By John Rolfe / Red Hook, NY
Though 2021 raced by in an angry, chaotic blur, to this participant/observer, it still felt like the eye of a hurricane. It was a time of relative calm surrounded by swirling political, social and natural forces that are gathering for a return and they will have an increasingly destructive impact on America and the world.
In 2022, I fully expect climate change and the pandemic to continue taking or negatively affecting significant numbers of lives and the economy. With resistance to masks and vaccines so entrenched in our polarized politics — 91 percent of Democrat voters have received at least one jab compared to 60 percent of their Republican counterparts — and poor countries still begging wealthy ones for enough doses, the virus should have little trouble finding vulnerable hosts in which to breed and continue mutating.
By this time next year, I’ll be shocked if the Omicron and Delta variants haven’t been overshadowed by a new strain or two that fuel alarm, case surges, and kneejerk pushback against efforts to contain the bug with mandates.
Along with the mask/vaccine debate (it often resembles a brawl), Americans have come to wrongly believe that vaccines should be the magic bullet that slays Covid-19 once and for all. Vaccines are merely tools in the fight to render the virus manageable like the flu. (Infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist Céline R. Gounder wrote an excellent explanation of why totally eliminating the SARS-CoV-2 virus is impossible. I urge you to read her piece in The Atlantic: “Americans Are Losing Sight of the Pandemic Endgame”.)
With Republicans seemingly hell-bent on preserving our God-given right to get sick and sicken others (pandemic chaos works nicely to their advantage by making it easy to blame Democrats for all the devastation), Covid will infect the 2022 mid-term elections. I fear the outcome will mark a turning point in the future of American democracy.
If the GOP reclaims the House and Senate, the stage will be set for the return of Donald Trump to the White House. Republicans are already working hard to seize control of election administration and procedures in states across the country, an effort described as “a five-alarm fire” for the Democrats by Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.
Along with gerrymandering that gives GOP candidates a substantial edge in many districts, and new restrictive voting laws, state legislatures in places such as Arizona and Georgia are removing control of elections from their secretaries of state. Arizona has handed that control to its attorney general (a Republican) and is considering a bill that would allow its legislature (assuredly GOP-dominated) to overturn presidential election results without evidence of fraud or even public hearings.
Georgia now allows local election officials to be removed for nebulous reasons such as vaguely defined “malfeasance.”
Candidates who claim the 2020 election was stolen are running for secretary of state in Michigan, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Wisconsin’s Republican state legislature is being urged by its Senator, Ron Johnson, to seize control of federal elections.
Unless Democrats can pass a federal law that nearly bans the capricious overturning of elections, their candidate for President will have to win 2024 in all-out landslides in a large majority of states. Even so, I won’t be surprised if a battleground like Wisconsin or Arizona refuses to certify the Democrat’s victory and sends alternate electors to cast their votes for Trump or whoever has run instead of him.
If the result is overturned, massive protests and civil unrest will surely begin across the country and lethal force will probably be used on protestors (as Trump favors and even urged according to his former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ new book, The Chief’s Chief). If right-wing militias are allowed to run amok, America’s future as a one-party, authoritarian state will have arrived.
It’s a dystopian nightmare, for sure, but we need more hopeful signs than the seven states that have rejected GOP proposals to make elections easier to reverse.
According to the drumbeat of polls, Americans are not happy with Joe Biden and the Democrats, but it’s hard to believe that Trump II is an attractive alternative for any right-minded voter. If the GOP has any clear vision for governing the country and helping most Americans other than by mindlessly cutting taxes, building a border wall, deporting undocumented immigrants, banning abortion, boosting fossil fuels, and prosecuting culture wars against public schools, diversity, Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community, and mainstream media, the Republican Party has made it a closely guarded secret that not even it seems to know.
Will Trump be brought down in 2022 by the January 6 House select committee or any of the investigations into his finances before he returns to power? I doubt it. Too many people regard the Capitol siege as mere politics, and Trump is expertly running out the clock in our court system. But that matters less now.
Trump and the GOP are merely reflections of their sizable base and its willingness to discard democracy. That desire is echoed in the “shock troops” rhetoric of Steve Bannon and Rep. Matt Gaetz when they discuss what Republicans will do when they take power.
You see it in the support for the coup attempt from Reps. Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar and others in Congress.
It comes across loud and disgustingly clear in the deluded, xenophobic lunacy of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert.
All that is just a taste of things that are very likely to come if the Trumpists seize enough control on local and state levels in 2022. If they do, the 2024 elections could prove to be fatal for the America we have long known.
The clock is ticking and I would absolutely love to be wrong. I only hope that Americans are exceptional in the face of movements and forces that have destroyed many a democracy.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.