Adkins: How we perceive threats to democracy

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Recent polls indicate that, second only to inflation, the perceived threat to democracy is the most important issue on the minds of the voters as we enter the last weeks of the midterm campaigns. In fact, a whopping 72% of Americans believe our American democracy is in peril. Surprisingly, the factor that both Democrats and Republicans view equally as a cause of concern for our democracy is too much money in politics. That view is shared by 86% of voters from both parties. Beyond that, the reasons for the perceived threat differs greatly from party to party. An amazingly high percentage of Americans view the potential threat of political violence as potentially wrecking our democracy. At least one political pundit downplays the chances of a civil war because we are too complacent, sitting in our relative laps of luxury. I am not certain he has his finger on the pulse of the nation; at least not on the pulse of the Republican Party, whose leader is increasingly quoting QAnon conspiracy theories. My personal level of concern was raised after listening to QAnon followers being interviewed recently; branding those who don’t agree with them traitors and publicly calling for their mass executions.

As I mentioned, Republicans see the threats to democracy much differently than Democrats, or Independents for that matter. After the money issue, Republicans list too much power in government (82%), and people voting illegally (76%) as the next serious reasons for worry. It doesn’t matter that few if any illegal votes have been cast during the entire 21st Century, illegal voting has been driven into the minds of Republican voters by GOP leaders and the right-wing media. The few known instances of attempted illegal ballots cast in 2020 were almost all cast for President Trump. Voters need to realize this issue is a straw dog for GOP efforts to reduce the number of votes coming from demographics and regions that favor Democratic candidates. Republicans need to accept the fact that millions of illegal aliens did not vote in either 2016 or 2020.

The causes of concern for Democratic, and perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, independent voters, are the potential for political violence and attempts to overturn elections. We have already witnessed the attempts by President Trump and his supporters to overturn a legal election, and there are numerous GOP candidates for Secretary of State races who are admitted election deniers. Some state legislatures are already grappling with efforts to give themselves the power to overturn election results they don’t like. All it will take to trigger such an undemocratic act is for a handful of disgruntled people to claim something is fishy at the polls. It likely won’t even take plausible evidence to light the fire.

It is too easy to and too dangerous to take the threats against democracy lightly. In the relatively short time span that is the 21st Century to date, the nations of Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Turkey and (prior to the Zelensky election) Ukraine, all let their guards down and lost their democratic rule. None of these examples came from coups. Each began with legally elected leaders. In their book, “How Democracies Die,” authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, write that “Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box … elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance.” In most of these countries, the move to autocratic rule was portrayed first as efforts to improve democracy, by “making the judiciary more efficient,” “combatting corruption” or “cleaning up the electoral process.” Don’t think for a moment that it could not happen here. We already dodged that bullet once, but those who favor authoritarianism are reloading.

Michael Adkins formerly was chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. Send comments to [email protected]

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