Kendall Stanley: Is our democracy in danger?

There’s a line ascribed to Benjamin Franklin that goes like this “A Republic … if you can keep it.” Can we?

David Leonhardt, writing in The New York Times, noted two things that are threats to democracy in the country.

One, the growing movement in the Republican Party to refuse to accept defeat following an election. That obviously starts at the top with former president Donald Trump, but many Republican candidates in the upcoming November general election have indicated they would not accept defeat.

The second is the power to set policy is disconnected from public opinion.

Kendall P. Stanley
Kendall P. Stanley

Of that Leonhardt writes, “The run of recent Supreme Court decisions — both sweeping and, according to polls, unpopular — highlight this disconnect. Although the Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees seems poised to shape American politics for years, if not decades. And the court is only one of the means through which policy outcomes are becoming less closely tied to the popular will.

“Two of the past four presidents have taken office despite losing the popular vote. Senators representing a majority of Americans are often unable to pass bills, partly because of the increasing use of the filibuster. Even the House, intended as the branch of the government that most reflects the popular will, does not always do so, because of the way districts are drawn.”

Leonhardt referenced a Quinnipiac University poll that showed 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans said democracy was in danger of collapse.

Just not for the same reasons.

Democrats point to efforts on the right to overturn election results and the diminishment of majority rule. Republicans are trying to protect what they feel are American values. “The economic frustrations and cultural fears have combined to create a chasm in American political life, between prosperous, diverse major metropolitan areas and more traditional, religious and economically struggling smaller cities and rural areas. The first category is increasingly liberal and Democratic, the second increasingly conservative and Republican,” Leonhardt writes.

“The political contest between the two can feel existential to people in both camps, with disagreements over nearly every prominent issue. ‘When we’re voting, we’re not just voting for a set of policies but for what we think makes us Americans and who we are as a people,’” Lilliana Mason, a political scientist and the author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity,” said. “‘If our party loses the election, then all of these parts of us feel like losers.’”

Donald Trump plays to the winners and losers scenario every time he speaks at his rallies. The cities run by Democrats are dystopian, with crime, drugs, lousy schools — you get the idea. There is light, however, if voters choose him and the America first agenda he espouses.

The problem isn’t just the way each party views the country and where it is going wrong, but the vitriol that has come from moving away from “your idea is really not OK,” to “you need to be eliminated because of your view and actions.”

Sometimes the split can come within a state such as Arizona where Tucson is a liberal oasis and Phoenix is more conservative, but both are big cities. Some of the MAGA loving candidates for statewide election this year are from the Phoenix area.

Republicans can complain all they want about Joe Biden splitting the country after he vowed to unite us during the 2020 presidential race, and yea, calling the MAGA wing of the Republican Party a bunch of semi-fascists isn’t a sign of unity, but how do you unite with people who believe you are not legitimately the winner of said 2020 election?

Vitriol now extends downward to state and local elections, especially school boards where major clashes are occurring over the handling of sexuality and race relations in the classroom.

Teachers had been increasingly leaving the profession and moving on to less stressful jobs but now it is almost at stampede level. One teacher we know said she retired earlier than she had planned because she just couldn’t take all the negatives of the job anymore. She’s not alone, and it’s to a point in some states that people with a college degree but no teaching instruction or experience are being asked to consider teaching classes.

But it is the threat to not accept the results of an election that is most troubling to me. One study notes that 47 percent of Republicans running for statewide office this year have refused to accept the 2020 election results — including some in Michigan.

Yes, 47 percent. Almost half.

I have no idea how to bridge that divide, but if things continue as they are, it will become very ugly, very quickly.

— Kendall P. Stanley is retired editor of the News-Review. He can be contacted at kendallstanley@charter.net. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily of the Petoskey News-Review or its employees. 

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Kendall Stanley: Is our democracy in danger?