American Democracy remains in grave danger. It sucks that we still have to talk about this, but it sucks even more that this is our “new normal”. Why is our democracy in such terrible shape, and what must we do to have a better chance at saving it?
WARNING: Today’s story covers sensitive topics, such as murder and terrorism. This story also includes some adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
the bartender needs to cut this guy off pic.twitter.com/hG1o7MGtgc
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 19, 2021
As expected, the Build Back Better Act finally passed the House early Friday morning. As expected, Nevada’s delegation split precisely along party lines: Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) all voted for the Build Back Better Act, while Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) voted against. And as expected, House Republicans put on a huge show to not just register their opposition, but to flat-out lie about what the House was voting on.
If you were paying attention to any of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-California) eight-hour marathon of a faux filibuster, you would have been bombarded with imagery of Democrats “defunding Israel”, raising gas prices, stealing away “thousands of blue-collar jobs”, siccing the FBI to “target parents”, and “paying illegal immigrants”. In fact, none of that is in the Build Back Better Act.
Kevin McCarthy complains that Trump hasn't won a Nobel Prize pic.twitter.com/3gybJSHBoI
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 19, 2021
There’s no foreign aid in it at all. McCarthy cherry-picked from the American Petroleum Institute’s “analysis” of the Biden administration’s climate change policies to baselessly dispute the economic benefits of climate action. Once more, McCarthy indulged in the tried-and-anything-but-true tactic of dehumanizing refugees in order to manufacture consent for Donald Trump violating their human rights during his presidency. And of course, there’s absolutely zero in the Build Back Better Act pertaining to Donald Trump’s lack of Nobel Prizes, swim meets, former President Jimmy Carter’s sweater collection, and all the other weird shit that McCarthy shoved into his faux-libuster speech.
It would have been a totally different ball game had this whole televised fight over “Build Back Better” actually been about America’s social safety net, debates over the proper role of government, exchanging ideas over economic transition in the era of climate change, and trying to figure out what to do about Americans losing trust in the democracy they were told would guarantee better lives for everyone. We didn’t get that last week. Instead, we’re (again) reminded of why American Democracy remains in deep peril.
This is anything but a sign of healthy democracy.
In years past, the opposition party provided some sort of alternative vision of governance in advance of the midterm election. Yet as Democrats prepare for another difficult round of negotiations and tussles over the Build Back Better Act in the Senate, Republican leaders on both ends of the Capitol have declined to offer any alternative legislation on climate change, education equity, health care, or any other major provision in Democrats’ major economic justice bill.
Instead, they fought tooth and nail against the censure of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) after Gosar tweeted an anime video that amounts to a death threat targeting Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). They have continued to coddle additional members of their caucuses, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) and Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), despite their continuing indulgence in violent rhetoric. And they have celebrated the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse despite ample evidence that far-right militia violence (that Rittenhouse knowingly participated in) caused the bloodshed that hit Kenosha, Wisconsin, and many more cities across America last year.
In a sense, this is the Republican Party’s platform going into the 2022 midterm election: fascism, endorsements of violence, and approval of a more bigoted and authoritarian America. This is not hyperbole. This is simply based on Republican leaders’ own refusal to counter the Trumpist extremism that’s consuming their party whole.
Is America still a “global leader for democracy”, or are we actually falling behind?
As we often say around these parts, actions have consequences. Look no further than Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report for receipts. Not only did Freedom House lament America’s lack of “leadership on democracy”, but they also acknowledged our own democratic decline. Over the past ten years, Freedom House had to lower our freedom score from 94% to 83% due to: “political corruption and conflicts of interest, lack of transparency in government, and punitive immigration and asylum policies”. And needless to say, Donald Trump’s attempted coup that culminated in the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol did not help our freedom score either.
It’s one thing to view our recent “debates over elections in voting rights” in isolation. It’s something else entirely to view our democratic decay in the context that international human rights advocacy non-governmental organizations (NGO) like Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International provide. As much as our political leaders have loved to boast of America being “the freest country in the world”, it’s startling to contrast their rhetoric with independent data and analysis showing how we’ve fallen behind most of Europe, much of the Pacific Rim, and some of Latin America in protection of civil rights, open and transparent government, and free and fair elections.
Yet while our freedom score still beats those of authoritarian stalwarts like Russia and China by quite some distance, it’s nonetheless disturbing to see the development of trends like the normalization of “armed protests” and “street fight” violence, the normalization of violence targeting racial and ethnic and sexual and political minority groups, the normalization of threats against certain elected officials and election administrators, the normalization of key tools of corruption like nepotism and misuse of public funds for personal enrichment, and the normalization of false propaganda being spread and mislabeled as “alternative facts”. As much as some pundits continue to insist that “it can never happen here”, we have already encountered multiple similarities between our own democracy under attack and the typical pattern of transition to authoritarianism elsewhere around the world.
Democracy remains under attack. What are Democrats doing about it?
Trumpworld operates like organized crime. Authoritarianism=rule by the lawless. BR's response = small reprieve from more death threats. https://t.co/LvlfJxdIXC
— Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat) November 17, 2021
We voted ONE year ago. And yet fascism seems to be growing.
What now, Congressman? Is the Senate just gonna sit back and do nothing about the filibuster, democracy reform, or voting rights?
If so, then this crisis stems from powerful institutions — not the people. https://t.co/8uWIOm0mqC
— Janel Forsythe (@JLF_comms) November 19, 2021
As we have previously warned, Democrats must deliver the goods in order to not only stand a better chance at staying in power, but also to help restore voters’ faith in democracy as a functioning system of governance. While the Build Back Better and “Bipartisan Infrastructure” packages offer some tangible economic benefits, they do not tackle matters like voting rights, political interference in law enforcement, police racism, and other forms of state-sanctioned violence.
One would think that the Biden administration and Congressional Democratic leaders would be more motivated to act, considering that: Trump continues to encourage efforts to force Biden out of office; Republicans in multiple states (most recently – Wisconsin) are preparing to nullify future elections should they lose; McCarthy has already signaled he will target Democrats and any remaining not-sufficiently-loyal-to-Trump Republicans for punishment should Republicans win control of the U.S. House next year; and those few not-sufficiently-loyal-to-Trump Republicans are increasingly being driven out of the Republican Party for committing the sin of failure to bend the knee, kiss Trump’s rings, and parrot Trump’s Big Lies.
While Democrats are finally moving on the Build Back Better Act, it’s painfully obvious that they can not stop there. If they really want to “Build Back Better” in a lasting way, they must build back American Democracy. They have just over a year left to act. They have no more time to waste.