with promoting violence but they won’t do anything to reel it in.
What those Democrats see coming is the end of democracy as we’ve known it for the past 50 or so years and they feel helpless to do anything about it.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.