Our Democracy Hangs in the Balance

Every day President Biden and Congress wait to fix our democracy increases the odds that our democracy will be replaced by a white nationalist autocracy. This is not hyperbole. It is a clear and present danger.

The January 6th insurrection demonstrated just how many Americans were willing to overthrow our government and kill the Vice President and Speaker of the House. The Senate trial of Mr. Trump provided horrifying details of narrow escapes by Members of Congress, and injuries incurred by 140 police striving to repel the insurrection, including gouged eyes and cracked ribs. Several officers died in defense of our nation.

We had plenty of warning prior to the right-wing insurrection. The Department of Homeland Security had warned that violent white supremacy is the “most lethal and persistent threat to the homeland.” FBI Director Christopher Wray had testified that “racially-motivated violent extremists over recent years have been responsible for the most lethal activity.” The National Counterterrorism Center, which was established to fight international terrorism post 9/11, had also increasingly focused on domestic right-wing extremism.

Right-wing extremist violence is far greater than that by antifa (those on the left fighting the fascism the right-wing extremists often embrace). There is no equivalency between the right and left, even as Republicans have repeatedly try to blame the other side for the violence perpetrated and inspired by fellow Republicans, including the Capitol coup.

On his second day in office, President Biden ordered the Director of National Intelligence to oversee a comprehensive threat assessment, build national security council capacity to disrupt extremist networks, and increase whole-of-government response to the evolving threats. The Department of Justice has identified 400 suspects and charged 135 insurrectionists in the Capitol riot.

Prevention is key to reducing violence and disrupting further plots against the U.S. government. Prosecution and accountability are essential. All Americans should know that criminals are not patriots. There must be a concerted effort to overcome those who bear false witness like Tucker and Laura and Jeanine.

Prevention and prosecution will not, however, fix our democracy. Because of Mr. Trump, it is no longer inconceivable that a Hawley, Cruz, Cotton, Pompeo, Don Jr. or Ivanka could do even greater damage to our democracy, aided and abetted by consiglieres like McConnell and Barr.

The current crop of corrupt cons comes from four decades of ever-increasing political extremism from the Gingrich scorched earth tactics to the Tea Party to Q-Anons. Members of Congress are brandishing arms, giving tours to insurrectionists, and voting to undo fair and free elections even as the Capitol reeled from the attempted coup.

Here are three things the Biden Administration and Congress must do with haste. First, pass the For the People Act to fix the epidemic of partisan gerrymandering, increase election security and ban partisan voter purges. Congress should also reintroduce and pass the Protect Our Democracy Act to ensure that no President can abuse the pardon power, engage in self-dealing, refuse to comply with Congressional subpoenas, and protect Inspectors General, whistleblowers and the Department of Justice from political interference. There are other ethics and election reforms that should be considered as I have written but delaying the good will be the enemy of the perfect as time to the midterms ticks away.

Second, Biden must unpack the courts to ensure that the judges hearing cases are fair and objective. There are currently 60 judicial vacancies to fill. In addition, Congress should pass legislation, the first since 1990, to add 70 new judgeshipsto meet litigation demands per the recommendation by the U.S. Judicial Conference. Conservative legal scholar Jonathan Turley has suggested that there should be 19 Supreme Court Justices to meet growing demand and depoliticize the Court. Were Congress to add seats to the Supreme Court, it should, as I have argued, add two seats per Presidential term every four years to reduce partisan brinksmanship. Congress should consider modifying lifetime appointments to all courts by requiring judges to move to senior status after 18 years.

Third, the Biden Administration and Congress must stop the flow of lies and conspiracies from cable and social media that have infected the American public and fueled its rage. Congress should reinstate the Fairness Doctrine and modify it for the modern era. It used to be that network news could not offer opinions without providing equal time to the opposing point of view. Today, all we get are opinions, and the more outrageous the lie, the greater the audience. The Federal Communications Commission should increase its oversight and pull licenses of stations that violate its rules against lies and political endorsements. Where authorities lack or need to be strengthened, Congress should act.

President Biden has a dizzying array of number one priorities: ending the pandemic, creating jobs, regulating climate pollutants, rebuilding infrastructure, and reducing nuclear threats to name a few. Fixing our democracy is job one, because if we can’t get our democracy back on track, none of our nation’s priorities will prevail. We are a divided nation. Trumpism survives for now. Divided nations can fall. That’s not hyperbole. It’s history.

Photo by little plant on Unsplash

C. Dixon Osburn is a noted advocate for domestic and international human rights and security.

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