The slogan of The Washington Post is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” That phrase likely originated with Damon Keith, the legendary federal judge who died in 2019. Judge Keith’s grandparents were born into slavery; he was born into Jim Crow. Yet, he served on the bench for 52 years. Judge Keith was a staunch protector of democracy. He knew all too well what it costs to maintain it.
Judge Keith would have recognized that, today, democracy is not merely dying in darkness; it is being murdered in broad daylight. In the simple — and supremely powerful — words of Sen. Raphael Warnock, “Some people don’t want some people to vote.”
Donald Trump is at the epicenter of this phenomenon. While president, he told the world that he would not concede the election if he lost. (Several people who know him said the same thing.) This is a rare example of Trump telling the truth. Yet, it should not be surprising that he managed to betroth the truth to a lie. He lost the election, yet claimed that it was stolen. His deception is known as “the big lie.” His lie has led to death threats directed at Republicans who have the integrity to uphold our laws.
Of course, the big lie is rooted in an even bigger lie. At its heart is the lie of white supremacy. Trump and millions of his followers (though not all of them) believe that white men are God-ordained to rule the world. This belief is the basis for the Lost Cause mythology regarding the Civil War. It is the basis of Nazism. The fact that Trump is an extreme narcissist doesn’t cancel out this fact; it amplifies it.
What should we do to combat these democracy-threatening lies? The moral argument is failing. Gladys Sicknick, the mother of the late Officer Brian Sicknick, has said that she is “disgusted” by the Republican lawmakers who derailed a bipartisan inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection. They can’t bring themselves to get to the bottom of the worst internal threat to our democracy since the Civil War. Even a letter from Capitol police officers didn’t move them. (So much for “Blue Lives Matter.”)
Rationality itself is failing. Despite numerous recounts in several states, false audits have taken place, are currently taking place or are being proposed in states such as Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan. Ostensibly, these efforts are to instill voter confidence. Yet, the fact is that voter confidence is so low among Republicans due to the incessant spreading of the big lie. Even Trump-appointed judges and election officials who voted for him cannot pry the delusion of a stolen election from his followers.
The Democratic Party is running out of options to preserve democracy. What are the solutions? No matter what it takes, they must pass both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. I have resisted calling for an end to the filibuster — until now. Leadership of the Senate changes so frequently that the potential costs seemed to outweigh the benefits. Now, that risk should be taken. But, if Democrats don’t want to completely ban the filibuster, they could have a carve-out for extremely important decisions, including voting rights and the Jan. 6 investigation. Even a return to the standing filibuster would be infinitely preferable to what we have today.
This state of affairs was predictable. In 1857, just a few years before the Civil War began, the incomparable Frederick Douglass delivered a prescient speech. He said in part:
“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle… If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters… This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
If Democrats believe in democracy, they must act decisively.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.