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The induced despair of undermining democracy


Great column by Michelle Goldberg about the difficulty (and importance) of maintaining optimism of the will in an egregiously rigged game:

The problem isn’t just that polls show that, at least right now, voters want to hand over Congress to a party that largely treats the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes. That’s upsetting, but it’s also fairly normal given the tendency of American voters to react against the party in power, and in a democratic system Republicans should prevail when they have public sentiment behind them.

What’s terrifying is that even if Democrats win back public confidence, they can win more votes than Republicans and still lose. Gerrymandering alone is enough to tip the balance in the House. North Carolina, a state Joe Biden lost by 1.3 percentage points, just passed a redistricting map that would create 10 Republican seats, three Democratic ones and one competitive one. “Democrats would have to win North Carolina by 11.4 points just to win half its congressional seats,” FiveThirtyEight reported.

There are already lawsuits against the map, but the Supreme Court — which is controlled by conservatives even though Democrats won the popular vote in seven out of the last eight elections — gutted constitutional limitations on gerrymandering in 2019.

Things are, if anything, even worse in the Senate, where growing geographic polarization threatens to give Republicans a near lock on the chamber. As my colleague Ezra Klein wrote last month, the Democratic data guru David Shor predicts that if Democrats win 51 percent of the two-party vote in 2024, they will lose seven seats compared to where we are now.

Meanwhile, Republicans are purging local officials who protected the integrity of the 2020 election, replacing them with apparatchiks. It will be hard for Republicans to steal the 2024 election outright, since they don’t control the current administration, but they can throw it into the sort of chaos that will cause widespread civil unrest. And if they win, it’s hard to imagine them ever consenting to the peaceful transfer of power again. As Hayes said, there’s an inexorability about what’s coming that is “very hard to watch.”


I look at the future and I see rule without recourse by people who either approve of terrorizing liberals or welcome those who do. Such an outcome isn’t inevitable; unforeseen events can reshape political coalitions. Something could happen to forestall the catastrophe bearing down on us. How much comfort you take from this depends on your disposition.

Given the bleak trajectory of American politics, I worry about progressives retreating into private life to preserve their sanity, a retreat that will only hasten democracy’s decay. In order to get people to throw themselves into the fight to save this broken country, we need leaders who can convince them that they haven’t already lost.

One reason Rucho is one of the worst decisions in the largely ignominious history of the Supreme Court is that removing legislatures from any democratic accountability is not only bad in itself but makes it more likely that they will steal a presidential election via formally legal means.

It’s hard not to give up in the fact of this, but you can’t.

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