We are facing a sustained, historic assault on democracy in Ohio and across America
The Ohio burgee waving along with the national flag of the United States of America. Getty Images.
The textbook definition of democratic decline includes the weakening of democratic institutions like the peaceful transition of power or free and fair elections, and the violation of rights that underpin democracy.
Ohio is in the middle of a sustained, historic assault perpetuating just such a decline, and so is America. Due to events that have been in motion since 2019, the U.S. was added to an annual list of “backsliding” democracies for the first time in 2021.
Democracy refers to the power of the people in our constitutional republic — the power of our vote and our ability to cast ballots, and relatedly, whether we enjoy accountability over our government, whether our rights are protected, whether our elected representatives are responsive to our interests, whether we receive equal protection and enforcement of the law, whether our government has been corrupted by private interests.
The report from the International IDEA think tank about America’s democratic backsliding said that a historic turning point came in 2020-21 when former president Donald Trump perpetuated brazen lies about the 2020 election results. This culminated in a new day that America will never forget: The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to disrupt constitutional business and overthrow the election.
More than 1,100 people have now faced Jan. 6 criminal charges, with 110 people found guilty at trial and about 366 sentenced to prison as of early August. About 632 people have pleaded guilty. The convictions include four Proud Boys leaders found guilty of seditious conspiracy, and a special counsel has brought charges against Trump himself including conspiracy to defraud the United States, witness tampering, and conspiracy against the rights of citizens.
Trump refuses to stop lying about the 2020 Election, and is joined by a chorus of right-wing media and politicians who have fallen to their knees under the grasp of his throat-hold over the Republican Party.
The constant barrage of lies has had its intended effect: Nearly 70% of Republican voters say President Joe Biden’s 2020 Election win was illegitimate, and Trump has a 40-point advantage in next year’s Republican presidential primary, with more than 55% support in an average of polls as of Sept. 13.
It’s rare these days to see any Republican politician standing up against the abhorrent abnormality and criminality of the Trump regime. For those who have, they either converted to Trumperism, retired, or their ethics and patriotic commitment cost them their office. So now we see nearly all GOP politicians groveling in subservience to Trumperism, whether through amoral, debased cynicism or through strident, true-believer ignorance.
“A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney is quoted telling the author of his forthcoming biography.
Trump allies have plans for a second term to “to dismantle the U.S. government and replace it with Trump’s vision,” reports the Associated Press. It includes stripping layers at the Justice Department, including the FBI, and reaching into national security, intelligence, the State Department and the Pentagon.
This is an overt blueprint for capturing national military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies and destroying the rule of law, which is a pretty standard first move for authoritarian regimes.
Imagine a history book from the future: “The year was 2023, and the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee for president was three-times impeached and adjudicated rapist ex-president Donald Trump, then facing 91 felony indictments across four jurisdictions, including racketeering and conspiracy to defraud voters. The 2024 general election polls were neck and neck.”
On the heels of the Trump years, an annual global opinion poll in 2021 found 44% of those surveyed said the influence of the United States was a threat to democracy worldwide. That perception has improved in the Biden years, but the Alliance of Democracies’ 2023 survey found that corruption has continued as one of the top threats to democracy, and it was listed as the No. 1 threat by those surveyed in America.
This is something Ohioans know in our bones, as we have been living with the most corrupt, feckless, reckless, unscrupulous, power-drunk, anti-democratic state government of our lifetimes.
This spring and summer, after our former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges were convicted and sentenced to prison for federal felony racketeering in a $61 million political bribery, $1.3 billion utility bailout scandal, our Republican elected leaders sought out to destroy the democratic power of Ohio voters with August’s Issue 1.
This was the first time in history an Ohio legislature attempted to roll back the constitutional powers of voters. Thankfully, voters stood up for ourselves and smacked them down.
Both of those events came after Ohioans watched Republicans on our Ohio Redistricting Commission ignore the voters, the Ohio Constitution, the rule of law, and seven bipartisan Ohio Supreme Court rulings against unconstitutional gerrymandering of our Ohio Statehouse and U.S. Congressional district maps in 2021-2022.
Ohioans were forced to vote under unconstitutional maps in 2022 and are now nearly 100% likely to get more gerrymandered maps for 2024.
Meanwhile, in 2023, Ohio Republican politicians enacted one of the most restrictive voter laws in the nation. In 2022, they politicized our state supreme court by adding party labels, and this year they have proposed to do the same to our state board of education. They have also proposed to increase hyper-partisanship in Ohio by closing our primaries.
In the summer of 2022, The New Yorker ran a piece by ace reporter Jane Meyer titled, “State Legislatures are Torching Democracy.” Ohio is the article’s No. 1 example.
But Ohio is not alone in facing such assaults. In total, voters in six states were forced to vote under illegal maps in 2022: Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
The Illinois billionaire funder of August’s Ohio Issue 1 — who financed Jan. 6 and election deniers around the country, and has now thrown his money behind Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose’s U.S. Senate campaign — previously tried to hijack the constitutional powers of the people in Missouri, South Dakota, and Arkansas.
In Wisconsin, their statehouse Republican lawmakers are moving to impeach newly sworn in Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz for speaking out against gerrymandering during her campaign. In Alabama, Republican lawmakers defied the U.S. Supreme Court and ignored federal court orders to redraw its gerrymandered U.S. Congressional district map that violates the Voting Rights Act.
Since 2008, states across the country have been making it harder to vote, especially on Black people, the elderly, students, low-income people, and people with disabilities. In 2022, 26 states worsened equity in voting and representation, according to the Center for Public Integrity, and as of June 2023, at least 11 states have enacted 13 restrictive voting laws, and four have enacted laws that increase the opportunity for political election interference, according to the Brenner Center for Justice.
To top it all off, America is experiencing our biggest and most sustained increase in political violence since the 1970s.
What happens next?
The important takeaway from all of this ought to be that our democratic rights, norms, and institutions are never a given. They persist only so far as we believe in them, cherish them, jealously guard them, and viciously fight for them.
The parade of anti-democratic, un-American charlatans and con men will never end. It never has. This ego-maniacal, authoritarian lust for unaccountable control and power over others clings to humanity with each and every generation. The history of civilization is the story of these wars of power, and the long, noble crusade by some for a just society governed by the rule of law and marked by democratic accountability over elected officials tasked with serving the people.
Generations before us paid dearly in life and limb for the rights and freedoms handed down to us. We have a sacred obligation to them, to ourselves, to each other, and to generations to come, that we never surrender the progress we’ve made. We have an even higher obligation to hand down something better, not worse, to those who come after us.
We stand now facing a grim storm. We face a nation divided not just on policy, but on the pillars of democracy itself. We face an angry mob and their instigators, who would rather destroy the constitutional and governmental foundations of America than accept defeat under free and fair elections.
The next 14 months will carry enormous weight in our country’s history and over our future.
Occasionally I’m asked where I look for hope.
It’s certainly not toward the politicians, I joke.
In truth, it’s that I know there are millions of people across America choosing every day to do their part and do their best; to improve and grow our communities; to help their neighbors; to show tolerance and compassion and understanding toward their fellow human beings; to educate themselves and to serve and educate each other honestly, knowledgeably and faithfully; to volunteer their time; to get involved and participate and put forth profound personal effort to protect and perpetuate our pillars of democracy; and to make life better for all of us.
They are where I find hope.
We’re going to need every last one of them. Defeating these attacks on democracy is going to take every last one of us.
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