The Hidden Threats to American Democracy

Several elections that could have profound impacts on democracy in the aftermath of Nov. 8 will go largely unnoticed.

There is real reason to be concerned about the future of democracy in the United States. Some readers may be thinking, what’s the big deal? If Americans want to elect Republicans and pave the way for Donald Trump’s comeback, that’s their choice.

The real problem is not that a Republican Congress would paralyze the U.S. government for two years. That’s how democracy works. In fact, the problem is that Americans may well lose their democracy.

Closing the Door for Good

Some politicians just can’t help shouting about what they should be content to keep to themselves. On Monday, Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels said that, if elected, his party will never lose another election in the state.

In Wisconsin, the two parties have roughly similar bases of support. The state supported Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, narrowly each time. In the legislature, however, fiddling with the electoral map ensures solid majorities for Republicans.

The current Democratic governor’s veto is the only thing keeping Republicans from instituting rules that would make it harder for thousands of Democrats to get to the polls and make Michels’ wish a reality. And this is not an isolated case.

Hundreds of Cases

In several states, elections that will escape our attention will have a decisive impact on democracy.

In Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, for example, Republicans are betting big on the election of state supreme court justices who will validate gerrymandered voter registration cards and voting restrictions.

In dozens of states, county and statewide offices will go to the Republicans who are determined to impose as many obstacles as possible to the exercise of voting rights by groups normally associated with the opposing party.

Democracy Is at Stake

Republicans pose a real threat to democracy and, at the risk of repeating myself, the problem is not their far-right policies. If the Republicans want to emulate the British Conservatives’ pathetic “anti-inflation plan” or slash Social Security and Medicare, that would probably be catastrophic, but not undemocratic.

The real problem is that, in addition to endorsing a leader who refuses to accept defeat, Republicans seek to manipulate the institutions and rules of the political game to make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for them to alternate power. Like Trump, many Republican candidates do not hesitate to proclaim that any election outcome that disadvantages them is necessarily suspect.

It is no coincidence that the new heroes of the American right are autocrats like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who have all but eliminated the uncertainty of election results.

Fortunately, there is still some uncertainty in predicting next Tuesday’s results, but it is certain that, more than ever, it is democracy itself that will be at stake.

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