As life gets upended again by yet another virus surge, there is mounting evidence that another horrific, historic societal upheaval is close on the horizon. What’s different about the coming one is that we’ll only have ourselves to blame for it.
The United States has spent untold blood and treasure defending democracy from extinction but is now voluntarily playing a starring role in its demise. For all our country’s flaws and mistakes, I have always been proud to be a citizen of the nation that prevented the totalitarian ideologies of fascism and communism from taking over the world in the 20th century.
It is bewildering and heartbreaking, then, to now watch the accelerating trajectory of American democratic breakdown, which appears to conclude with us no longer being classified as a democracy in the not-too-distant future.
People usually scoff at the notion of the world’s most influential democracy coming to an end, because this sequence of events is difficult to recognize by those living through it. The metaphor of the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water comes to mind here.
For a clearer view of what is happening, we should look to the analyses of expert international monitors that have seen many democracies rise and fall. Of particular note is the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which for the first time has labeled the United States a “backsliding democracy”.
Runaway political polarization, record-low trust in institutions and preposterous yet widely-believed conspiracy theories are all contributing to that label.
The most harmful example is craven politicians duping millions of Americans into believing that “voter fraud” is an actual problem, when in fact our elections are among the world’s most secure. It is hard to overstate how detrimental this loss of confidence in elections will be to our future stability.
One particularly overt anti-democratic development has been the resurgence of extreme gerrymandering. After the 2010 census, legislators everywhere redrew congressional and state legislative districts for the purpose of maximizing partisan gain instead of reflecting the will of the people. Consequently, the past decade has been marked by largely pre-determined elections and minority rule.
In response, outraged activists around the country founded a constellation of redistricting reform organizations. One of these is Fair Districts Louisiana, which I proudly lead.
Despite these groups’ diligent work to reform the way states redistrict themselves, the post-2020 census redistricting cycle is proving to be even worse than its predecessor.
The maps enacted in other states thus far fail miserably at the fair redistricting criteria of competitiveness, partisan proportionality and racial proportionality. North Carolina, Illinois and Texas deserve special recognition here. I did not think it was possible for these states to enact maps even more corrupt than the ones that existed before, but they have somehow found a way.
In Louisiana, legislators will convene in February to redraw our districts. Louisianians of all political stripes have been lobbying for the passage of fair maps, but that outcome is far from certain. As they begin to consider how to redistrict our state, I hope our legislators keep in mind the ongoing breakdown of democracy.
If you’re looking for cause for hope, please consider this: I firmly believe that the number of Americans who want to live in a democracy is far greater than the number of Americans who do not. The problem is that the latter group is far louder and more organized than the former.
To start reversing this dynamic, please visit fairdistrictsla.org to learn how to help us lobby for fair maps in Louisiana.