This really is the ‘most important election in our lifetime,’ and Democrats need to explain why

The next two national elections will probably decide the fate of the American republic. And that means specifically whether our country continues to operate as a democracy dedicated to the preservation and expansion of human rights, or whether it descends into a quasi-fascist autocracy, seeking to limit and curtail those same rights and freedoms under the thumb of white, evangelical-oriented, right-wing minority rule. Whether one result or the other prevails will obviously depend on which party does a better job at motivating its voters to get to the polls. 

Donald Trump has made it clear that he will soon announce his 2024 candidacy. His campaign, modeled on the likes of Hungarian fascist Viktor Orban, will be premised on racism and fear of the LGBTQ population, with a heavy focus on “law and order.” Trumps intends to use the police, the military, and white supremacist groups to intimidate and suppress voters who might be disinclined to support him. Assuming Trump is not prosecuted and imprisoned by the Department of Justice for his actions relating to the Jan. 6 coup attempt, Republicans will once again fall in line behind him. (And neither Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis nor any other Trump clone wannabe will be able to mount a credible challenge to him, for whatever negligible difference in policy that might make.)

Whether President Joe Biden will run for reelection in 2024 is unknown, so there is little use speculating on the outcome of that election at this time. But Republicans have already confirmed that if they obtain control of the House of Representatives in 2022, they will immediately pursue bogus impeachment show trials and pointless, theatrical Benghazi-style “investigations” nonstop through 2024. The investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection will be shut down and there will be no further inquiry into either Trump’s wrongdoing or the enabling actions of any of their own caucus’ members.

In that event, the face of the GOP will be the current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, but its primary movers will be the Trump-loyal faction led by the likes of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, and the plethora of other racists and “Christian” white supremacists on the Republican side. While their actual power may be limited by the (hopefully) continued Democratic control of the Senate, their role is essentially to pave the way for Trump’s reelection, not to actually pass legislation.

The corrupt conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has already clearly signaled its intent to operate as an arm of Republican policy. The court will continue to do this by curtailing the power of the executive (when in Democratic hands) to work on behalf of Americans’ interests; countenancing the gerrymandering of continued white minority rule, eliminating protections previously provided in the Voting Rights Act; and, most recently, signaling its willingness to abide by the overthrow of legitimate elections when that overthrow favors the Republican Party. Fortunately the pointed and visible abandonment of its own legitimacy by that court (through its repeal of Roe v. Wade, through its arbitrary extension of access to deadly firearms, and through its hobbling of the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which were accomplished within a period of one week) has alerted millions of Americans to the fact that not only their form of government, but the way they actually want to live their lives is now in serious peril.

As noted by Josh Marshall writing for TalkingPointsMemo, three “generic ballot” polls released in the last two days have shown a remarkable upswing for Democrats since the Supreme Court’s blunt and ham-handed assertion of its political biases last June.

[T]hree new congressional generic polls have come out over the last 24 hours, two of which give the Democrats a six point advantage and one of which gives a 4 point margin. One of those 6 point margins is actually a Republican Party poll.

Various other midterm metrics continue to move slowly but perceptibly in Democrats’ direction. As we’ve discussed at various points over the last few weeks, the House especially is still very much an uphill battle for Democrats. But this trend makes me think Democrats holding the House in November is definitely possible and getting more likely. Not remotely a lost cause.

Marshall notes that the polling signifies an unusual disconnect with the electorate; despite their fairly sour feelings about inflation, the economy, and President Biden’s performance, they are apparently equating the Republican alternative to the (thus far) very unwelcome return of a Donald Trump, whose star has been substantially dimmed by the findings of the Jan. 6 investigation.

… And that’s definitely not the norm. The new Morning Consult poll suggests that the January 6th hearings are seriously souring independents on Donald Trump. And that shift is, in turn, showing up in the generic ballots numbers.

At least according to this one poll, the weight of the January 6th hearings is pushing voters to see the midterms more as a choice between Republicans and Democrats than a referendum on the President or the state of the country generally.

So Americans, despite their famous disconnect from politics (particularly during the summer months), have been paying attention. At least enough Americans to potentially make a difference in what originally looked to be an imminent Democratic wipeout in 2022, although it is still early for such predictions.

