By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
2021 was an exhausting year, its uncertainty wearing on every nerve. From beginning to end, our nation was subjected to the parry and thrust of attacks on democracy by coup-mongers and defense of it by congressional committees. And the country was drowned in right-wing disinformation on all fronts, spreading like the virus, faster than true facts could correct. Not even the Covid-19 pandemic was spared, as those trying to protect the public from the disease with masks and vaccines were beset by those attempting, for political gain, to obstruct that effort. The suspense created by all this was—and still is—nearly unbearable.
But now, the whole of 2022 lies before us, with a midterm election toward the end of it. And I see two possible futures for our country.
In the first chilling scenario, those involved in planning the January 6 insurrection will stall enforcement of the subpoenas of the House Select Committee investigating it until after the 2022 election. No timely action will be taken in the Senate to pass the federal voting rights legislation urgently needed to overcome the ongoing subversion of election processes by Republican-controlled state legislatures.
As a result, right-wing Republicans will take over the House in the 2022 election and kill the House Select Committee’s investigation. Then, holding a majority, they will make good on their threats to investigate the investigators, getting even by hounding and/or removing from committee assignments such statespersons as Adam Schiff, Jamie Raskin, Liz Cheney, and others in the House who have tried to uphold democratic principles. While the current House Select Committee is investigating actual crimes, the post-election investigations—led by the likes of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and their cohorts—will be purely political.
The Republican state legislatures will cement their control of voting mechanisms to ensure their party retains power regardless of who wins an election. Taking advantage of the failure to adequately oppose their actions, they will continue purging honest election officials, from secretaries of state to volunteer workers, replacing them with political hacks loyal to Trumpism. And if a Democrat wins an election, these Republican legislatures will throw out the votes and install their choice rather than accede to the will of the voters.
Only a very few of the insurrectionist pawns who attacked the Capitol will ever see serious jail time. And those at the top who orchestrated the coup effort will be emboldened to try it again—if their subversion of the democratic process is not sufficient to give them control of the country in 2024. In the meantime, they will continue their propaganda campaigns, including both the stolen election and Covid lies, to keep the fires of discontent and violence burning, using those who fall for those lies to support and complete a fascist takeover.
Once the takeover is complete, democracy in this country will be done. Finished. Dead as a doornail, as Dickens wrote of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.
But to paraphrase Scrooge’s question to the Ghost of Christmas Future: is this the shadow of the things that will be, or only of the things that may be?
What the leaders and citizens of our nation do next or fail to do will decide whether that fascistic future becomes a foregone conclusion—or whether we as a nation can—even at this late date and by the skin of our teeth—create a different future, one that saves and strengthens our democracy.
In our nation’s second, alternative future, President Biden will stop bending over backwards to avoid looking political. He will stop making mild speeches on the need for voting legislation and changing the filibuster to permit its passage. Instead, Biden will use his bully pulpit to pressure recalcitrant senators to vote for the needed change—and rally the public to assert pressure as well.
Likewise, Attorney General Merrick Garland will stop avoiding investigations because they might be characterized as political by Trump backers. Instead, he will immediately begin investigation and prosecution of those implicated in plotting the January 6 coup attempt. Garland’s Justice Department will also institute lawsuits to challenge the many voter and electoral suppression laws without further delay.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema will end their hypocrisy—stop pretending to be for voting rights legislation while blocking the only path to its passage—and vote to end the filibuster, or at least to make voting rights an exception to it.
The mainstream media will fully realize (some finally have) that the alleged neutrality of reporting “this side said” and “that side said” is no neutrality at all; that treating facts and lies as equal in reportage is a dereliction of duty. Refusing to take a side is taking the side of the liar. So, instead, the media will both expose and decry the moves to fascism at every opportunity. And they will beat the drum for facts as loudly and as widely as right-wing media outfits like Fox News and Newsmax shout their fear-and-hate-promoting propaganda.
The most important element of this future is an informed and active citizenry. Most leaders, even fairly good ones, will not do what is needed unless the public pushes them. So, members of the public—whatever their party affiliation—simply must wake up, inform themselves, and call, lobby, and push our country’s leaders to take the actions necessary to combat fascism and preserve the universal right and ability to vote and have one’s vote be counted.
Which future will we the people choose?
Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, has referred to this as the “great political clash of our time.” Given the rush of at least 14 states to restrict the vote or change who counts the vote, Waldman has said that the important question is whether the Democrats have the political will to stop it.
Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt has opined, “We often think that what we should be waiting for is fascists and communists marching in the streets, but…things can be both legal and antidemocratic at the same time. Politicians use the letter of the law to subvert the spirit of the law.”
Referencing the view of University of California, Irvine, School of Law professor Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law, the New York Times wrote in September that the 2024 presidential election “could be a bloodless coup executed not by rioters with nooses” but—as Hasen suggested--by “lawyers in fine suits.”
It appears that those buying Trump’s Big Lie, have the urgent though false belief that liberals are attacking democracy, and that extreme measures—including violence—are justified.
On the other hand, despite all the evidence of real threats, most of the public seems to lack a sense of urgency. And Democratic leaders, with few exceptions, are neither sounding the alarm nor taking action to combat the threats.
As Democratic Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips told New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: “The absence of pragmatism among Democrats is as troubling as the absence of principle among Republicans.”
Every small-d democrat had better find that sense of pragmatism double-quick and push the country’s Democratic leaders to action.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.