Show of hands: Who wants the United States to be a dictatorship?
Ah, no one? Well, almost no one. We see your hand, Mr. Trump.
The opposite of a dictatorship is a democracy, of course, but it’s really more of a continuum from absolute dictatorship to healthy democracy that guarantees and guards everyone’s rights regardless of gender, race, sexual identity or ancestry.
About our democracy, a few documented facts:
Argentina, Croatia, Greece, Belize, Mongolia, Uruguay, all the Scandinavian countries, Costa Rica, Germany, the Baltic nations, and many other countries (59 in total) rank by Freedom House as more free than the U.S. (and, by the way, none mention any right to bear arms in their constitutions). A primary funder of this annual report is the National Endowment for Democracy, created under the aegis of Ronald Reagan, so this is no pinko lefty group. We are sliding downward on that continuum.
If we travel back in time to pre-Trump, our freedom ranking was much higher. We were in the top few percentage rankings.
We are still far above the worst — Syria, Tibet, South Sudan, North Korea — and still far more democratic than places like Russia, Cuba, or China. In other words, we are trending downward but we still have a great deal worth saving.
So why have we continued to slip, even though we elected Biden, clearly a pro-democracy president, and we elected slim majorities in the House and Senate?
Republicans control more than half the state legislatures. They are voting in radical voting rights restrictions that amount to partisan and racial voter suppression.
A similar skew toward Republican control over voting, which is governed state by state, unlike many more robust democracies, is that Republicans are well over half the governors, so when the voter suppression legislation is passed it comes to them for signature.
That pressure away from democracy and toward a dictatorship has continued with a violent minority — those who are loyal to Trump even when his election denying lies are easily observable — literally threatening the lives of regular patriotic Americans who volunteer at the polls in completely nonpartisan capacities.
While there may be an occasional kerfuffle between Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, the combination has driven the Supreme Court of the United States into a new blatantly far-right, Christian evangelical make up. From McConnell using unethical dirty tricks to deny Obama a SCOTUS nomination after Scalia died, thus giving us far right Gorsuch instead of moderate Garland — to onboarding misogynist Kavanaugh and whacko rightwing Coney-Barrett — we see this anti-democracy collusion able to prevent the U.S. from regaining its freedom ranking even after two years of Biden and a Democratic Congress. In many ways, the third branch of government is lost as far as protecting democracy.
We also have a set of problems with the idea that Democrats control the Senate.
Two of them — Manchin (West Virginia) and Sinema (Arizona) — are DINOs, Democrats In Name Only. They vote with Republicans fairly often, making “control” of the Senate tougher.
Of course there is also the filibuster dilemma, exacerbated by the DINOs who refuse to fix it. It means that, contrary to what we think about the Senate, it actually lets a minority block good legislation, popular legislation desired by most Americans. Increasing numbers of elected officials are asserting, with evidence, that this filibuster rule is breaking democracy.
Clawing our way back to being one of the most effective and egalitarian democracies will take a great deal of work, getting out the vote and paying attention. Who is willing to work to save the world’s first modern democracy?
Good to see some hands go up. We noticed yours went down, Mr. Trump, we get it.
It really is time to give U.S. democracy a hand, many hands, all hands. On deck. The Brookings Institute has a number of suggestions on their website for us, 76 of them. Find one or two that work for you.
Tom H. Hastings is the senior editor of PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute. He also is the coordinator of conflict resolution for bachelor’s degree and certificates at Portland State University and, on occasion, an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court.