Guest columnists Allen Davis and Tom Weiner: Our democracy is in peril

  • Violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. AP FILE PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO

Published: 4/5/2022 3:53:36 PM
Modified: 4/5/2022 3:52:33 PM

Over the last 10 years we’ve moved ominously from the democracy toward which we have been evolving since 1776 and instead are increasingly becoming an oligarchy where power has been concentrated in the hands of fewer unfathomably wealthy people. Witnessing the Jan. 6 violent insurrection compounded our conviction that we are barely holding onto our democracy.

Then, Allen read “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them” (2022) by Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at UC San Diego. He shared Walter’s central ideas concerning the jeopardy our country is in — not witnessed since the original Civil War — with Tom. Walter’s ideas confirmed our worst fears. Much of her research is based on the Polity Index, compiled by the Polity Project at the Center for Systemic Peace (www.systemicpeace.org/polityproject.html), which places countries on a scale from fully autocratic (minus 10) to fully democratic (plus 10). She states that the U.S. is an anocracy, a country moving from a democracy to authoritarianism.

Her evidence starts with 1976 when the U.S. was a +10. In 2017, it was a +8. In 2019, it had fallen to +7. And, post Jan. 6, 2021, it had dropped to a +5. This means the U.S. is an anocracy for the first time in 200 years. We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy and it took just five years for this deeply troubling transition.

In 2019, 2,000 experts were asked to rate the world’s political parties. The GOP was rated most similar to anti-democratic parties such as Turkey’s Justice and Development Party and Poland’s Law and Justice Party. “It’s not the desperately poor that start civil wars,” says Walter, “but those who once had privilege and feel they are losing status that is rightfully theirs.”

We believe that our decline resulted from a series of devastating actions, starting with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which stated that corporations and other outside groups can spend an unlimited amount of money on elections. This was followed in 2013 by Shelby County v. Holder. It gutted Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had made it illegal to harm minority voters. The election of 2016 had undemocratic results. Though Donald Trump carried the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million. Voting rights were not guaranteed for all citizens. The U.S. went from +10 to +8 on the Polity Index after the election.

Then the Trump presidency featured the lack of executive constraints, which resulted in the classification of our democracy with Burundi, Ecuador and Russia! His subsequent refusal to cooperate with Congress during the first impeachment inquiry sent us to a +7. Since 2020, 19 states have passed voter suppression laws further threatening our democracy.

Then in October, 2020, the FBI announced the arrests of 13 men suspected of orchestrating a domestic terror plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The culmination was the combination of “The Big Lie” that the presidential election was stolen, which undermines faith in our electoral system, and the Jan. 6 violent insurrection at the Capitol. Both are made more poisonous due to its full embrace by the Trumplican Party. We had descended to a +5.

So, what can be done to strengthen our democracy and prevent a second civil war? Walter makes recommendations including reforming our corrupt and ineffective government; bolstering the rule of law; giving all citizens access to the vote; improving the quality of government services to benefit all people; imprisoning the leader or leaders of terrorist groups to hasten their collapse; regulating the five biggest tech companies and requiring them to pay their fair share of taxes; passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and abolishing the Electoral College so every vote counts equally.

While the above reforms will take time to implement, here are some immediate actions you can take to strengthen our deteriorating democracy:

■Mobilize millions of people to keep Democratic control of the House and the Senate.

■Contribute to the most effective national and state grassroots organizations in key states.

■Ask friends, colleagues and family members to contribute.

■Send postcards, make phone calls and knock on doors in key races.

■Call to bring back civics and civic literacy to the classroom. The best defense against authoritarianism is educated critical thinkers.

Since we are supporting democracy in Ukraine, we must reignite the fight for democracy in the U.S. before it’s too late to save it.

Allen J. Davis, Ed.D., is an educator, racial justice activist, and lifelong defender of democracy as well as a member of the Racial Justice Rising Coordinating Committee in Dublin, New Hampshire. Tom Weiner, M.Ed., of Northampton, is a retired teacher, author, and member of the anti-racist group Bridge4Unity.


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