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The stakes in the midterms couldn't be higher

The stakes of these midterms are far more profound than which party controls Congress, writes Steve Almond. (Getty Images)
The stakes of these midterms are far more profound than which party controls Congress, writes Steve Almond. (Getty Images)

For the past two years, Joe Biden has used a narrow majority in Congress to pass an array of legislation unrivaled by any modern president: the American Rescue Plan, which helped Americans recover from COVID pandemic; the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocated more than a trillion dollars to update America’s bridges, roads, electric grid and water systems; and the CHIPS and Science Act, which provided $50 billion for research and domestic manufacturing. That’s before you get to Biden’s signature climate and health care bill, which lowers the cost of prescription drugs and the deficit, and serves as a vital first step in addressing climate change.

Republicans voted, almost uniformly, against all these measures. That can be read as a depressing comment on the GOP’s nihilism. But it can also be read as an affirmation of Democratic efficacy. Even with a do-nothing, intransigent opposition party, Biden passed half a dozen major pieces of legislation. Whether or not you believe he’s made America great again, there’s no arguing that he's managed to make Congress do its job, however ugly the process.

Whether or not you believe he’s made America great again, there’s no arguing that he's managed to make Congress do its job, however ugly the process.

If the Democrats can defy historic trends, and hold onto the House and Senate in the midterm elections, Biden would be poised to address a range of issues in the next two years: immigration reform, criminal justice, gun control, voting rights, reproductive rights, public corruption and the undue influence of corporate interests.

If, on the other hand, Republicans manage to win even one house of Congress — and recent polling suggests it’s most likely to be the U.S. House — the next two years will be spent in a vortex of misinformation and political hysteria. One can imagine the GOP’s agenda as follows:

*Smear Biden and other prominent Democrats by conducting nonsense investigations and bogus impeachments

*Relentlessly stoke culture war issues that energize the MAGA base

*Mainstream misinformation, conspiracy theories and anti-democratic ideation

*Fundamentally changing the focus of the Congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol

In this sense, the 2022 midterms present a stark choice, between Democrats who have plans to address some of the nation’s thorniest problems, however imperfect, and Republicans who — following the lead of their demagogic leader — seek to sow chaos and division.

Think of it this way: The rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, assaulted police officers, terrorized lawmakers and chanted death threats at the vice president were insurrectionists. Lawmakers such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and candidates such J.R. Majewski should be considered an occupying force.

Their central mission isn’t to pass laws that might benefit constituents, but to create a counter-narrative that keeps the Republican base in a permanent state of panic. In their version of reality, the disgraced ex-president didn’t lose the 2020 election. What’s more, Jan. 6 wasn’t an insurrection. Oh, and Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

If the Tea Party gave rise to the “Freedom Caucus” that pushed lies about “death panels” and President Obama’s birth certificate, the election of 2022  would offer America a “Troll Caucus,” a gang of radical media darlings bent on polluting America’s political bloodstream with wild-eyed propaganda.

Majewski, who is running for a House seat in northern Ohio, for instance, told a right-wing radio host that he was in Washington for the Jan. insurrection, and blamed the violence of that day on … the F.B.I. “But, you know, we all know that a lot of that was driven by the F.B.I. and it was a stage show,” he said. OK. Got it.

Majewski has appeared repeatedly on a podcast hosted by a conspiracy theorist named Zak Paine, who is prone to saying things like this:

“God bless the folks that believe in the fact that they think that the Democrats are out killing babies and drinking blood and they have underground tunnels in Alaska and there’s earthquakes in Antarctica.”

Yes, God Bless those very fine people.

Historically, midterm elections are tough for the president’s party. With inflation still high, and the economy fragile, Biden’s approval rating, while on the rise, remains underwater.

But the stakes of these midterms are far more profound than which party controls Congress. As David Leonhardt observed earlier this week, in a fascinating, and chilling, front-page story for the New York Times, American democracy is at an inflection point. The ex-president, who openly fomented a coup, isn’t just still at large. He hopes to run again in 2024. If his enablers gain control of Congress, they will make it their top priority to foment chaos, while election officials devoted to the cult of MAGA work to subvert the election system itself.

This can be hard to face, because of our tendency to avoid impending calamities —see the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, or the growing ravages of climate change. Citizens of good faith can’t afford to sit this midterm out. Either we help fortify democracy or we speed its collapse.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of the novel “All the Secrets of the World.” He’ll be teaching several Workshops for Democracy this fall.

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