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6 toxic attitudes that could kill democracy
One of our best qualities as Americans is optimism. One of our worst qualities is complacency. With right-wing extremism on the rise, our democracy is under grievous threat, and we’ve got to get our thinking right to protect it. Here are six toxic attitudes that must be banished. They’re not direct quotes from anyone; they’re just mindsets that I’ve identified.
1. “It’s just politics.”
Politics isn’t a frivolous sport, despite the way mainstream media often treat it. Politics is whether poor kids in your town get dinner. Politics is whether your former English teacher has to ration her insulin. Politics is whether your mom is shot at the grocery store because society encourages ownership of assault weapons. There’s a saying in Washington that some politicians are showhorses and some are workhorses. It’s easy to see who’s who. (Hint: If you’re doing a TV commercial that shows you blowing up a Toyota Prius that has “socialism” written on the side, you’re a showhorse.) Instead of dismissing all politics, let’s support politicians who want to make a difference – and not just in their own bank accounts.
2. “All politicians lie.”
It’s true that all human beings lie at one point or another. But some lie way more than others. A few like Donald Trump make it the theme of their entire career. Treating all politicians as inherently corrupt is a wet kiss to the truly corrupt. It gives them cover. There’s a difference between Biden getting facts wrong when he recalls an old conversation with an Amtrak conductor and Trump lying to the public about a pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans. The real danger of this “both sides” mentality is that it makes people think no one is credible. In that case, there are no shared facts and we can’t possibly operate a democratic government. The ultimate motive of right-wing propaganda isn’t to get you to believe them. It’s to get you to believe nothing, stop participating in democracy and surrender the government to them.
3. “MAGA doesn’t scare me. There are more of us than them.”
This would be a perfectly fine attitude if human beings operated by “majority rules.” They almost never do. (See “Royalty, history of.”) The United States, the world’s oldest democracy, has never been a “majority rules” country. At the outset, women and enslaved people couldn’t vote, and white males who didn’t own land were routinely denied the vote. Even today, apportionment of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College give more power to voters in less populated states. For example, the Dakotas have four senators while California, with 20 times the population, has two. Then there are states like Wisconsin, where manipulation of legislative maps, a.k.a. gerrymandering, has given Republicans outsized power. In the 2020 state Senate races, Wisconsin Republicans won 49% of the votes but 63% of the seats. History offers plenty of examples where a determined minority overcame an apathetic majority. In November 1932 elections, just 33 percent of Germans supported the Nazis. Two months later, Adolf Hitler became chancellor and imposed a murderous dictatorship.
4. “Our politics are self-correcting. We always move back toward the center.”
These are unpredictable times. The Jan. 6 coup attempt didn’t follow old patterns, and there’s no reason to assume the 2024 election will either. Global trends are not encouraging: Democracy has been retreating for years in countries like Hungary, Turkey and India. If we think we’re all that different, we’re fooling ourselves. There’s no guarantee we’ll ever snap back to anything resembling normal. The leader of the coup is the top Republican candidate for president, and he’s defended by the most-watched cable news channel. If we find our way back to political safety, it will happen because of activism, not some mysterious self-correction. If we wait for that, we’re doomed.
5. “Big money is all that matters in politics.”
This attitude is too often used by people to avoid getting involved in determining their own future. Americans aren’t supposed to be victims. We’re supposed to seize our own destinies. That means getting involved. Knocking on your neighbor’s door and asking for their vote is far more likely to sway them than a 30-second commercial on TV.
6. “I don’t care what they do in Alabama. I live in California.”
Being a patriot means caring about the people of all 50 states. A lot of them are being victimized by horrible politicians, and they need our help. Even from a purely selfish perspective, we ought to care. Fascism is like cancer. It spreads. If Wisconsin Republicans get away with impeaching a Supreme Court justice who was elected by an 11-point margin and hasn’t ruled on anything yet, it will embolden MAGA fascists nationwide. When Ron DeSantis pushes book bans and tries to strong-arm businesses for political reasons, he’s not just thinking about Florida. He wants to take it nationwide. Also, our entire nation is damaged because red states send fascist punks like Josh Hawley and Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress. You don’t get a chance to vote against them, but you’re suffering from them nonetheless. You can give donations to candidates in other states. Consider it.
One of the few positive aspects of our political crisis is that right and wrong are so clearly defined. Don’t rationalize staying on the sidelines.