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How Democrats can win, even if they lose 

A night view of The Capitol building dome in Washigton DC on October 20, 2022. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A night view of The Capitol building dome in Washigton DC on October 20, 2022. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Back in August, the American left was feeling positively bullish about the midterm elections. The unexpected passage of Joe Biden’s sweeping Inflation Reduction Act, the coup de grâce in his record of passing major legislation, combined with the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which ended 40 years of reproductive rights for women, had the president’s party poised to buck historical trends by retaining control of Congress.

But it’s been a dark autumn for Democrats — and for democracy. Frustration over persistent inflation, along with a steady diet of fear-mongering ads focused on crime, have triggered a Republican surge in the polls.

The GOP is now heavily favored to win control of the House. And, despite having nominated scandal-plagued and truth-impaired candidates such as Hershel Walker, the U.S. Senate is a toss-up.

Most Republicans are clinging to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen and they remain eerily unphased by the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, buying into the massively profitable Fox News delusion that the insurrectionists who battered dozens of police officers and threatened to murder the vice president were victims rather than villains.

Amy Cox, Democratic candidate for Ohio State Representative, wears a shirt in support of Roe V Wade while canvassing in Trenton, Ohio, on October 23, 2022. (Megan Jelinger/ AFP via Getty Images)
Amy Cox, Democratic candidate for Ohio State Representative, wears a shirt in support of Roe V Wade while canvassing in Trenton, Ohio, on October 23, 2022. (Megan Jelinger/ AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans have sought to make voting more difficult at every turn, and sought to disrupt the administration of the election itself. Right-wing zealots have harassed election officials into quitting, pledged to infiltrate our non-partisan electoral systems, and openly sought to intimidate voters. Many GOP candidates have refused to accept the possibility of their own electoral defeat in 2022. They are essentially running against democracy.

If Republicans prevail in even one chamber of Congress, virtually all meaningful legislation will grind to a halt. The party’s agenda will be endless trolling and sham investigations. Talk of an attempt to impeach President Biden is not hyperbole. Americans can expect a rancorous battle over the debt ceiling, as well, the logic being that a ruined economy will benefit the GOP presidential candidate in 2024.

Amid these grim prospects, there is one hopeful possibility. Namely, that the rest of us (liberals, progressives, independents, moderates) will shift our focus from the MAGA clown show in Washington to the common-sense policy changes still attainable at the state level.

There are clear precedents for this, from California’s decision to phase out gas-powered cars to the recent Kansas ballot initiative in which voters soundly rejected efforts to ban abortion in that deep red state. Despite staunch Republican opposition to gun-control measures, eight states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning assault weapons, and this past summer California became the first state in the country to allow residents to sue gun manufacturers.

Another prime example?

Massachusetts voters will have their own chance to level the economic landscape of the state on November 8, by voting on Question 1 or the so-called “Fair Share Amendment,” which would create a 4% additional tax on all income earned above one million dollars (meaning that a citizen who earns $2 million dollars would be taxed only on the second million). The measure would replace the current flat tax system, in which someone earning $30,000 pays the same rate (5%) as someone who earns $30 million.

According to a study by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis, the change would produce $1.3 billion of added revenue and effect fewer than one in every 175 households.

Focusing on change at the state level is one way voters can address the massive disconnect between popular opinion and federal law.

Focusing on change at the state level is one way voters can address the massive disconnect between popular opinion and federal law, on issues ranging from gun control to reproductive rights to the fair taxation of massive corporations. In all these areas, our federal laws — and our judiciary — reflect the whim of special interests, rather than the will of the people.

Shifting activism and organizing to the state level would also help address the Republican-led radicalization of many statehouses, which, for years, have been passing laws that are wildly out of synch with the democratic norms that most voters support, and as well as distorting the will of the electorate through gerrymandering.

If enough citizens of good faith mobilize and show up at the polls next week, the election deniers and professional trolls may be held in check — for now. Regardless of the outcome, though, Democrats need a back-up plan, a way to make sure citizens stay engaged with the political process, a “reason to believe,” to quote Bruce Springsteen in the long-term.

For young activists like my daughter, Jo, the Fair Share Amendment has played that role. She’s been canvassing for the measure, enthusiastically talking it up to whomever will listen. Like me, Jo is hoping (against hope) that Democrats will hold onto the Senate, and the House. She would consider that a triumph for democracy. Even if that doesn't happen, she's determined to help the amendment pass.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

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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