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writing for godot

Democracy's Last Stand

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Wednesday, 14 October 2020 03:36

Democracy’s Last Stand

by Stephen Wing

1. The Rule of the Non-Voting Majority

Not voting because the system is corrupt? I'm afraid you have it backward. The system is corrupt because of people not voting. Non-voters are the majority. They decide every election. Not voting is a vote for the way things are. The rich, white and powerful are doing everything they can to eliminate your right to vote because they know your vote counts, whether you believe it or not.

Not voting because you don't like the candidates? Politics is a game of strategy, not a morality contest. In the primary, vote for the morally righteous candidate. On Election Day, vote for the candidate who can be most useful to your strategic goals. Churchgoing right-wing extremists have no problem voting for the most immoral candidate in recorded history to advance their agenda. And so far, they’re winning.

Not voting because the issues batted around on the debate stage don't affect you? Those are not the real issues. The Republicans and their financial backers carefully hide their true agenda – to roll back every law and regulation that limits their wealth and power, including our right to protest, and especially our right to vote. Your vote is all that stands in the way of their dream of a democracy-free America, and this just might be your last chance to use it.

Not voting because Netflix and iTunes and ESPN take up all your time? Life is not a spectator sport. We’ve all grown up assuming that Social Security, unemployment, food stamps, worker safety, consumer protection, public schools, minimum wage, environmental regulation – and so much more – will always be there when we need them. But all of these were victories won by voting, and every one of them can be taken away. The forces that opposed democracy at every step have never stopped pushing back, even as most of us have stopped pushing ahead.

Not voting because one vote won't make much difference either way? Democracy starts way before Election Day. Join a campaign – any campaign – and amplify your voice by persuading others to vote your way. If you can't find a candidate you can honestly support, from the school board to the White House, join one of the progressive organizations campaigning just to get out the vote.

Not voting because the candidates you vote for always disappoint you if they win? Democracy doesn’t end after Election Day. The right-wing extremists never let up the pressure on the people they elect. The freedoms they want to take away are hard-won victories of voters who elected strategically useful candidates – then kept up the pressure in the streets, in letters and phone calls, and in the courtroom.

Not voting because you refuse to take sides in a power struggle between the two faces of the corporate-monopoly state? In 2020, not voting is a vote for a one-party authoritarian state. Obviously we can't rely on corporate Democrats to push through a Green New Deal or Medicare for All, cut the military budget, end police impunity or dark money PACs. But if the Republicans win, all of these possibilities are off the table, probably for good, and we’ll be fighting to save what little freedom we have left.

Not voting? Donald Trump appreciates your support!

2. Strategically Speaking . . .

Despite their moral shortcomings, for the most part the Democrats have played the game called “democracy” by its admittedly imperfect rules. But the Republicans are playing a completely different game, with no rules at all except to win at any cost. Their entire strategy consists of lies, gerrymandering, voter suppression, intimidation, and more lies. False allegations of cheating by Democrats are the key to the Republican plan to win by cheating.

We can expect these allegations to rise to a crescendo on Election Night because of uncounted absentee ballots. This is why voting early, whether in person (prudently masked) or absentee, is the most strategic choice. Joe Biden is a career corporate Democrat: not the moral choice, but clearly the strategic one. Only a landslide Biden victory on Nov. 3 can head off post-election mayhem in the streets and in the courts. (See link #1 below.)

I voted for Bernie in the primary, but have no problem settling for Biden when the alternative is Donald Trump. But even if Trump loses both the popular and electoral vote, the Constitution gives him several legal options to seize power for a second term – provided the vote count is somewhat close when the polls close on Election Day. This is another strategic reason why we need a Biden landslide. (See link #2 below.)

Even more important than defeating Trump is to flip the six seats the Democrats need to take back the Senate. If Biden becomes our next President, we’ll need a progressive majority in Congress to hold him to his campaign promises. And if Trump claws his way into the White House for a second term, taking away his majority in the Senate is a must. With both houses of Congress standing solidly in opposition, the Republican roll-back of democracy might conceivably be stopped.

For one thing, a Democratic majority in Congress is our only hope of overturning the decisions of a right-wing Supreme Court. And Donald Trump could at last be held accountable for his mounting list of high crimes and misdemeanors. The next time Trump is impeached, he could face an actual trial. President Pence would not be much of an improvement, but he would enter the Oval Office on notice that he too will be held accountable to the rule of law.

Senate candidates who are challenging Republican incumbents are Mark Kelly in Arizona, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, Barbara Bollier in Kansas, Amy McGrath in Kentucky (facing Mitch McConnell), Sara Gideon in Maine (facing Susan Collins), Steve Bullock in Montana, Cal Cunningham in N.C., and Jaime Harrison in S.C. (facing Lindsay Graham). Georgia has two: Jon Ossoff (facing David Perdue) and Raphael Warnock (the most progressive of a long list seeking Kelly Loeffler’s seat in a special election.) All are easy to find on the internet. You do not have to live in their state to support them with your time and/or money.

I myself don’t have much money to contribute, but I am donating a few hours a week to the Senate campaign of Raphael Warnock here in Georgia. So far I have been mainly phone-banking – making calls to Democrats who have not consistently turned out to vote. Once I got the hang of the high-tech software involved, my two-hour shifts have gone smoothly. I use my own cell phone, but my number does not appear on caller ID. The software dials and alerts me when someone picks up the phone. I read the script provided by the campaign and check the appropriate boxes on my computer screen, indicating a supporter, undecided, not interested, not home, or wrong number. Occasionally I reach someone who is open to an actual conversation.

I have also tried my hand at a "lit drop" – going door to door with a special app on my phone that identifies potential Warnock voters, and hanging an information card on their doorknobs. Ringing doorbells and speaking with the voters used to be part of this venerable political tradition, formerly called “canvassing,” but coronavirus put a stop to that. The new protocol turns it into a useful and relatively painless form of exercise – if the weather cooperates. Again, occasionally I find someone sitting on the porch and can chat for a minute as I hand over the literature.

I am a private person, and both of these tasks are a definite step outside my comfort zone. But so much is riding on this election that I feel compelled to do what I can. I encourage you to look around for some way to help in these critical last few weeks. There are many options besides phone-banking and canvassing. Contributing financially is especially helpful for candidates like Rev. Warnock who do not accept PAC money.

If you're not into helping Democrats, how about helping democracy? Here are just a few of the progressive organizations that are campaigning hard for maximum voter turnout:


Sierra Club:

Daily Kos:

Swing Left:


Or how about an organization focused on stopping voter suppression:

Or another that is recruiting poll workers for election day:

3. The Moral Stakes of the Game

I speak of politics as a game, but of course it is a deadly serious one. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are among its recent casualties, as are the 215,000 Americans dead of coronavirus so far, and the folks who have lost their homes to wildfires in California and to hurricanes in Louisiana. The moral stakes of the game are high: as high as Earth’s embattled atmosphere, as high as the hopes of schoolchildren, as high as the aspirations of the working-class poor.

The Republicans have known for decades that they would eventually become a minority, and have aggressively pursued a strategy aimed at minority rule. The architects of voter suppression and court-packing are staking everything on Donald Trump, and they will do whatever it takes to win. If they succeed, they will do whatever it takes to permanently lock in their victory. (See link #3 below.) If you think racist violence and economic inequality and planetary ecocide are bad now, trust me, you do not want to see a country under permanent Republican “law and order.” Trump's threats to throw his political opponents into prison could become a grim reality.

True, under Democrats and Republicans alike, we have long been ruled from behind the scenes by a white, male minority – the "One Percent." The conservative billionaires who want to gut every regulation that limits their profits, the neoliberal neocons who want to liberate capital and outlaw democracy around the globe, the multinational corporations who don't pay taxes but pump millions into politics – they have all invested heavily in both parties for years. We owe moral allegiance to neither party. But from a strategic standpoint they are not identical twins.

Today's Republicans are a coalition of extremists. The fundamentalist fanatics who lust for their own version of Sharia Law to force women to have baby after baby. The fossil-fuel profiteers who will literally kill to keep burning carbon. The gun-toting whites who cling to our racist past because corporate America has stolen everything else they had. The ultrawealthy who resent paying any taxes at all to support public education, public infrastructure, dignity for the disabled and elderly. Their right-wing extremist goals are unpopular, so their campaign ads focus on misrepresenting their opponents as left-wing extremists.

