The cover of the December New Republic features a big picture of Joe Biden with the one-word caption Phew!

We did indeed dodge a bullet on November 3.  Trump’s re-election would have been a disaster for American democracy.  It would have initiated changes in our system of governance in an authoritarian direction that could take decades to reverse.  Yes, it could have happened here.

But inside the same issue of The New Republic, one commentator, John Patrick Leary, takes a different tack from the expression of relief on the front cover.  In his view, all this breathless talk about saving American democracy amounts to a blinkered celebration of a system that is badly broken:

What would we be saving—the obscene ad spendinggerrymandered legislaturesbroken voting machines, byzantine registration lawsfelon disenfranchisement, and all the legal means by which states can suppress the Black vote? The continued existence of the Senate, an instrument of minority party rule? Or the coterie of unelected legislators-for-life better known as the Supreme Court? The task is not to save “our democracy”—we need to build it first.”

I have some sympathy with Leary’s perspective, but only up to a point.  Of course, he’s right that our democratic system is very badly flawed.  Any celebration of its preservation should go along with a clear-eyed understanding of the need to make it better.  But Leary’s insistence on always putting “our democracy” in scare quotes suggests a failure to appreciate the very real possibility that it could get a lot worse—it almost did, and it still might. The fact is, over 70 million Americans voted for a lawless racist demagogue with authoritarian aspirations, and for the party that enables him.  The system held, but just barely.  The Trumpists’ assault on our democracy will continue, and we need to continue to defend it–without scare quotes.




  1. Frank December 29, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    I think it’s the judiciary and that scares me as much as anything else. Hard to believe the DT had 3 appointments. But what irks me more is how the Senate stopped Obama’s appointment. I’m also afraid that the new Senate, if Ga. Republicans win, can stop so much. What will then happen in two years? So much to think about.

  2. Donald Campbell December 31, 2020 at 10:58 am

    The schism Tony describes above breaks down, I think, to whether we work with-in the system to seek change or revolutionize the system, not starting from scratch per se, but by applying pressure from the outside. The quote by Leary above alludes to an entrenched system of minority rule in which the levers of power will cede nothing to progressive forces. With the demographic changes in the USA and and likely progressive changes in the third world (former colonies),
    national and global forces will further alienate the USA regardless of the Biden presidency. It seems likely the country will turn inward in a futile attempt to “Make America great again,” rather than to try to live responsibly with-in a global community. Though the future is not ye written and a Biden presidency is certainly better especially with regard to the virus, global warming, nuclear proliferation and strengthening the global community…Will it be enough?

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