My vote for the most discouraging news of the week goes to the New York Times story that appeared under this headline, “Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority.”
Anybody who’s been paying half attention is well aware that the United States is in a struggle between democracy and autocracy, but reading that the Times/Siena College poll found that few voters consider the possible collapse of American democracy to be the nation’s most pressing problem shook me.
Worrying more about the price of gas than the survival of American democracy is like swatting at fake cobwebs in a haunted house while a real vampire is feasting on your jugular.
In the current election cycle, such dangerous obliviousness to the reality of our situation is due in no small part to the distraction of campaign stump speeches, TV and social media ads, and even debates demonizing political opponents and rebooting debunked conspiracy theories.
Anti-democracy architects are working more angles than a 10th-grade geometry class. Systematic voter suppression, intimidation of voters and poll workers, and efforts to erode trust in local election officials and the procedures in place that ensure election integrity are not elements of a stealth campaign. The skullduggery is playing out before our eyes.
Division among us is an essential ingredient in the poison they are infusing into our body politic, because the more fiercely we go after each other, the less energy we have for scrutinizing who benefits from the turmoil.
Framing social and political narratives around our differences is nothing new, nor is it unique to the United States. Here’s how we stack up to other counties in that department…
In 2018, Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute conducted a BBC Global Survey to learn how divided the citizens of 27 nations around the world considered their counties to be.
Globally, three in four people thought their countries were divided, with Serbia perceived as the most divided and Saudi Arabia as the least divided.
The United States, at that time, ranked ninth highest, with 84 percent answering that they believe the U.S. is very or significantly divided. I doubt that number has gone down.
I hoped there was a pony in there somewhere, as the old joke goes, and sure enough, the BBC survey found that “two-thirds think that people across the world have more things in common than things that make them different.” The United States sat ninth from the top on this question, with 71 percent of us believing global commonalities outnumber differences.
As Yale history professor Timothy Snyder told his fall class on “The Making of Modern Ukraine” (available free on YouTube), there is no such thing as “always” when it comes to forms of government. Democracies, including our own, are fragile.
In his 2017 bestselling book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” Snyder wrote, “We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” Let those who are eligible to vote hear.
Here’s a simple question we can ask ourselves before we go to the polls: What kind of country do I want?
My answer is that I want to live where everyone enjoys equality and justice under the law, affordable and accessible health care, secure shelter, safe workplaces, excellent public schools, clean air and water, safe roads and bridges, safe food and drugs, a strong national defense, highly professional police and fire protection, reasonable gun laws, convenient public transportation, and retirement security.
Above all, I want the triumph of democracy over autocracy.
Mary Thomas Watts lives, writes, and votes in Wilmington.