Guest Column

The Threats to Our Democracy

When Republicans defend the Jan. 6 insurrection as a “legitimate political discourse,” it should give any party member reason to reconsider their loyalty to party

By David R. James

We are at war at home and abroad. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe stated, “We face an existential threat from a movement openly contemptuous of democracy and willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists.” It requires Americans to work together to ensure its success and our future. It means amplifying truth over lies, courage over fear, and country over party. We need to stop treating our fellow Americans and neighbors as the enemy. As former Republican Stuart Stevens says, “legitimizing hate is like a war: it is easier to begin than stop.” We can disagree about policy issues because that’s what vibrant democracies do. But the threats are apparent. 

Several threats have metastasized from the Big Lie through misinformation and propaganda. Based on this misguided voter fraud talking point, Republican-controlled states, like Montana, are passing laws to suppress voter turnout. For example, college students can no longer use their student IDs to vote. This law will substantially reduce these young adults’ ability to vote. And to what end? According to David Pepper in the Laboratories of Autocracy, this doesn’t improve the voting process; it is an intentional effort to reduce young voter turnout because younger educated people don’t vote Republican. Other threats include gerrymandering congressional districts, restrictive voter IDs, vast amounts of dark money, and burgeoning propaganda that has become a cottage industry. Montana Republicans are trying to diminish the independence of our state Supreme Court, which is a constitutional check upon the Legislature. Combined with an unwillingness to seek a compromise on matters vital to Americans, extremists in Congress – like our very own Rep. Matt Rosendale – supported the insurrectionists by voting against certifying the election after MAGA forces stormed the U.S. Capitol building to overturn a free and fair election.

Part of the war at home comes from media personalities such as Tucker Carlson, featured on Russian State News for repeating Russian disinformation. And like Donald Trump, many Republicans have nothing but praise for autocrats like Putin. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event is sponsoring an official conference in Hungary to support Viktor Orban, the strongman ruler who has destroyed democracy in his country.

To Putin, truth is the enemy. State media constantly floods Russians with propaganda and disinformation with each imperialistic action he takes. First was Georgia, then Crimea, then east Ukraine and Belarus, and now “war crimes” in Bucha. According to Russian propaganda, these areas wanted Russia to “liberate them from the Nazis.: As history teaches us, the atrocities we see in Ukraine are a typical result of corrupt autocracies. It is a brutal lesson of what’s at stake in our world and our own country. Helping Ukraine defend itself from autocratic Putin is one way to fight. But many Republicans, such as our own Matt Rosendale and Sen. Steve Daines, voted against sending aid to Ukraine. The lies and performative antics of Republicans like Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz are becoming the mainstream of their party. For them, truth is irrelevant. Getting Twitter clicks and spots on Fox News is the aim. America, under President Joe Biden, has resumed a leadership role to strengthen and support democracies worldwide since WWII; yet many in the GOP support Putin and Orban.

The hate and lies are alive and well in our world and communities. To survive as a democracy, we need to elect people who believe in democracy and truth. When Republicans defend the January 6th insurrection as a “legitimate political discourse” or punish those who seek the truth in their party, it should give any party member reason to reconsider their loyalty to a leader and party who thrives on hate.

David R. James has a PhD in history and spent 40 years teaching in Eureka and Melbourne, Australia.

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