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These warnings are getting more urgent and pointed:
- There is “a dagger at the throat of democracy,” President Joe Biden said Thursday, when he commemorated the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection by accusing former President Donald Trump of destabilizing the American system of government.
- The country “teeters on the brink of a widening abyss,” former President Jimmy Carter wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday.
- In her remarks Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris put the January 6 insurrection alongside Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as a wake-up call for Americans.
But there is a very real question about who exactly is waking up.
Much of the concrete action concerning American democracy has been driven by people who reject or question the 2020 presidential election results.
Legislatures in key states are making it harder to vote. They’re doing so by limiting access to mail-in voting and further tightening ID requirements. At least 19 states passed 34 laws in 2021 that somehow restricted access to voting, according to the Brennan Center — an effort that is primed to continue this year.
Ballot audits are the new norm. Post-election reviews of ballots uncovered no widespread election fraud after persistent efforts in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania. But these efforts nonetheless fan conspiracy theories and are turning into a model for election deniers, and distract governments from governing.
Many of those taking up the call of civic action are supporters of Trump’s election fantasy. CNN’s Jeremy Herb looked at Lancaster County in Pennsylvania where some previous Republican leaders left the party in disgust after the Capitol riot and, conversely, “Stop the Steal” rally attendees were elected to local election positions and school boards.
These are not isolated incidents. Trump supporters like Steve Bannon are openly plotting to infiltrate the election system by packing election-related jobs with Trump supporters to be ready for the next election.
Election deniers are seeking statewide office. It’s happening at the statewide level too. The Washington Post counts at least 163 Republican candidates for statewide office who believe Trump’s election fantasy. These are people seeking positions that would have power over statewide elections.
The election lie lives on. Even if some Republicans aren’t actively trying to overturn the election, most of them now don’t trust the results. Republican candidates often refuse to accept Biden’s victory — read here about five running for governor of Minnesota. Most Republicans — 73% in a recent Monmouth University poll — have questions about the 2020 election.
Misinformation is flourishing. It’s hard to be optimistic about facts and truth when, as CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan points out, Americans are often getting their information from social media or conservative mouthpieces like Fox News, which spread false information.
Twitter’s suspension of GOP Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account after five separate misinformation incidents is something.
But when even the staunchest of conservatives, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, referred to the Capitol riot as “terrorism,” he faced backlash in the alternate information machine of Fox News.
There’s an effort in the GOP to purge non-Trump loyalists. Republican primaries in key 2022 Senate and governor races will feature Trump-backed candidates who amplify his election fantasy. See former Sen. David Perdue, who is running to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia. Trump has long complained about Kemp, who did nothing to abet Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.
Hopes for a new national election standard are dim. While Republicans are rewriting state laws to make it harder to vote, Democrats are having no luck with countermeasures.
Democrats want to give states a new rulebook and rewrite a baseline of rights for voters. But they lack a Senate supermajority, and their plan to change Senate rules to pass their voting rights bill with a simple majority can’t get past two of their moderates, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The current voting rights effort could die later this month when the Senate votes on changing filibuster rules. Biden and Harris will increase pressure with a speech next week in Georgia, the epicenter of the fight over voting rights.
Criminal accountability is going to take time. Attorney General Merrick Garland answered critics of the Department of Justice’s handling of prosecutions regarding the insurrection — which so far has focused on participants rather than instigators — during remarks Wednesday in Washington.
He said more than 725 people have been charged in connection with the riot, and more than 325 of those were charged with felonies. But he suggested there are more prosecutions to come.
Political accountability is hard won. House Democrats and a few Republicans continue their own effort at seeking the truth through the House committee investigating January 6. They have text messages and communications from during the insurrection that seem to prove Trump and his close aides ignored pleas from Republicans under attack in the House and Senate as rioters stormed the Capitol.
There’s a separate body of evidence about Trump’s efforts leading up to January 6 to overturn election results. But that investigation will last only as long as Democrats control the House, and most Republicans have already dismissed it as partisan.
There is an existential question on the horizon. No matter who wins GOP primaries, Republicans expect to take control of the House and maybe the Senate after the 2022 election. What does that mean for democracy if the party that has downplayed the January 6 attack and tried to move past it gains an important new foothold in the next Congress?
Republicans could win based on how voters view the country’s economic outlook and on the pandemic fatigue of parents who want their kids in school, as happened in Virginia this year. But the results in 2022 might also give momentum to Trump, who wants to run again in 2024.