Today’s Edition: Asymmetrical democracy.
November 16, 2021
On the day that President Biden signed into law a transformative infrastructure bill, Steve Bannon declared that he would weaponize his indictment for contempt by turning it into “the misdemeanor from hell.” The contrast between Biden and Bannon illustrates the dilemma facing Democrats. One party in America seeks to preserve democracy by playing by the rules while the other seeks to retain power by destroying democracy. That is not the fair contest of competing ideas envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution. It is asymmetrical democracy, and it lies at the root of the discontent and frustration of loyal Democrats who are perplexed by the lack of urgency exhibited by their leaders.
Joe Biden ran on the promise that he would “reach across the aisle” and heal the wounds inflicted by Trump’s presidency. Despite an insurrection three weeks before his inauguration, Biden kept that promise. He avoided the divisive rhetoric and incendiary actions of his predecessor. He remained patient and tolerant long after others lost their temper. But Biden’s efforts at reconciliation and understanding have been met with venomous disdain and unbounded obstructionism. Indeed, a strong majority of Republicans do not believe that Biden is the legitimate president of the United States.
Republicans have no interest in governing but seek instead to dismantle the organs of the federal government so that a handful of states can preserve the minority rule that is the legacy of slavery. The most concerning aspect of this asymmetrical warfare is that Republicans are brazenly touting their plans to repeat their attempt overthrow the Constitution while the Department of Justice shows no interest in prosecuting the leaders of the failed coup. As Elie Mystal recently said, “A coup that isn`t punished is just practice.”
Rank-and-file Democrats are puzzled by the “business as usual” approach of Biden Schumer, and Pelosi in the face of these existential threats. Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark, put a fine point these concerns in his essay, “Misreading the Politics of “Normalcy”. Sykes writes,
Biden was elected to restore a sense of “normalcy.” But these are not normal times, and perhaps the reality is that a normal approach to politics in profoundly abnormal times is a formula for political disaster. [¶] Democrats [should] also take a break from their own internecine bloodletting long enough to make the case that the GOP has become an extremist, nihilistic, and reckless danger to the Republic. If democracy really does face an existential crisis, perhaps the Administration and Congress should act like it.
This disconnect between the gravity of the threat and the lethargic response by Democratic leadership is anxiety producing for many readers of this newsletter. I hear that sentiment expressed every day in emails, in different ways, including concerns about poor messaging, the failure to pass voter protection legislation, allowing Trump’s executive orders and appointees to persist in the Biden Administration, the failure to prosecute Trump and his accomplices, lack of party discipline, and the lack of a clear battle plan for 2022.
The above concerns (and many more) are legitimate. Indeed, I share those concerns. As a consequence, I agree with Sykes that we cannot act as though we are living in “normal” times. We must act in a way that acknowledges that our opponent seeks nothing less than the destruction of democracy. And yet, I believe that the engines of democracy are powerful enough to overcome those who seek to destroy it. The Constitution gives us the ultimate power to control our fate—the right to vote.
Yes, I acknowledge that the media was filled with predictions of doom on Monday because Republicans are diluting our voting power. Readers sent me dozens of links to articles in the NYTimes and NPR that predict a Republican victory in 2022 because of gerrymandering. As always, I find these articles infuriating because they assume that Democrats are helpless in the face of an unprecedented assault on democracy. Moreover, such articles rarely mention that the leader of the GOP’s 2022 effort will be a twice-impeached, failed coup-plotter and likely indicted felon. History is relevant, but so is the present. And when there is nothing in America’s history to serve as precedent, it is silly to predict the future without acknowledging that we are in uncharted waters.
For example, in 2020, Donald Trump’s 73 million votes was 7 million more votes than any sitting president had ever won. If that was the only fact you knew about the 2020 election, you would surely believe that Trump beat Biden. And yet, Joe Biden garnered 81 million votes to beat Trump. So, don’t let anyone tell you that the “electoral maps” or “experts” or “gerrymandering” or “history” or “conventional wisdom” says that Democrats are going to lose in 2022. If we had listened to those doomsayers in 2020, Donald Trump would still be president.
Should we be worried? You betcha! Republicans are doing everything they can to beat Democrats at the ballot box and, failing that, in the state legislatures. But endlessly reciting the supposed advantages enjoyed by Republicans is pointless. Worse, it is demoralizing and contagious. Try not to be a superspreader of defeatism.
I fervently wish that Democratic leaders would act with the urgency that our situation demands. But if they won’t, then it is up to us to provide the urgency and energy to repeat our victory in 2020. It is not enough to say that our leaders must act like we are living in “normal” times; we, too, must put aside the notion of normalcy and act like we are facing an existential threat—just as we did only twelve short months ago, in November 2020. We did it then; we can do it again.
There is good news beneath the din. Beto O’Rourke announced that he will challenge Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which will begin the flow of money to projects across the nation in 2022. Republicans continue their internecine war against GOP House members who voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. Trump’s hand-picked candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania is in free-fall and may withdraw from the race. Speaker Pelosi is considering supporting the censure resolution against Rep. Paul Gosar for his grotesque depiction of a fantasy killing of another member of the House. And Steve Bannon is probably going to jail, despite his bombastic statements on the courthouse steps on Monday.
Talk to you tomorrow!