On the Fourth of July, a few reasons to feel encouraged about US democracy | Margaret Sullivan

It’s been a grim week or so in the United States, especially for those with progressive values.

In Baltimore, a deadly mass shooting underscored, again, how desperately gun reform is needed, and, tragically, how unlikely it is to happen.

And in Washington, a spate of supreme court rulings undid decades of forward movement – the court’s rightwing majority rejected affirmative action in college admissions, favored religion over anti-discrimination laws and knocked down Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debt.

Add to that the one-year anniversary of the court’s devastating overturning of Roe v Wade, and you could practically hear the sound of hard-won progress being sucked down history’s drain.

Pretty depressing, all told.

But despite that, there are reasons to feel encouraged about the future of the nation on this, its 247th birthday.

First, the successful effort in Congress to protect democracy and electoral integrity known as the Electoral Count Act reform. Widely seen as the most important such reform in a generation, it developed in direct response to Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election which came to a violent head in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. Among its many admirable provisions, it prohibits state legislatures from changing how electors can be selected after an election.

Then in one of two positive pieces of supreme court news in recent weeks, the court rejected a dangerous effort to allow states to ignore their own state constitutions. Undeterred, that could have radically transformed how federal elections are conducted by giving state legislatures a great deal of power to set rules for federal elections. The court also unexpectedly struck down Alabama’s racial gerrymandering plan under the Voting Rights Act.

I find it oddly encouraging that, according to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll, seven in 10 Americans think our democracy is “imperiled.” Of course, people define that peril according to their own politics and world views, but is is undoubtedly one reason why election denialists were roundly defeated during last year’s midterm elections.

As NBC News’s Adam Edelman put it: “Nearly every single candidate in battleground state races who denied or questioned the results of the 2020 election was defeated for positions that oversee, defend and certify elections – a resounding loss for a movement that would have had the power to overturn future contests.”

Most Americans apparently don’t want extremists running elections and they understand how high the stakes are.

“Our democracy is fortifying itself on many levels,” Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote recently. That happened because citizens and government officials took post-2020 threats seriously.

It’s a good thing that they did, since – according to one respected organization, the Virginia-based Center for Systemic Peace – the United States in late 2020 no longer could clearly be categorized as a democracy. It had become, for the first time, an “anocracy”, which shares qualities of both autocracy and democracy. America’s rating has more recently improved, putting us back, though not safely, in the democracy zone.

In media, the continuing loss of local newspapers – in itself, a serious threat to democracy – has been offset somewhat as innovation-minded journalists and entrepreneurs have stepped into that void. Witness the growth of digital-first news organizations such as VoteBeat and States Newsroom, and collaborative efforts like Spotlight PA or the partnership between the Texas Tribune and ProPublica.

A recent big pricetag for Fox News – $787.5m to settle a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems – is another encouraging development. It provided some accountability for the way the cable network knowingly spread election-related lies after the 2020 election; when that settlement was followed by Fox’s firing the reprehensible Tucker Carlson, it began to look as if legal challenges could do what advertiser boycotts could not.

The various criminal prosecutions and investigations to hold the January 6 insurrectionists accountable are heartening as well. Those potentially include Trump himself – in Washington, in Georgia, and according to the latest news, maybe in Arizona, too. To some degree, the democratic guardrails are holding and the rule of law prevailing.

And while this is hard to quantify, I know of many citizens and advocates who are working hard to protect voting, to support the rights of the disenfranchised. to lessen the blows dealt by the recent court rulings, and to sustain local journalism.

It’s a heavy lift, so we should all lend a hand.

“Get engaged locally,” urged Yale University’s Asha Rangappa told me recently when I interviewed the former FBI agent for my podcast, American Crisis: Can Journalism Save Democracy? That could mean runing for office, signing up to be a poll worker, volunteering at school, participating in the arts.

Rangappa wants more Americans to “cultivate the habits of democracy”. Those habits are developed when people leave their social-media echo chambers, get out into their communities, and simply talk to each other.

On this Fourth of July, let’s make sure our ever-fragile democracy endures to celebrate many more birthdays.

source: theguardian.com