Does Democracy Have to Hang in the Balance in Every F*cking Election?

The midterm elections are finally upon us, which means there’s a chill in the air, Beto O’Rourke won’t stop texting me, and I’m filled with deep existential dread.

The future of democracy once again hangs in the balance with this year’s results, just as it did in 2020, when you-know-who vowed to reject any unfavorable results before ballots had even been cast, and as it did in 2016, when Republican-seeded bogus claims about voter fraud reached a fever pitch. Now, in 2022, one of our two major political parties has been wholly swallowed by election-deniers—a sludge of fascist-flirters, white nationalists, and others who will trash any democratic norm and institution in pursuit of power. Some of them truly believe the “Big Lie” conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen, while others only pretend to believe it for their own craven political purposes.

Now, in 2022, one of our two major political parties has been wholly swallowed by election-deniers.

According to FiveThirtyEight, an astonishing 60 percent of Americans have an election-denier on their ballot this year. In Arizona, both the Republican candidates for governor and secretary of state are full-throated election deniers, setting up—should they win—a potential nightmare scenario in 2024 when they could refuse to certify the results of the presidential election. In Pennsylvania, GOP candidate Doug Mastriano, who was seen outside the Capitol on the day of the January 6 insurrection, has latched onto the ludicrous plan of making every single person in the state reregister to vote, although that is obviously, undoubtedly illegal.

And in a terrifying new low, over the weekend, a man who had been reportedly posting conspiracy theories about everything from the pandemic to the 2020 election brutally attacked Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in their San Francisco home, sending the 82-year-old to the ICU. Republicans could barely muster the will to condemn it. This is what our body politic is now? What sure looks like an assassination attempt on our Speaker of the House that fades away from the news cycle because somehow there are even bigger issues at stake?

This is exhausting. How can it be that the only bulwark between us and the end of American democracy as we know it are voters showing up time after time to resoundingly vote out the party maneuvering to rig the results? We’re just supposed to keep doing this…indefinitely? Don’t we have another option?

Oh, that’s right—Democrats, with their current control of *all three* branches of government, do. They could act boldly to pass reforms that would shore up democracy if, by some miracle, they manage to hold onto or even expand their majorities in the House and the Senate. They could abolish the filibuster that requires an impossible super-majority of 60 votes to pass any legislation. They could then pass the For the People Act, which expands access to voting and beats back partisan gerrymandering. They could make a play for D.C. statehood that would help balance the unfair advantage that rural, sparsely populated states hold in the Senate.

They could act boldly to pass reforms that would shore up democracy.

I used to be one of those optimistic Leslie Knope–esque assholes who loved voting, a natural hangover of coming of age during the hope-y, change-y years of the first Obama campaign. In every election, I got up early, waited in line, felt an electric thrill filling in the bubbles on the ballot in every race from county sheriff to U.S. Senator, and picked up a democracy egg and cheese sandwich on my way home to celebrate my civic triumph. Elections seemed like they could change things: Maybe we could have universal health care, maybe we could have paid family leave, maybe we could stop the painful, needless grind of mass shootings, maybe we could stop the whole planet from going up in flames. Now, we vote simply to prevent things from getting worse.

Listen, I don’t mean to whine about the act of voting, which, even with barriers to access, is a relatively minor responsibility, at least in my case. We should all vote and we should all demand the right to vote. People around the world have had to sacrifice far more to keep democracies alive and beat back authoritarians.

But after I cast my ballot this year, I’d like to see the people we hired to fix this shit actually do something, so that the next time an election rolls around, the endless beat of ALL CAPS donation emails are focused on fighting for positive, progressive change. I’m asking for just a little political leadership, a small display of backbone to help turn back the tide against this noxious strain of democracy-denying extremism and prevent it from hijacking this fragile, imperfect thing we’ve spent more than 200 years building.

Our collective faith in our system of government depends on it. And as an entirely inconsequential bonus, I wouldn’t mind getting another hit of that old euphoria when I fill in the bubbles of my ballot and pick up my democracy egg and cheese.

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