The War Between the States Continues in November

Today’s first post dealt with the prelude to the Civil War. This one deals with the Civil War’s unresolved division. From Mark Danner for The New York Review of Books:

Amid the blaring, pulsating hype of American culture, every election is routinely proclaimed the most important in our lifetime. Now the flood of heart-stopping news this summer—the Uvalde school massacre, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the January 6 revelations—has brought us face to face with an exceptional problem: What if this one really is? What if this time, like the boy who cried wolf, we find ourselves screaming that the emergency is real—and no one pays attention?

The 2022 election will be the first held in the shadow of an attempted coup d’étata nearly successful and still-unpunished crime against the state. It will be the first held after a Supreme Court decision that not only uprooted a half-century-old established right but that threatens the rescinding of other rights as well. And it will be the first in which it is clear that, from Republican legislators’ relentless efforts to change who counts the votes, the very character of American governance is on the ballot.

American voters have not confronted so grave a choice since 1860. Now as then, two dramatically different futures are on offer. By undermining the right to privacy, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision not only allows government to force women to carry pregnancies to term—as more than half the states will likely soon do—but foreshadows a country in which a state or the federal government can deny people contraception or indeed the right to love or marry whom they choose. By limiting the regulation of firearms, the Bruen decision ensures that increasing numbers of Americans, including children in classrooms, worshipers in churches, and marchers on the Fourth of July, will die in shootings. By calling into question how votes are counted—or whether they should matter at all—the January 6 coup and the persistent “Big Lie” behind it augur a country where the candidate fewer Americans voted for not only can become president (as he did in 2000 and 2016) but can be awarded the electoral votes of a state not as the choice of its people but as a diktat of its legislature.

This America of the future will be an ever more authoritarian place where government maintains the right to intervene in personal decisions, even the most intimate—except when it comes to firearms, in which case anyone, young or old, sane or unbalanced, can go about as heavily armed as a combat soldier. The coming election can either accelerate the country’s move toward this kind of authoritarianism or begin to slow it down. If any election cried out to be nationalized—to be fought not only on the kitchen-table issues of inflation and unemployment but on the defining principles of what the country is and what it should be—it is this November’s.

It is no accident that the last time an election was fought this way was also the last time the party holding the White House gained congressional seats in the midterms. Following the September 11 attacks George W. Bush’s Republicans made ruthless use of nationalism and, above all, fear. “Americans trust the Republicans,” Karl Rove told his colleagues, to keep “our families safe.” Though terrorists had killed thousands of Americans on their watch, the Republicans turned around and denounced Democrats as soft on terror. To vote for Democrats—even for heroic veterans like Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who had lost three limbs in Vietnam—was to vote for Osama bin Laden. The argument was shameless, savage, deeply unfair. It was anything but subtle. And it worked.

Two decades later the United States is again at risk, not from foreign terrorists but from domestic extremists who are working to insert government power between Americans and their most private decisions and who would fundamentally alter the way they choose their leaders. Justice Clarence Thomas in his Dobbs concurrence was forthright enough to state the implications of that decision for the right to contraception, same-sex relations, and marriage equality. The January 6 committee in its well-orchestrated hearings has begun to bring home to Americans the danger posed by the Big Lie for the next presidential election. Still, despite these clear signs of a darker future, for many voters the danger remains unfocused and distant.

Under the threat of this darkness, Democrats have a duty to make crystal clear to voters what is at stake in November. In midterm elections especially, Americans must be given a persuasive reason to vote—a task that is much harder for a party that won the White House only two years before. This year voters are apprehensive about inflation and other lingering effects of the pandemic and demoralized that Democrats, with their narrow majorities, have failed to achieve much of what they promised.

But the January 6 committee, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the Uvalde school shooting have put stark and frightening issues prominently before the public, and if presented clearly and persistently they have a strong potential to drive voters to the polls—especially younger voters, who were so vital to the Democrats’ midterm gains in 2018, and who now, after Democrats failed to pass their climate agenda, desperately need a reason to turn out. This election must be about safeguarding the country they know and the freedoms and rights they cherish. Democrats from President Biden on down need to present these issues clearly and unapologetically:

If you don’t want a government that can force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term—vote!

If you don’t want a government that can deny you contraceptives—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that can tell you with whom you can make love and whom you can marry—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that will do nothing to protect your child from a troubled teenager with an assault rifle—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that can ignore the people’s voice at the polling place—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that will do nothing about rising temperatures and the danger they pose to all of us—vote!

. . . During the past months the specter of an increasingly autocratic America has raised its head. Voters who cast their ballots for Democrats must be in no doubt about what they are voting for: the freedom to love and marry whom they wish, the freedom to decide when they want to bear children and to keep those children safe from gun violence—and the certainty that they will go on having a real voice in choosing who leads them. They must be reminded that these rights and freedoms are at risk, that a very different future looms. The most important election of our lifetime is coming. The emergency is upon us. If we are truly to meet it, we must first make bold to say so.