Keep Calm and Protect Democracy?
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What a strange time, this interregnum between Election Day and President-elect Biden’s inauguration January 20th. On the one hand, all kinds of people are acting like things are moving forward toward that foregone conclusion. Former President Barack Obama is doing the talk show circuit, plugging his just-published memoir. Corporate America, including the heads of the Republican-leaning Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, is issuing statements congratulating Biden. Democratic House members are tussling over how to interpret the election results, and various progressive groups are pushing to shape the Biden Administration’s priorities or Cabinet nominees. (Of that, more below.)
Meanwhile, let’s not kid ourselves. Donald Trump and his loyalists are really trying to hold onto power. As journalist Dan Sinker wryly put it, ‘You have to hold two truths in your head simultaneously right now: They are remarkably bad at this, and they are really trying this.” Trump is trying to get Republican legislators in Michigan and likely elsewhere to ignore their own state’s soon-to-be-certified vote tally and instead send a Trump slate of electors to Washington. It’s a blatantly unconstitutional power grab, but at this point in the Trump presidency merely pointing out that something is illegal and therefore shouldn’t be possible doesn’t provide much comfort.
So, What About Protecting the Results?
Until today, the broad coalition of groups that formed earlier this year around slogans like “Protect the Results” and “Count Every Vote” had decided—at least at the national level—to look past Trump’s maneuvering and instead highlight the fact that the election went smoothly, the people spoke, and it was “our time now” to move “forward together.”
Indeed, earlier this week, the national leadership of Protect the Results sent an email to the more than 400 people who had signed up to host local rallies, a copy of which I obtained, saying it was “deeply sorry about the confusion and frustration about the decision not to activate the national network on [November] 4th,” but insisting that even though “sore-loser Trump wants to interfere with the vote counting and have the courts throw out our ballots for his own gain” and “Protect the Results was created to activate in the case that Trump tried to steal the election or refute the results,” they were still not activating the network. Their reason: “the reality is: we’re winning.” They added, “Trump’s campaign is doing everything they can to build a narrative, but it is falling flat. Mainstream news outlets and election officials have remained united that the election was conducted fairly and that Biden is the winner. While we may never win over the strongest Trump supporters, our job now is not to give any extra wind to Trump’s failing narrative.”
PTR’s leaders then made an interesting argument about how one upholds democracy at a moment when the President is taking unprecedented steps to threaten it. They wrote, “For four long years, we have been in a defensive posture. Everything that Trump said or did carried enormous weight because it had real consequences for our communities. But that isn’t the reality anymore. Because of all your hard work this election season, we get to lead from a place of power. And sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do is step back, stay calm, and maintain confidence in our systems and the will of the people.”
Needless to say, this reasoning hasn’t landed well among grassroots activists, and it’s still an open question whether the “confidence” in our systems being urged will turn out to be warranted. With Trump summoning the Republican leaders of the Michigan state legislature to meet with him this afternoon at the White House, national progressives have begun to quietly flex some muscle. There are phone and text banks being organized to urge Michiganers to call their state representatives to make sure they certify the election results, for example. Demonstrators holding Count Every Vote signs greeted those Michigan Republican leaders at the DC airport earlier today.
What the pro-democracy side in America is trying to do is thread a needle: demonstrate the strength of its majority without demonstrating. That’s based on an assumption that street protests are the main tool in our toolbox, and if we turn to them en masse, the Trumpist Right will get what it thrives on—images of violent confrontation. Then supposedly that will be an excuse for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and, what, cancel Congress? I’m skeptical. I think there are many ways for us to show where we stand now—at least 198, per this list of nonviolent action options compiled years ago by Gene Sharp. The thing is, these kinds of actions work best when they are coordinated and large numbers of people do them at the same time. For that you need a network, say, a national network. Like Protect the Results claimed it would be.
Odds and Ends
With Democratic activists nationwide turning their attention to the Senate run-offs in Georgia, my friend Lara Putnam, an expert on the post-2016 grassroots mobilization, takes to Twitter to decry the “feeding frenzy currently underway over address lists to send postcards to voters” there, saying that it “progressive volunteer universe that has been deeply misled about the levers of political change.” She says it would be far better just to send cash. I agree! Go here to donate via Movement Voter Project’s Georgia Fund.
My friend Zack Exley, one of the cofounders of the Justice Democrats, has launched a new project with several esteemed collaborators called New Consensus. They make an intriguing case for a new national commitment to massive economic development, including an innovative proposal to create digital “taxpayer wallets” as a way of fostering more economic activity and including the many Americans who are currently unserved by banks. They write, “Among the advantages offered by such a system will be: (a) commercial inclusion and free public retail banking to all citizens, businesses, and approved residents; (b) faster transaction speeds and hence higher ‘money velocity’ and associated growth;(c) secure payments and banking privacy; (d) keeping ahead of global competitors like China and other countries now developing digital fiat currencies; and finally, (e) an easy means of making fast small business loans.”
Say hello to New_ Public, an online magazine from Civic Signals, that will be a place for thinkers, builders, designers and technologists to meet, share inspiration, and make better digital public spaces.
In case you were wondering, here’s an up-to-date list of the reasons former Google CEO Eric Schmidt shouldn’t be given a post in the Biden Administration, courtesy of the Revolving Door Project. Schmidt’s name has been floated as the possible leader of a White House tech industry task force.
Food for thought: Set aside time this weekend to read this terrific new essay from Rebecca Solnit, titled, “On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway.”
Meanwhile in Europe, is democracy on the rise? That’s the argument made by Aline Muylaert of CitizenLab, Emilie Van Haute of Policy Lab/ULB, Jean de Renesse of Civic Hall Brussels, Stephen Boucher of Dreamocracy, and Rudy Cambier of Liberte Living Lab in Le Soir.
MapLight is looking to hire an “Engineering Manager for Democracy.”
Brave New Films is looking to hire a Director of Film Screenings.