We are in deep trouble here. So much trouble that, this week, a group of more than 100 political scientists and other experts on democracy joined the legions and sounded the alarm. Because many countries are moving toward “political regimes that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections,” they wrote, “our entire democracy is at risk.”
Kai Schlossmann never expected to find herself in such a group. Professor of political science at the University of J. Joseph Mowley at Boston College has taught a course titled “Parties and Elections” since President Gerald Ford pardoned the disgraced Richard Nixon in 1974. Until now, she has always been able to reassure her students–even in uncertain moments like the disputed election of 2000– Everything will be fine, and the system will work.
“I told them America is the oldest democracy on earth, and the American people can be patient,” she said. “It may not work out the way you want or want it to, but it will.”
She had no such reassurance for her latest chapter: In the wake of the 2020 election, and especially the events of January 6, it made her wonder how our democracy could continue to function if efforts to undermine the vote went unanswered.
For democracy to succeed, “ordinary citizens have to believe … that even the outcomes they disagree with are legitimate,” she said. She said Schlossman’s training as a political scientist tells her to “take a deep breath, don’t panic,” but what’s happening here and now makes calm elusive, she said.
Schlossman believes that the Republicans’ motives are neither authoritarian nor racism—even though their anti-democratic actions fall disproportionately on voters of color.
“I think their goal is not to overturn democracy, but to make sure they win,” she said. “A lot of their reform work is not really driven by race, but in many states, especially in the South, the quickest way to disenfranchise Democrats is to target black voters.”
Even that generous reading of GOP intent brings us dangerously close to Jim Crow.
How do we go back? President Biden’s courageous efforts to lower the national temperature and appeal to our best angels when it comes to voting rights have so far failed. His Memorial Day address linking the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers for the rights that Republicans are wiping out was remarkable, but it seems unlikely that moving Republican Party leaders and the voters who decided to win would be worth any cost.
The fastest path back to full democracy includes ending the disruption and enacting federal legislation that would bypass the state’s disruptive new voting laws. But even decent Republicans won’t budge from the Senate’s ruling. And West Virginia Democratic nominee Joe Manchin, who has long held his faith in Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, will not evaporate. Or the attention-seeking Democratic Senator from Arizona Kirsten Senema, who seems to have few beliefs at all.
Where will this lead us!? In the corner, where our only option is to fight like hell to save what’s left of this grand experience. Find a midterm contest or voting rights group and help however you can.
This is not a maneuver.
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter Tweet embed.