Along those lines, professor and author Mark Danner, writing for the New York Review of Books, has some sage advice for Democrats: If 2022 indeed represents the most critical election in our nation’’s history (as it seems to be by just about any objective assessment), then the Democrats need to explain that to voters, clearly and loudly.

As Danner writes in an essay appropriately titled We’re in an Emergency—Act Like It!a confluence of factors, all ultimately traceable to Donald Trump, make the coming election unique.

The 2022 election will be the first held in the shadow of an attempted coup d’étata nearly successful and still-unpunished crime against the state. It will be the first held after a Supreme Court decision that not only uprooted a half-century-old established right but that threatens the rescinding of other rights as well. And it will be the first in which it is clear that, from Republican legislators’ relentless efforts to change who counts the votes, the very character of American governance is on the ballot.

Danner acknowledges the obvious: Every recent election seems to warrant the cliche of “the most important of our lifetime.” But there is more than enough evidence, he believes, that in the case of 2022 this characterization is not hyperbole in terms of its potential impact on American lives and those of their children and grandchildren.

American voters have not confronted so grave a choice since 1860. Now as then, two dramatically different futures are on offer. By undermining the right to privacy, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision not only allows government to force women to carry pregnancies to term—as more than half the states will likely soon do—but foreshadows a country in which a state or the federal government can deny people contraception or indeed the right to love or marry whom they choose. By limiting the regulation of firearms, the Bruen decision ensures that increasing numbers of Americans, including children in classrooms, worshipers in churches, and marchers on the Fourth of July, will die in shootings. By calling into question how votes are counted—or whether they should matter at all—the January 6 coup and the persistent “Big Lie” behind it augur a country where the candidate fewer Americans voted for not only can become president (as he did in 2000 and 2016) but can be awarded the electoral votes of a state not as the choice of its people but as a diktat of its legislature.

Danner’s point is that 2022 will be the election that either ushers in and validates a new era of Republican racist autocracy in this country or substantially slows that trend down: “If any election cried out to be nationalized—to be fought not only on the kitchen-table issues of inflation and unemployment but on the defining principles of what the country is and what it should be—it is this November’s.” His advice to Democrats is to make this point crystal clear to voters, again and again.

Danner emphasizes that this is how Democrats should be framing these midterms:

If you don’t want a government that can force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term—vote! If you don’t want a government that can deny you contraceptives—vote!! If you don’t want a government that can tell you with whom you can make love and whom you can marry—vote!! If you don’t want a government that will do nothing to protect your child from a troubled teenager with an assault rifle—vote!! If you don’t want a government that can ignore the people’s voice at the polling place—vote!! If you don’t want a government that will do nothing about rising temperatures and the danger they pose to all of us—vote!

But beyond this “negative framing,” Danner stresses that the Democratic Party must put itself on the line with exactly what it will do for Americans in order to turn back the Republican assault on their rights: Not only that they will do these things, but how they will do them. That involves a bold, no-nonsense—however scary for some—commitment to eliminating the filibuster with the addition of at least two Democratic senators. It also involves holding the House to continue passing legislation that is so fundamentally important it cannot morally be subject to any arcane Senate procedure designed in an era of comity that no longer exists and never will again.

And every Democratic candidate needs to repeat, over and over, whether they’re running for the House, the Senate or anything else, that when Republicans are taking away our basic rights—such as the right to be protected from mass shooters, the right to control our bodies, buy contraceptives and marry who we want—voting Democratic is the only way to stop them.

Danner wrote his essay before the surprise announcement of a deal on climate and budgetary matters between Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Biden administration. Assuming that deal goes forward, it will restore some of the credibility with their base the Democrats have lost due to Manchin’s (and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s) past obstruction, and that is helpful. But it is one thing to point out some modest Democratic success, and another to point to the bare fact that if Republicans take over either legislative branch the future is going to be a lot different than the one most Americans want for themselves, their children, and their country.

And yes, Americans may reject that. As a country we may go right on staring into our smartphones, willing to sacrifice our democracy while complaining mightily about the cost of a gallon of gas. That’s certainly our right. But we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned.