Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
Here we go again. On Sept. 12, soon-to-be-deposed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced an “impeachment investigation” into President Biden. McCarthy was clearly trying to appease the extreme right-wingers in his party, who are upset that the speaker hasn’t been sufficiently radical over budget negotiations. And of course, McCarthy presented absolutely zero evidence Biden has done anything warranting impeachment. But in the post-fact vacuum that is the Republican mindset, no evidence the president has done anything wrong is simply evidence he’s hiding something.
The only thing that McCarthy even mentioned related to the inquiry—a “culture of corruption”—is patently bogus in relation to this White House. But Hunter Biden is another matter, and it’s clear the GOP is going to use the president’s errant son as a wedge to pry out any grain of dirt they can find to stop this administration from governing before the election next year, at which point they can return Donald Trump to power.
There’s a lot to say about this—how the Biden administration specifically, and Democrats generally, haven’t done enough to distance themselves from Hunter Biden’s failings; how problematic presidential relatives go all the way back to Payne Todd, the albatross stepson to James Madison; and how all this plays into a looming government shutdown (especially with the House thrown into chaos by the self-imposed decapitation within the GOP) and the election next year. So let’s just leave that here, because something bigger is at stake, and not just whether or not McCarthy will carry through with his threat to impeach Biden.
How Outreach and Deep Canvassing Can Change Rural PoliticsDown Home North Carolina is a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote group that practices “deep canvassing” in rural areas to increase voter participation and elect progressive candidates. The technique involves one-on-one conversations that aim to connect on an emotional level, as a way to find common ground, and involves active listening to people and their concerns. Canvassers go door-to-door, and conduct outreach in public areas like Walmart and food banks, (though COVID-19 moved conversations to the phone) and particularly aim to connect with people who haven’t been engaged in the political process before.Read Full Story
In recent weeks I’ve been thinking about the fundamental crisis facing the United States—one that goes beyond Donald Trump’s bid for reelection—which is that one of the two major political parties has turned definitively against democracy.
We see this most recently in the forthcoming biography of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Romney: A Reckoning, by McKay Coppins, as excerpted in The Atlantic. Romney, the only senator in U.S. history to vote to convict an impeached president of his own party (which he did twice), is retiring in 2024, and burning bridges with his cohorts in the Republican Party. “A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” he told Coppins.
Romney’s observation is shared on the political left—but it’s also fair to criticize how Romney has helped the rise of the radical right during his long career in the Senate. It’s one thing to label the problem of the Republican Party becoming an autocratic party, and quite another trying to figure out what to do with it.
I was a guest on a recent episode of Rising Up With Sonali (she is also my colleague here at YES!) when she asked me whether massive voter turnout for Biden and other Democratic candidates in 2024 is the only thing preventing us from sliding into autocracy—and how to convince progressives and liberals who would prefer to vote for someone else to hold their noses and vote for Biden.
Sadly, the answer to the first question is yes, and it’s not just going to be in 2024, but in every election going forward in which the future of American democracy is on the ballot. When one party has firmly turned against democracy, then every election has the potential to be the last election. Elections become existential for our constitutional republic.
This makes recent complaints about Biden’s age, for example, or other calls for him to step aside, or evidence that big donors to progressive causes are cutting back, all the more frightening. Yes, voting, especially in presidential elections, is often a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Pointing out that there’s a world of difference between Biden and Trump won’t make some voters on the left any more enthusiastic for Biden’s reelection.
Depressed turnout on the left is likely to lead to Trump winning a second term. And I don’t think it’s overwrought to say that such an outcome will signal the end of American democracy. There may be future elections, but they will likely be neither free nor fair, and the right to vote at all will be curtailed even more than it is already, especially for Black voters.
So to the second half of Sonali’s question: How can we convince the left that, yes, voting for someone you don’t like is better than the available alternatives—voting for Trump out of spite, voting for a third-party candidate of any political stripe, or staying home—all of which would contribute to a Republican victory?
Part of this comes down to the definition of voting. Often, it’s interpreted as voters “expressing their preference,” words that imply that any preference is fine. And that definition is not technically wrong. In an ideal system, that is indeed how voting would work, and the results would honor those preferences to the same degree that people express them.
In Congress, that means proportional representation. In a race for a single office—i.e., the presidency—it’s a popular vote contest.
In the United States of America, we have neither of those systems. Most races for the House of Representatives are a case of the politician, or their party, choosing who their voters are, thanks to gerrymandering of congressional districts. Races for the presidency take place under the rules of the Electoral College, which only approximately follows the popular vote and leaves plenty of room for shenanigans.
(Ironically, the U.S. Senate, a legislative body created to reduce popular power, and whose rules have become political weapons on the right to suppress Democratic goals and initiatives—see Merrick Garland, Supreme Court nominee—is the one case where the popular vote actually governs the outcomes. Senate elections are also notoriously flush with corporate money.)
