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.

The admission of Republican failure that hovers beneath every racist coronavirus slur

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Republicans, encouraged by the twice-impeached, former one-term president, have persisted in using the phrase “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” to describe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these same Republicans have insisted, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, that the virus was created in a Chinese laboratory as opposed to originating in an animal host. Last April, as the pandemic spread uncontrolled throughout the U.S., the GOP sent a detailed, 57-page internal memo to its 2020 election candidates, specifically urging them to blame China at every turn when faced with questions about the administration’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

Of course, the predictable result from repeating this theme was a marked upsurge in violence directed towards Asian Americans. The link between Trump and the GOP’s anti-China rhetoric and such violence prompted President Joe Biden, in one of his first official acts upon taking office, to ban such pejorative terminology from our federal agencies and their public documents. Still, despite the well-documented consequences to Asian Americans, elected Republican officials—such as Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted only last week—continue to trot out the racist slur.

While the connection between this rhetoric and acts of violence is obvious, it’s important for Americans to remember why Trump and the GOP made this conscious, collective decision in the first place. Blaming China  was more than a deliberate attempt to shift the blame for the pandemic itself,; as employed almost exclusively by Republicans, it was a deliberate attempt to distract from the administration’s wholly botched response.

From the very start the “Chinese virus” appellation was intentionally amplified by American right-wing media. It’s a slur which almost revels in its senselessness. To be clear, even if the virus actually had man-made origins—even if the virus been created in Xi Jinping’s basement with a vintage Gilbert chemistry set—from a practical standpoint, the precise origin of the virus, be it bat, bald eagle or Beijing lab, is essentially irrelevant.  Whether the virus originated in China, Kenya, or Wyoming is distinct from the question of how the global community has responded to it, which is what ultimately matters.

Medical staff treating COVID-19 patients in Wuhan China, February, 2020.

That distinction is what Trump’s favorite slur tries to obfuscate. The tragic reality is that the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic was atrocious compared to nearly every other developed nation in the world. It was so bad it turned this country into a pariah nation, a cautionary tale of what not to do in a public health crisis.

And that abysmal response, whose ineptitude and human cost will doubtlessly fill the history books for the next hundred years as an example of what failed, indifferent government policies can lead to, was due almost entirely to an abdication of responsibility towards the American public by one of this country’s two major political parties. Republicans were the ones responsible for electing, abetting and encouraging an Executive uniquely and pathologically unsuited to addressing the catastrophic implications of a global pandemic. Republicans  were the ones who stood by silently, while our public health infrastructure and pandemic response capabilities were being gleefully dismantled by the the Trump administration. And Republicans of every stripe must bear the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of that failure, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Only recently, as the nation finally begins to extricate itself from this calamity, is a reckoning of sorts coming forth. The most up-to-date estimates place direct blame on Donald Trump for approximately 400,000 of the deaths that have occurred to date due to COVID-19. There is literally no president in American history whose malfeasance resulted in so many deaths of U.S. citizens.

But Trump didn’t act alone. The death toll was increased exponentially due to the sycophancy of a Republican establishment lined up behind him, adopting his cues as the pandemic’s impact continued to worsen. Every Republican  at the state and federal level who acquiesced to the former administration’s malfeasance either by parroting lethal anti-masking propaganda, forcefully advocating reopening businesses in the name of “personal freedom,” or hawking phony cures and ridiculous conspiracy theories is complicit.

The August 2020 Sturgis motorcycle rally, encouraged by South Dakota’s Republican Governor, Kristi Noem, was linked to 260,000 US COVID-19 infections, according to one study.

So the appeal of the slur to Republicans, however irrelevant to the actual harm caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is easy enough to understand, because it serves as an ready distraction from the blame they so richly deserve for allowing a public health crisis to become a calamity. The entire approach by the Trump administration was intended to abandon any leadership role of the federal government, and thereby escape blame for any failure to stop it. As pointed out by Josh Marshall, writing for Talking  Points Memo,  this exercise in blame avoidance was intentional, a key to the administration’s overall strategy when faced with its own ineptitude.

From the very start of the Pandemic in the first weeks of 2020 the Trump administration consistently sought to disclaim responsibility for things that would be genuinely difficult and could have challenging or bad outcomes. Push the tough tasks on to others and if it goes badly blame them. This frequently went to absurd lengths as when the White House insisted that states short on ventilators at the peak of the spring surge should have known to purchase them in advance of the pandemic. Over the course of the year Trump spun up an alternative reality in which the US was somehow still operating under the Articles of Confederation in which individual states were responsible for things that have been viewed as inherently federal responsibilities for decades or centuries.

But the impetus wasn’t ideological. It was mainly a means of self-protection and risk avoidance: arrange things so that the administration could take credit if things went well and blame states if they went bad. Nowhere was this more clear than in the months’ long crisis over testing capacity. Since the administration was actually hostile to testing in general and couldn’t solve the problem in any case they simply claimed it was a state responsibility.

As Marshall points out, the one constant during Trump’s entire botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic—from the first warnings of an incipient health crisis through and including Trump’s final day in office—was “to put it off on someone else so the White House didn’t get the blame.”

Attributing the pandemic to China or Wuhan, or the rally staple “Kung flu?” That was always a calculated part of Trump’s attempt to avoid blame, one which immediately filtered down to the state level and was adopted by Republican officials equally eager to dodge blame. Even following a year of racially-motivated attacks on Asian Americans that resulted from this distraction campaign, most House Republicans still refused to condemn Trump’s rhetoric. 

As detailed by Alex Samuels, writing for FiveThirtyEight, the vilification of China had its desired effect among the Republican constituency.

Ultimately, blaming China for the pandemic didn’t help Trump win reelection in 2020, but unfavorable views of China are at a record high among Americans.1 And there are signs that Americans, especially Republicans, blame China for the spread of the coronavirus. A November Economist/YouGov poll found, for instance, that 64 percent of all registered voters and 86 percent of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that China was responsible for the pandemic.

The key word for Republicans here was “responsible.” Republicans recognize that Donald Trump and those GOP officials that adopted his strategy throughout this crisis were ultimately responsible for the U.S. sustaining a higher death toll from this virus than any other country in the world. As Samuels notes, that fact practically compels them to find a scapegoat for their own failure, with any blowback inflicted on Asian-Americans a secondary consideration at best.

[T]he experts I’ve talked to think that if people uphold a specific worldview by delegitimizing another group, the framing of diseases will always be political — no matter how apolitical we think diseases are. That’s because racism itself is a disease, and as Roger Keil, a political scientist at York University, told me, “[I]t seems to spread sometimes like a virus.” Keil compared it to watching a video online: “For every video that links the disease to Chinese people, there will be 10 or 1,000 people watching, so it’s normalized,” he said. “It’s terrible, but that’s how racism spreads.”

The Trump administration knew the implications of COVID-19,from the outset and that it presented his prospects and those of his minions with a truly daunting, existential crisis. The China scapegoating began immediately and continued throughout the rest of Trump’s tenure, heedless of whatever harm such scapegoating would have on millions of Asian-Americans. Republican leaders willingly followed his lead and have continued to do so up to this day. But every time one of them utters the words “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus,” what they’re really doing is dodging their own responsibility for the worst response to a major public health crisis in this nation’s history.


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