To counter this strategy, the Democrats have no choice but to appeal to the rest of us. They recognize that this means embracing diversity. It means protecting the middle class. It means expanding affordable health care. It means welcoming immigrants. It means keeping abortion legal. It means purging white supremacists who have infiltrated the police. It means defending the right to vote. Most importantly, it means taking ambitious steps to cut the feedback loops that are feeding climate change.

Bernie Sanders and his progressive supporters have pushed the Democratic Party to embrace these goals, borrowing the strategy of the extremists who hijacked the Republican Party. But these goals are not extreme, as Trump wants his devotees to believe. They represent the vital needs of the vast majority – the 99 Percent, which includes most of Trump’s supporters whether they know it or not.

The One Percent has more dollars to promote its agenda than we do. But we have more votes. The one thing the 99 Percent has never tried is 100 percent voter turnout. In 2020, the alternatives are so stark and the stakes are so high that maybe even the non-voting majority will turn out and take a stand. And if they continue to turn out in every election from now on, things might start to change. The ground is shifting underfoot; anything is possible.

Voting Democrats into power isn't the solution, only a strategy. Democrats gave us the New Deal, the Voting Rights Act, legalized abortion and gay marriage, but it was Richard Nixon who gave us the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act. In every case it was not the politicians who made it happen but people voting, marching, taking the government to court. These victories fell short of the total reform of democracy, but all were strategic steps in the right direction. And all are under threat from Trump's coalition of extremists.

The corporate Democrats have made bold promises, but only because they are desperate for our votes. Whether they keep their promises after Election Day is up to us. In the past, progressives have helped to elect a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama and then settled back on the couch to watch. We need to study the example of the right-wing extremists who’ve been kicking our butts. Instead of settling back, we need to turn up the pressure. This is a strategic opportunity to take over the Democratic Party for the working and middle classes, just as right-wing extremists have taken over the G.O.P. for the One Percent.

We can’t afford to blow it. If the Republicans have their way, we are now in the final round of the game. The trophy they are salivating over is a golden opportunity to roll back all the gains democracy has made since the New Deal of the 1930s – and probably farther back than that. If they win, we will find out how far they intend to go. All the way back to 1868, perhaps, when the 14th Amendment guaranteed due process and equal protection under the law. This is the legal basis for all civil rights legislation, and the current nominee to the Supreme Court has hinted that she believes it was adopted unconstitutionally. (See link #4 below.)

It’s possible that we might eventually regain all that lost ground – but it would take millions of people marching in the streets, decade after decade, just as it did the first time around. With the vast apparatus of a police state now in place, backed by armed white supremacist militias, with increasingly restricted access to the ballot box and hostile judges in the courts, that promises to be an ugly process, and the odds would be stacked high against us. If we don't vote massively and decisively for democracy in 2020, we may not get another chance.

Whatever freedom we have today we owe to generations of activists and door-to-door canvassers and protesters in the streets: abolitionists, suffragettes, Freedom Riders, draft resisters, Water Protectors. I have often been guilty of letting them carry that burden for me. But the only way we can protect the freedoms they won – and even dream of reclaiming the freedoms we have lost since the Reagan era – is to step into the game. All of us. Now. There is no neutral place to stand on the sidelines and watch. Nor is there any guarantee that we can win, but the only alternative is to concede defeat. By not voting, for example. Or by casting a noble symbolic vote for the Greens. Or by swimming the Rio Grande to try our luck in Mexico. It’s democracy’s last stand in the U.S.A. If we choose not to participate, fascism American-style wins without a fight. Checkmate!

Thanks for doing whatever you can do.



Link #1: How Trump plans to use Election Night uncertainty to claim victory, Barton Gellman in The Atlantic:

Link #2: How Trump can lose both the popular and electoral votes and still Constitutionally win re-election, Thom Hartmann at Buzzflash:

Link #3: How a right-wing coup could legally establish minority rule in the United States, Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

Link #4: How Amy Coney Barrett's nomination signals the intent to overrule democracy in 2020 and beyond, an interview with Lisa Graves by Bill Moyers: your social media marketing partner
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