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A rebound for democracy?

Evan McMullin

Utah Democrats endorsed a conservative independent, Evan McMullin, for Senate.

George Frey/Getty Images

Goldstone’s most recent book is "On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights."

Democracy, which has been under assault around the world in recent years — including, sadly, in the United States — may be making a bit of a comeback.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, facing what was supposed to be an uphill and uncertain fight for re-election, trounced his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, by 17 percentage points. While some pundits pointed out that Le Pen had improved on her previous performance by 7 points, that analysis does not take into account that France is notoriously hard on incumbents and had not re-elected a president in two decades. Given that a hefty segment of the French population would not vote for those already in office if they were family members, Le Pen’s performance was not much of an improvement at all.

In Slovenia, highly favored three-term incumbent Janez Jansa, a would-be autocrat who has been compared to Donald Trump, lost in a huge upset to Robert Golob and the pro-environment, pro-democracy Freedom Movement. Jansa had been openly courting authoritarian rule using the Trump playbook — ruthlessly attacking his opponents in parliament, the judiciary and the media — but he still lost by more than 10 points. Finland and Sweden, two unaligned nations with democratic traditions, are seriously considering joining NATO to preserve their form of government in the face of a Russian threat.

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And then, of course, there is Ukraine, whose people are enduring devastation, plunder, mass murder and unspeakable barbarism to protect what before the Russian invasion had been a fragile and fractious democracy.

Even in the United States, there was recently a glimmer of hope that some are rejecting the extremism that has been tearing the country apart.

In Utah, a state only slightly less red than a fire engine, the Democratic Party, rather than nominate its own candidate in what would have been a hopeless Senate campaign against incumbent Mike Lee, chose instead to endorse a principled conservative, former CIA officer and presidential candidate Evan McMullin. McMullin, a fiscal conservative who is far to the right of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, is also pro-environment and believes in voting rights and the rule of law. He was an anti-Trump candidate in 2016, a fierce critic of Trump’s presidency, and endorsed Joe Biden in 2020. In other words, a half-century ago, McMullin might have as easily been a moderate Democrat as a moderate Republican.

Lee, on the other hand, is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, an unapologetic supporter of Donald Trump, who, according to texts to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, “worked furiously to overturn the 2020 election and keep President Donald Trump in power before ultimately abandoning the effort when no evidence of widespread fraud surfaced and his outreach to states for alternate electors proved futile.”

The willingness of Lee to abandon the basic tenets of democratic rule is hardly unique among his fellow Republicans. The text exchange between Lee and Meadows, as damning as it may be, does not fully depict the lengths to which some of America’s elected leaders will go to subvert their own institutions for personal gain as much as the almost laughable duplicity of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy, who seems to want to be speaker as much as Vladimir Putin wants to be tsar, first angrily denied reports that he urged Trump to resign in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — and that he had moaned, “I’ve had it with this guy” — but then was forced to admit they were true when an audiotape surfaced. McCarthy then once again kowtowed to Trump, insisting he was misunderstood, and Trump, ever magnanimous to toadies, agreed to forgive him.

If Lee and McCarthy were exceptions, the Republican Party would be faced with a problem that it possessed the resources to solve. But they are not. That the mainstream Republican Party seems to have as much contempt for democracy as for Democrats is reaffirmed almost daily. Some Republican primary candidates in national, state and local elections are campaigning on their embrace of lies, their willingness to overturn future elections and their eagerness to disenfranchise legitimate voters. And invariably they do so with flag pins in their lapels, spouting their commitment to freedom and the Constitution, neither for which they appear to have any real appreciation.

While Democrats are hardly blameless in what has often become political trench warfare, grousing over Hillary Clinton’s electoral vote loss (she beat Trump by 2.5 million popular votes) is hardly the same as pretending an 8 million vote loss did not occur. Members of “The Squad” might advocate policies that many find offensive, but they pale before the pronouncements of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, among others.

Republicans, all too aware they are the minority party — their House candidates got 5 million less votes in 2020 than Democrats — seem to prefer destroying free elections rather than doing what is necessary to earn the majority’s trust. For this, they require no real program at all but simply to pander to the anger and frustration of a base that is inundated with tales of Hunter Biden’s laptop or Clinton’s emails and then to prevent enough of their opponents from voting to ensure their continued rule. Ironic is that those who cannot stop screaming about rigged elections are the ones who are most trying to rig them.

Most parents, to instill a sense of honor and fairness in their children, try to teach them not to be “sore losers,” which means admitting when they have lost and, parents hope, trying harder next time. If Ukrainians are willing to fight, starve, and die to keep the flame of democracy alive in bombed out homes and factories, it does not seem too much to ask the nation that introduced democracy to the modern world to adhere to the same standard of behavior required in a school playground.

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