Escaping the toxic two-party trap

by Jonathan Krall

Last Saturday I walked and biked the streets of Washington DC with friends. I participated in the collective outpouring of joy and relief as the election was called for Joe Biden. It was beautiful. It was uplifting. But now we have work to do. Job #1, as my Extinction Rebellion friends say, is to tell the truth. The truth is that the conditions that produced Trump are still in place. Normalization of anti-science predates Trump. Voter manipulation predates Trump. As long as the Republican Party talks propaganda instead of policy, uses division, marginalization, disenfranchisement, intimidation, and mass incarceration to suppress voting, is dishonest about its privatize-everything agenda, another Trump isn’t just possible, it is inevitable. As long as the Democratic Party is complicit in a two-party system that marginalizes third parties, a return to Republican control is inevitable. There is a way forward. It won’t come from the toxic Republican leadership. I doubt it will come from the complicit Democratic leadership. I am hopeful that it will come from the people.

What is the way forward? The consensus view is that President-elect Biden will “reach across the aisle.” The consensus view is that Republicans will shut him down. The consensus view is that we are stuck with gridlock. The way forward is to break the pattern. To allow third parties to come to the table. To expand democracy. Anti-gerrymandering reforms and ranked-choice voting–to encourage candidates to appeal to those beyond their narrow constituencies–would be good first steps. Electoral college reform and bringing colonies to statehood (including DC) would be significant further steps, if attainable.

Virginia’s successful anti-gerrymandering reform is a ray of hope. It might not be perfect, but it is a break from business as usual that cannot be easily undone.

Long before Trump, as documented in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, the Republican Party came to the realization that its privatize-everything agenda could not gain majority support. Rather than change its agenda to comply with democracy, the Republicans went all-in on changing democracy. They began lying about their core agenda, including their desire to repeal Obamacare without replacing it. Their actions were limited, and are limited, only by the desire of individual Republicans to be re-elected. This limitation saved Obamacare and, I will argue below, our democracy.

After the 2016 election and again today, the media talked about Americans coming together even as 40% of us seem to be in the thrall of Fox News Republican propaganda. As I see it, however, we shouldn’t bet our democracy on the myth that we can reach unreachable people. We should instead broaden the conversation until the fantasists are clearly a small minority. The Trumpers who fantasize that a dictator will sweep away whatever it is they want to sweep away? A small minority. The political hacks who fantasize that demographics will produce enduring Democratic control? Also a small minority.

Last week, Trump ignored the vote and declared himself to be the next president. Some in the foreign press reported an attempted coup. In some states, including Georgia and Nevada, Trump demanded that election officials stop counting votes. In those two states, where elections are overseen by Republican secretaries of state, counting continued. When it comes to dismantling democracy, not all Republicans are willing to go as far as Trump.

This is where we are today. Republican election officials, who ignored Trump and kept counting votes are, for this brief moment, heroes of democracy. We the people need to put our future in better hands.

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