America’s democracy in a bizarre realm less than a week before midterm elections

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

America is caught in a bizarre realm where less than a week before the midterm elections there are candidates for governor, Congress, attorney-general and secretary of state who openly say they do not commit to accepting the results of those very elections in the event they lose.

Had this happened anywhere else in the world, America would have been the first to offer unvarnished denunciation of that country’s political system. That these candidates are all exclusively in the Republican Party is not just an indictment of its leadership but also of vast sections of the American electorate who unabashedly support them.

The shameless logic that a legitimate election is only that in which the party wins now overwhelms the political discourse on the Republican side and it is likely to continue well into the 2024 presidential election.

U.S. democracy activists, thinktanks, politicians and others have long been accustomed to lecturing and haranguing nascent democracies around the world on the ills and flaws in their political system. Now that they find that their own country is displaying even worse impulses, they are looking askance.

It is perhaps unprecedented the president of the United States has had to issue a dire warning about American democracy’s existential crisis. In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden said, “As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America — for governor, Congress, attorney general, secretary of state — who won’t commit, they will not commit to accepting the results of the elections that they’re running in. This is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it’s un-American.”

His speech came at Washington’s Union Station, not too far from the Capitol which was the scene of the worst attack of its kind on U.S. democracy by its own citizens. The president spoke of the rising threats of political violence in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection.

“This intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol and even violence,” he said. “In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it.”

The president was unambiguous in laying the blame for this state of affairs without directly naming former President Donald Trump. “American democracy is under attack because the defeated former president of the United States refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election. He refuses to accept the will of the people. He refuses to accept the fact that he lost. He has abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution and he’s made a Big Lie an article of faith for the MAGA Republicans, a minority of that party,” Biden said.

Barely 14 years ago, the country was exulting over what it so wrongly thought was the rise of a “post-racial” and stronger America in the emergence of Barack Obama as the first mixed-heritage president. By the time he completed his two terms in 2016, stomping through the political landscape was Trump whose dark visions of America have now taken hold among nearly half the voting population. There are no signs of this abating. If anything, signs clearly point at even worse times.

This writer remembers that throughout the decades between the 1970s and 1990s and even early 2000s U.S. diplomats and others visiting India and elsewhere often used to employ a patronizing tone while talking about new democracies and how they should learn from America. The underlying conviction in their observations used to be that American democracy was unassailable and infallible because of the country’s exceptionalism and informed citizenry. To think that in less than a decade, if one pegs the malaise on 2016, that very democracy is described by its president in such stark terms is stunning.

“This is no ordinary year,” Biden said. “So I ask you to think long and hard about the moment we are in. In a typical year, we’re often not faced with the question of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year we are.”

The rot appears deeper than what one midterm election can stem.