“With your vote,” President Joe Biden told a shocked, reeling nation in a speech lambasting the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, “you can act. You can have the final word.” He’s right! Everybody has to vote. Except… we did vote. We have been voting. Every election, we vote like it’s the apocalypse. It wasn’t enough.
Four of the five justices who voted to overturn Roe were appointed by Republican presidents who did not win the popular vote, and approved by a Republican senate majority that represents much less than half the country. If Republicans win control of the House and Senate this fall, it won’t be because their candidates got more votes overall. They would win because of gerrymandering of House districts, and because the Senate is built to favor small, rural states.
We voted in 2000, and in 2016. Democrats Al Gore and Hillary Clinton got more votes than their opponents, but because of the way the Electoral College favors small, rural, conservative states they lost anyway. In Gore’s case, the election was stolen from him by the Supreme Court’s decision to stop the recounts in Florida.
It took an unprecedented 81 million votes to kick Donald Trump out of office in 2020, but that was very nearly not enough. Trump pushed the Big Lie that the election was stolen so hard that insurrectionists took over the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He and his cronies did everything they could to overturn the result of that election at the state and local level, too! The January 6 Committee hearings are showing us just how close he came to succeeding.
Is anything safe?
In 2024, we will vote. I absolutely, 100% guarantee you that a Democrat will win the popular vote, again. That Democrat may even win the biased, un-democratic Electoral College. But if that’s the case, what guarantee do we have that a Republican Congress, elected by a minority of voters, won’t simply throw that vote out? And what guarantee do we have that this Supreme Court, packed as it is with justices who this week proved that they don’t care about the rule of law, will force them to obey the Constitution?
If you think that’s unlikely, let me point you to all the people who insisted Roe was safe after the 2016 election. Why should anything be safe? The right-wing extremists who control the Republican Party want to recreate the nation in their own image: a conservative, white, Christian fundamentalist patriarchy. They’re doing it, too.
Is it any wonder that some people are losing faith in the power of the ballot box to effect change?
I’ve been seeing variations of this argument going around online a lot these past few months, especially from younger people. And you know what? I don’t blame them.
Part of the problem is that we often have unrealistic expectations about what our democracy can accomplish, especially in its current, broken state. But the other part of the problem is that system itself.
It’s hard for much to get done when a few grandstanding senators can get in the way of anything they want, for as long as they like. Democrats have such small majorities that all it takes for anything to fail is for Joe Manchin, a senator from a small, rural state, to look askance at it. Nobody should have that kind of power. But here we are.
Democrats must do their job
So Democrats turn to the people who elected them and say, sorry. We can’t do anything unless we have bigger majorities. But they had huge majorities in the past! In 2008 Democrats were handed a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes. What did we get out of it? The abysmal half-measure that is Obamacare? Once again, a single senator stood in the way: this time, it’s our fault. Joe Lieberman blocked a real public option, and because Democrats weren’t willing to circumvent the ridiculous, undemocratic filibuster, he succeeded.
Voters want our democracy to function like one. When the majority elects representatives, we want them to serve us. We want common-sense gun control, better health care, abortion rights, and so much more that Democrats have, time and again, failed to deliver because the system we have is garbage.
Biden is right. We do have the last word. And we will vote, mark my words. But Democrats need to give us a way out of this mess. Democrats need to champion reform. They need to talk about the kind of constitutional change that will make a vote cast in Connecticut count as much as one cast in Wyoming. And they need to support the reform of the Supreme Court so that it can’t be hijacked by extremists again.
In short, Democrats need to unite around restoring the legitimacy of the vote. Because if our nation loses faith in democracy as the way to solve problems, and in voting as the way to bring about change, where does that leave us?