Voting is not an independent exercise of popular will, as much as we’d like it to be. It is an activity that occurs within different systems and has different effects: In the Senate, votes determine the winner. In the race for the White House, they often, but not always, determine the winner. And in the House, more often than not, the votes are a foregone conclusion.
What matters—what does achieve results—is not how one individual votes, but rather the number of individuals who do in each jurisdiction. Turnout not only matters, it’s the whole ball game.
The people who knock on doors to recruit new or infrequent voters, who drive folks who are immobile to the polls, who collect and deliver absentee ballots for those same people, who make sure the voters aren’t swarmed by hostile activists, who hand out food and water to people standing in hours-long lines, and who remind voters of their rights at every step of the way, have more influence over the outcomes of elections than individual voters do.
It’s telling that today’s Republican party has perfected tactics targeting all of these activities. Georgia even passed a law—partially struck down in August—that criminalized giving voters food and water when they were in a polling line.
When you hear the catchphrase, “Vote in numbers too big to manipulate,” that’s an appeal to activism.
Now look at the battleground for 2024. The U.S. is in a very different place even from just a few years ago.
Wisconsin Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, have threatened to impeach a Democratic state Supreme Court Justice, Janet Protasiewicz, before she’s even heard a case because she’s likely to break the Republicans’ lock on power and rule that the state’s extremely gerrymandered legislative districts are unconstitutional.
North Carolina Republicans have voted to strip the (Democratic) governor of the power to make appointments to election boards. Gov. Roy Cooper has already vetoed the legislation once. (The Tarheel State also has one of the more heavily gerrymandered legislatures, and its Congressional map was, too, before a state supreme court ruling. The makeup of the supreme court has since changed, however, so it is expected that Democrats will be gerrymandered into a tiny Congressional minority, instead of having parity to match the population.)
The Alabama Republican-dominated legislature has flat-out ignored a U.S. Supreme Court order to redraw its Congressional districts to create a second district that could represent Black voters. Despite a rebuke from the highest court of the land, the Republicans redrew the maps to allow just one Black district and appealed the exact same case back to the Supreme Court, hoping for a different outcome. They didn’t get it, and now a federal court has ordered the state to use its own map, which is likely to create a second Black (and Democratic) seat. For now, the battle is over, but likely not forever.
That’s just a sampling. And while Alabama may not be considered a competitive state for Democrats, constituents did elect a Democratic senator not that long ago. Wisconsin is competitive, and North Carolina was until recently—and can be again (both Barack Obama in 2008, and Trump in 2016, had narrow wins). The postmortems on the 2020 presidential election, the 2022 midterms, and even past elections, are the same: When Black people vote in large numbers, especially Black women, Democrats tend to win.
The Democratic Party doesn’t seem to want to admit this, but there it is. If Democrats want to win a race, Black people are the voters to try to reach, not the white suburban “centrists” who wonder if Biden’s too old, or who swung to Trump in 2016 because they didn’t think he was that bad, or who believed some version of “but her emails” when the false equivalence pushed by Republicans into the national media became ubiquitous.
(It is true that suburban white women are an often-targeted demographic. Abortion politics are particularly resonant with this voting bloc, which is why Republicans would rather talk about anything else. But while women voters only lean Democratic, Black and other nonwhite voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. Which demographic group carries more weight in a given election is, again, a matter of turnout.)
If Democrats want to win, and continue to win, they’re going to need better voter outreach in Black communities. Georgia is more than 30% Black, and only 51% white. But the state is a battleground because the Georgia Democratic Party is well-organized, and not least because Trump’s attempt to steal the vote in the state backfired dramatically. Mississippi is 38% Black, yet it’s basically a Republican lock statewide except for the 2nd District, which is about 65% Black, including much of the city of Jackson and the western parts of the state along the Mississippi River. The national Democratic Party may consider the state a write-off, but it would be a prime target for a second round of ’60s-style activism.
Even though the 1960s are now mostly confined to the history books, it’s best not to forget what happened then: the bus boycotts, the Freedom Rides, the marches on Selma, Birmingham, and Washington, D.C. The entire 20th-century civil rights movement, which picked up after World War II where Reconstruction left off, led directly to two major legislative victories: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today’s Supreme Court conservative majority has largely dismantled the latter, and Republicans, their power enhanced as a result, have made no secret of their plans to now target the former. If the GOP is determined to roll back the clock, Democrats need to meet this moment with the same energy they used to defeat Republicans the first time in the 1960s.
Chris Winters is a senior editor at YES!, where he specializes in covering democracy and the economy. Chris has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in the Seattle area. He’s covered everything from city council meetings to natural disasters, local to national news, and won numerous awards for his work. He is based in Seattle, and speaks English and Hungarian.