This narrative, this flood of messaging, is corrosive.
It is hard to deny that Congress is beyond dysfunctional and in need of major reform. We would be far better off if policies valued by wide majorities of Americans – fairer taxation, improved access to health care, reasonable firearm legislation, strong climate action – could be implemented. Instead, things citizens want are sidelined by massive amounts of money and bitter partisanship. Reforming this situation is a big undertaking… but not impossible, and many are working on it.
Biden could do better, in innumerable ways. But he is just one part of the picture. His widely noted sinking approval rating remains above his predecessor’s four-year average. Social media companies profit from stories of conflict and catastrophe, but we do not need to follow their lead. The current administration is pushing numerous positive initiatives, even if many of them have not (yet) prevailed.
Concerned about inflation and the economy? You’re not the only one. But the dominant narrative we are hearing about the economy is also curiously negative. It’s worth looking at why.
And do we have reason to be concerned about the far right prevailing in our next election cycle? Definitely! Especially with the treasonous voter suppression, gerrymandering, and outright election stealing efforts being pushed all over America. It is hardly hyperbole to suggest that democracy is at risk when access to the vote is being systematically curtailed in places primarily populated by people of color and lower income citizens.
But history is still in the process of being written! I encourage you to read Michael Moore’s recent essay “How to Win Big This November.” It’s well worth a few minutes of your time. I don’t agree with all Moore’s points, but he deserves credit for pushing a new, non-defeatist narrative. We all need to help change the dominant storyline, because language shapes history. Moore is correct that American democracy depends upon us getting this one right.
Meanwhile, the festering wound of election lies being pushed by dominant Republicans is just as likely to cause collapse as success. Witness the growing voices of GOP leaders like Mike Rounds of South Dakota acknowledging that the “stolen election” was all a lie, while other leaders as unsavory as the former president jockey for power. Republicans have sacrificed their core values and positioned themselves as being primarily obstructionist instead of even trying to govern. The fact is that the GOP is right now teetering at the edge of the abyss of its own corruption.
This is America. Individualism is our national religion. And part of that individualism seems to involve placing unrealistic emphasis on the President of the United States, whether you see that person as an ally or not. For years in private conversations, I’ve tried to direct the attention of friends and colleagues away from our nation’s chief executives, whether they be charismatic or corrupt or well-intended or ineffectual. Positive or negative, cults of personality are unhealthy for democracy.
We need to shift our focus from the individual in the Oval Office to the one in the mirror.
Consider a hypothetical. Imagine that a corrupt presidential candidate managed to install his own loyalists into Secretary of State offices in battleground states, then went on to claim a dubious victory based upon those loyalists’ unilateral decisions about which ballots are worth counting. Would you take to the streets to defend democracy? If you are a loyal citizen of the USA, I certainly hope you would! But now the time to raise your voice.
It is up to us to reframe the narrative of 2022. We can do this. We can make positive change a reality, but not by carping about it and wringing our hands. I invite you to drive a new narrative that reinforces democracy and majority rule in your conversations with friends, neighbors, and co-workers – especially those outside comfortably blue enclaves like Bellingham. Democracy needs to be lived, not watched!
Since it is obvious that Republicans are out of step with the priorities of the majority, we need to mobilize around that fact – as Michael Moore advocates.* Raise our voices. Create dialog around shared issues. Demand that democracy prevail over partisanship. Support pro-democracy groups. Take our role as citizens seriously. And make a habit of telling elected officials where you stand!
*A good start might be sending Moore’s article to your Senators and Representatives!
A version of this essay appeared in the Northwest Citizen.