Depending on the outcome of the U.S. “midterm” elections taking place today, most of my readers will probably take the headline of this piece either as a comfort or as a downer, with the former likelier as the MAGA-tized Republicans are thought likely to get a majority at least in the House of Representatives and possibly in the Senate, too. But the words are simply a truism. Elections are essential to democracy, but are not sufficient to establish and defend it and are also not sufficient either to establish or to defend liberty and human rights.
In recent times, elections have taken place in many countries engulfed in civil wars, and helped provoke further violence while being only questionably free and fair. Dictatorships are notorious for holding sham elections, a practice that began with the Soviet Union and is proudly continued in theocratic Iran. On the other hand, of course, Joe Biden’s overwhelming victory over Donald Trump two years ago did not even begin to put an end to the MAGA fascist revolt. In short, the mere fact that a country holds an election proves nothing about the health or even the existence of democracy and liberty within its borders. We all know, going into these midterms, that the fairness and freedom of these elections are tainted by systematic Republican voter suppression and orchestrated threats against election officials. That is not quite the same thing as saying the elections are “rigged” in the manner that Trump and all the mini-Trumps accuse the Democrats of, in that the Republicans cannot absolutely guarantee that their attacks on the franchise will prove decisive. But they will certainly change the results of more than one critical race.
Nevertheless, and even if the MAGAs win the 2024 presidential election and thereby capture all three branches of the federal government, along with a majority of state governments, that triumph alone will not enable them to install the dictatorship that TuKKKer Carlson and his ilk have been plumping for, along the lines of Victor Orbán’s so-called illiberal democracy in Hungary. It depends how the non-totalitarian majority of Americans react. The Orange Menace’s term in office began with one of the largest street protests Washington, D.C. had ever seen, with some three-quarters of a million people jamming the capital for the Women’s March. Every step he made from then on was challenged and denounced, which fed the persecution complex he and his demented followers like to wallow in, but also hindered them significantly. When the crisis came in 2020, enough crucial federal, state and local officials, including members of his own administration, refused to cooperate with a coup that it was prevented. There is no guarantee that that will always be the outcome, but we learned from the experience that everyday people in unsung jobs can block the supposedly unstoppable march of dictatorship. The MAGAs took from that the lesson that they need to attack every level of American democracy to destroy it root and branch, from the presidency down to the local school board. But it has not been easy going for them. For all the justified criticisms that may be made of the small-d democratic resistance, we need to remind ourselves that we have defended our beleaguered republic against a concerted attack that has been going on for seven-and-a-half long years. We must keep up the fight, whatever the election returns show in the coming days or weeks.