Tuesday, November 9, 2022, was a good day for democracy. We won the races we needed to win. We bought ourselves, as Tom Nichols wrote, some breathing room to continue the struggle. In places like Pennsylvania and Arizona, the worst of the worst Ultra MAGA candidates lost. Young voters came out in the places we needed them and countered the Republican votes of Generation X and the Baby Boomers.
But as we’ve noted in these pages, it was not a complete victory. Next week, Republicans will, however narrowly, take control of the US House of Representatives. Kevin McCarthy, whose absolution of Donald Trump after January 6th allowed the former president to remain the leader of his party, is attempting to become Speaker of the House. The worst of Trump’s followers, like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene, continue their march toward real power and authority.
Just days after the new Congress is sworn in, we’ll mark the second anniversary of the first attempted coup in US history. Despite the yeoman work done by the Select Committee, all who conspired, aided, or abetted the conspiracy that day have yet to face justice. They’ve faced little sanction, and certainly not from their own party. And while the wheels of justice must necessarily turn slowly, their crawl is no less frustrating.
On January 20th, we will celebrate, and yes, it is a celebration, the halfway mark of President Joe Biden’s first term. From being sworn in among the wreckage – physical and spiritual – of American democracy to being one of the most successful chief magistrates since FDR, Biden has provided what this country desperately needed – a steady hand.
He and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden have returned decency and normalcy to the White House. Despite the grouses about his age, this president has confidently moved the country forward – on behalf of all Americans, and democracy (at home and abroad), much to the chagrin of Republicans and our foreign adversaries.
At this two-year mark, where do we stand? Despite the legitimate exhaustion of an omnipresent political culture, this is not new for us. Since our founding, Americans have engaged in politics as a 24/7/365 endeavor. Our fights have been rough and tumble. The Civil War, whose seeds were sown in the Constitution, took decades to germinate into the bloodiest struggle in American history. And though exhausting, as the pro-democracy coalition, we must maintain our steadfastness – there are few days off in this fight.
The intransigence of the pre-Civil War Southern states as their way of life was threatened by a growing abolitionist movement, and federal legislation is roughly mirrored in today’s MAGA, ultra-rightwing movement, largely based on racial grievance, religious zealotry, and greed. Matched with an authoritarian movement, we hear echoes of both the 1860s and the 1930s.
In 2023, the pro-democracy movement has more of a role to play now than at any time in the last decade. Yes, Donald Trump has announced his intention to run for president for the third time. The tentacles of his movement have moved beyond him and moved the Republican Party to a place unrecognizable to someone like me, who grew up in the GOP and worked within it for many years. Even those that would challenge Trump for their party’s nomination are implicit in their support for the MAGA movement. Not because they believe in much but because they believe in nothing. Nothing but power, that is.
The next 12 months will set the stage for the 2024 presidential election, and we have a lot of work to do. First, we must ask ourselves why we’re in this fight. In the trenches: Day after day, month after month, year after year, against some of the most dangerous people to emerge from American politics is rewarding beyond words, but also exhausting.
We fight because we know the American Experiment must continue. We are at the proverbial fork in the road. One direction leads to darkness. In some ways, this is the easier path for many people because it requires nothing of them, and allows for their worst instincts to flow. The path forward toward a new American democracy leads to more work. Read that again: Victory in this struggle means more work for all of us. Because after this immediate threat is defeated, the work of rebuilding, reconstructing, and reforming American political life and American democracy will take years, and extend beyond individual election cycles.
Next, we must continue to build the pro-democracy coalition across the country and deeper into those states we know will be the epicenter of the Electoral College fight. This means that more of us who disagree on policy and ideological issues will need to operate with open minds, open hearts, and open hands. It will mean, for someone like me, forbearance for those who’ve left Trump’s bubble and attempting to pay their penance.
MAGA buys in bulk, but it sells one at a time. If we continue to treat half our countrymen as gun-toting, uneducated rubes, we will never win enough of them back to ensure our collective future. This does not mean accepting the worst of the worst. It does mean, though, seeing that those that disagree with us are not always the enemy, and denigrating their place in the world will only force them deeper into the pit Trump dug for them and into which too many happily jumped. Research shows, too, that many of those who feel most strongly for Trump and his ilk are upper middle-class, educated, successful white Americans: Look in the mirror and you’ll see your friends, brothers, and sisters.
Patience and fortitude. We will need all of it we can find within ourselves in the next two years. The rewards of success and the consequences of failure are beyond adequate description here. Find your reason to fight. Whatever it may be. Meditate on it. Go back to it on those days when you can’t take one more step. Make it your lodestone and guiding light. If we each do that every day, we’ll wake up on a cold November morning in 2024 with the pride of knowing that when the time came, we did our part.