We never thought America would be this close and vulnerable to an autocratic breakthrough. But here we are, says Frank Sharry.
WHICH WAY America?
If our democratic institutions hold, we should emerge from the 2020 election with unified Democratic control of the White House and Congress, a durable progressive majority powered by dynamic social movements, and the opportunity to enact sweeping reforms.
If not, Trump’s transparent attempt to steal the election by leveraging accusations of fraud just might hand him a contested win courtesy of a Supreme Court packed with his appointees.
I never thought America would be this close and vulnerable to an autocratic breakthrough. But here we are.
Yes, Trump’s relentless claims that “it’s rigged” is a voter suppression tactic. And sure, “it’s rigged” will serve as an excuse-for-life after a Trump loss. But have no doubt, his Plan A is to see if he can parlay accusations of fraud into a stolen election.
If this sounds like some serious banana republic bullshit, it is.
The good news is that all these Trump machinations stem from the plain fact that he is losing badly.
He’s losing because of his epic failure in response to the virus. His incompetence and narcissism have cost over 220,000+ American lives and counting. He’s losing because his racism and xenophobia are backfiring. His race-baiting about Black Lives Matter protestors overrunning white suburbs and his demonisation of immigrants as “bad hombres” turns off more voters than they turn on.
The result is he’s driving older and suburban voters into the arms of Democrats, younger and diverse voters to the polls, and independents to break for Biden.
2016 gave us PTSD, but 2020 is not 2016. Back then, Trump was new, different, disruptive. Many voters excused the racism and the pussy grabbing, rolled the dice and figured maybe the businessman who promised everything to everyone could shake things up. Now they know him.
This became abundantly clear in the 2018 midterms. Despite enjoying record economic growth, Trump nationalised the race to make it a referendum on him. While Democrats made the race about health care, Trump led with racist rants about migrant caravans filled, he claimed, with criminals and terrorists. Democrats won the nationwide popular vote by over 8%, and Republicans suffered the largest loss in midterm history.
For all the noise and chaos, the 2020 race is extraordinarily stable. The vast majority of voters say the nation is on the wrong track, more than half intensely disapprove of Trump, Biden is at the magic threshold of 50% in most battleground states, and Trump seems stuck at 43%.
In 2016, Trump won 46% of the vote and squeaked through thanks to the Electoral College, a weakened opponent, and third party candidates that received a whopping 6% of the vote. This year, third party candidates are expected to draw no more than 2%.
The Democratic coalition – Black and White, young and old, Latino and Asian, urban and suburban, native and newcomer – is mobilised as never before. In contrast to the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama years, the juice doesn’t flow from top down, but from the bottom up. Stunned by the 2016 upset, activists and candidates have worked at all levels of politics as if our lives and our democracy depend on it – from street heat to deep canvas organising to movement building to winning local races, state legislative contests, governors’ mansions, and a House of Representatives majority. Next up: taking back the White House and the Senate.
If I’m right and we experience another “blue wave” in 2020, Democrats will take control of the White House and Congress and have the chance to enact popular policies long obstructed by Republicans – a nationwide strategy on Covid-19, a fairer tax system, stronger unions, expanded health care, bold action on climate change, infrastructure investments, higher teachers’ pay, student debt relief, civil rights enforcement, police accountability, gun regulations, voting rights protections, a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants (a cause dear to my heart), and more.
But to construct a government that respects the majority will, elected Democrats will have to do more than pass bills. They will have to reform our creaky democratic institutions that have proved vulnerable to power grabs by Trump and his Republican enablers.
Some of the items on this agenda include: make voting easier, not harder; get rid of the Senate filibuster, a Jim Crow relic that ensures gridlock; expand the Supreme Court and reform the judiciary to redress Republican court-packing; add Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico as states to add four Democratic senators and reduce the disproportionate power the two-senators-per-state rule confers on rural Republican states.
Finally, all of us will need to mobilise a great campaign to amend the Constitution so we can scrap the Electoral College, an archaic system that has denied majority vote winners the presidency twice in the last six elections.
None of these will be easy. But if we are to respect majority rule and renew our democracy, all are essential.
Which way America? In the face of existential threats, I like our chances. I’m optimistic that the Biden margin over Trump will be so big and the victory so clear that Trump’s post- election antics will look foolish.
I’m optimistic that a half century of strategic racism in the service of plutocracy is drawing to a close. I’m optimistic that the emerging multiracial majority is ready to take America to new heights.
I’m optimistic because Trump has forced Americans to choose, and we have.