Flickers of Hope

We’re just three months from the mid-term elections. I haven’t been expecting them to go well for America’s sane majority.

The root cause of authoritarianism is fear for the tribe’s way of life and, ultimately, for the tribe’s survival. The authoritarian right’s leaders have played on that fear remorselessly. Remember the former president’s words to the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” And the biggest right-wing authoritarian lie, older than me and even more pernicious than the whopper that the 2020 election was stolen, is that anyone who disagrees with the authoritarian right, i.e., a hefty majority of Americans, is a communist, a socialist, a far-leftist, a radical, a pedophile — in any case, an existential threat who must be punished or, if it comes to that, eliminated. It too is flourishing these days.

Plus the right has the hot winds of negative partisanship at its back, since the presidency, Senate, and House are all controlled by Democrats.

Meanwhile, organizations dedicated to furthering left-of-center goals have found new ways to shoot themselves in the foot. Right-wing authoritarians have gotten a ton of mileage exploiting anxiety about wokeness, but as the Intercept’s Ryan Grim recently reported, they might actually derive more tangible benefits from encouraging wokeness than denouncing it: woke activists have crippled such redoubtable non-profits as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood by forcing those groups to focus on internal politics rather than the larger mission. And according to University of Pittsburgh professor Lara Putnam and writer Micah L. Sifry, the so-called professionals who run Democratic campaigns have squandered the grassroots energy generated by alarm over the former president, spamming out a barrage of panic-inducing emails to supporters rather than doing the hard work of nurturing locally-driven, person-to-person outreach to persuadable voters.

So imagine this pessimist’s shock when three glimmers of hope recently broke the unremitting gloom.

The first is the rapid rise of the Democrats’ chances for retaining the Senate. (The House remains a lost cause.) When FiveThirtyEight.com began tracking Senate elections on June 1, it gave the Republicans a 60% probability of taking over. As of yesterday that probability was reversed: the Democrats now have a 59% likelihood of retaining control. Most of this dramatic shift has happened in the last couple of weeks.

The second was the out-of-the-blue announcement that the Democrats had struck a deal on a legislative program that will finally address climate change and other long-neglected problems through a budget bill the Republicans won’t be able to stop via filibuster. At last word, the process of approving that bill will begin today.

And third was the result of a plebiscite in Kansas, a highly conservative state: a proposition repealing the state constitution’s right to abortion and allowing the state’s Republican legislature to restrict abortion as it saw fit was defeated in a 59–41 landslide.

I’m not convinced these signs have any lasting significance. They certainly do not suggest the US will successfully fend off the continuing assault from anti-democratic right-wing authoritarians. But it is evidence that for all the ineptitude and disarray of the sane majority’s leadership, we’re not defeated yet.

Four police officers arrest Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger in 1916.
Planned Parenthood founder and reproductive freedom activist Margaret Sanger arrested in Brooklyn, 1916. Where was Planned Parenthood while Roe v. Wade was overturned? Debating how it should handle its founder’s flirtation with eugenics a hundred years ago.

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Andy Goldblatt

Andy Goldblatt

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.