Letter to the left: your two denials are in democracy’s way
Magical thinking and cynicism are two sides of the same coin: both are rooted in denial. Find the other way: informed, courageous action. To all those who woke up this morning in horror and disbelief that this election is so close, it’s not too late to be calm, press reset, and shift your agonizing to organizing.
Why are we here?
- 1. Obviously, Republicans — but I will only outline, not dwell, here, as I hope instead to speak directly to all the well-meaning pro-democracy people on the left. This election is not actually close. It appears close because of foundational problems in our country’s government AND ongoing anti-democratic actions, to name only a few: 1) the maintenance of the unfair institutions of the electoral college and the Senate which to do not proportionally represent the population, 2) shameless Republican voter suppression — the gutting of the Florida law to allow felons to vote is but one recent example, 3) intensified Republican gerrymandering after the 2010 midterm elections and census, 4) deepening Trump support all over the country due to propaganda, conspiracy theories, and the normalization of toxic masculinity (sexual assault) and white supremacy (armed intimidation) and 5) a Supreme Court that has upheld the right of dark corporate money in politics via Citizen’s United, gutted the voting rights of citizens, and will continue to do untold damage until the court can be expanded.
- 2. Democratic Denial: Masha Gessen says that in the context of autocratic attempts, denial is understandable- it’s what humans do when we are confronted with the unthinkable; and we have been confronted for decades with the genocide of mass incarceration and killings by police, the recent and ongoing caging and separation of families, including babies and children, and this year the callous agenda of exacerbating a global pandemic for political gain.
- 2a. Democratic Denial part a: positive and magical thinking before the election on the part of media and voters: The well-intended “positive thinking,” of many on the left is thinly veiled denial — about American exceptionalism (we are not exceptional), about the hardiness of our institutions (they are fragile), and about the deep anti-democratic and lawless criminality of the President and the Republican party (calling them stupid, incompetent, and embarrassing, purveyors of “untruths” doesn’t help, because the Republicans have been materially effective at lying, calculating, and hoarding wealth and power). If you donated to Amy McGrath and Jamie Harrison because you were so angry at their Republican opponents, you engaged in this understandable coping denial, but without sound strategy: donating money to those races past a certain point of ungodly saturation, might’ve made you feel better, but with a polarized electorate, there was little to no chance that any Democratic candidate would have won Kentucky or South Carolina in a presidential year.
- 2b. Democratic Denial part b: cynicism and defeatism after the election: If we win Arizona, it will be because regular people like my aunt and uncle worked tirelessly, talking to their friends, neighbors, and communities. If we win MI, it will be because of a friend who runs a local Indivisible chapter organized with her neighbors. North Carolina is so close because of the student who took a leave of absence to talk to voters on the phone and volunteer for a state legislature race. These people are my heroes. And if you were so hip or so busy that you (willfully) didn’t vote, didn’t do the courageous work of phone-banking, text-banking, letter writing, talking with friends, neighbors, or otherwise volunteering, your smug inaction ends up feeling like a middle finger to all the regular people and organizers who worked around the clock to GOTV, many of them women, and QTBIPOC. You were in denial of your and other people’s power.
What can we do now?
- Protect the vote. Take a hard, courageous look and acknowledge the reality of a President of the United States declaring victory before all the votes have been counted, which is the definition of an attempted coup. Learn from other countries, read the toolkits, attend the trainings, engage in non-violent protest, civil disobedience, and general strikes if you need to, to ensure that every vote is counted. We cannot rely on someone else: lawyers, activists, organizers, citizens and civil servants to pick up the pieces of this democracy and do the dirty work for us.