In 1984, the American rock band Talking Heads released a classic live album titled Stop Making Sense. That album featured songs such as Psycho Killer, Burning Down the House, and Life During Wartime.
That album title could be America’s new national anthem as those cuts are emblematic of the politically and socially divided times in which we Americans find ourselves today. We are living in a country in which truth has become fiction, conspiracy theories have become perceptual reality, and democracy and autocracy are only millimeters apart.
We say this on November 1, 2022, with the midterm elections only one week away on November 8. Those elections will either add more fuel to the flames for burning down our house or possibly provide just a little water to lessen the flames’ intensity.
Given the disposition of many candidates in this race, and if the latest polls are correct, and the attitudes of the dissatisfied segment of the citizenry prevail, the former seems more probable than the latter.
Some of the candidates in the Senate races have either been handpicked or embraced by former president Trump. Among the most notable are: Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz, and J.D. Vance.
Frank Bruni, contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, described that trio this way in a paragraph in an October 16 op-ed:
Walker’s out-of-wedlock children, Mehmet Oz’s minimal ties to Pennsylvania, J.D. Vance’s ambient ickiness — they’re marvelous grist for opposition ads. They’re priceless fodder for political journalists. And they’re surely why Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, issued his now-famous lament about “candidate quality,” sounding like a disgruntled carnivore who’d ordered a Wagyu rib-eye and was served cold Salisbury steak.
Despite their underwhelming qualifications, it is the voters who will decide whether: Walker is a good enough talker, Oz is a wizard, there will be an elegy for Vance. They will also determine the fate of hundreds of other candidates for congressional and state offices (governor, secretary of state, and attorney general) on the Trump bandwagon this election cycle.
In an October 13 article, based upon detailed research, the New York Times reported that more than 370 Republicans have cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election. These doubters are located in states across the country. The Times found that more than 70% of the Republicans running for office questioned the election of Biden as President, and according to the Cook Political Report, two-thirds of these candidates are projected to win their races.
Our expectation is that those candidates who do win will have no doubts about their victories. But that those who lose will vehemently deny their losses and not go gently onto the losers’ scrap heap.
Our other expectation is that the opinions and behaviors of the majority of supporters of the winners and losers in these midterms will align with those of their candidates. Midterms used to be relatively mild-mannered events. This is no longer the case.
The latest polls show that voters are taking these midterm elections very seriously. In mid-October, a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 71% of registered voters “think the very future of the U.S. is at stake when they vote this year.”
In her article on these poll findings, Hannah Fingerhut of the Associated Press states that “Fifty eight percent of voters say they are dissatisfied with the state of individual rights and freedoms in the U.S., up from 42% in 2018.” She points out that about two-thirds of Republicans now are dissatisfied, compared to around 50% in 2018, and that the Democrats have stayed essentially the same — about half dissatisfied.
A New York Times/Siena poll published in mid-October yielded a 71% number as well. In his article on the poll results, Nate Cohn, chief political analyst of the Times, explains that 71 percent of registered voters agreed that democracy was “under threat,” but their reasons for that agreement were all over the map.
The Republican voters saw that threat coming primarily from an oppressive or repressive government (think deep state). While the Democratic voters saw the government as a problem, they saw Donald Trump as the primary reason. Virtually no Republicans saw Trump or anything related to his behavior as a threat to democracy.
Voters from both sides of the aisle cited polarization as a major threat to democracy. We did not see the reasons for that selection, but it is probable that the finger pointing for the causes of the polarization would go toward those on the other side of the aisle.
Ironically, the seeds of the current senselessness in the U.S., and one of the threats to democracy, can be traced back to the nation’s founding and the first amendment to the constitution.
Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg have written a new book titled The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media and Perilous Persuasion which discusses this issue. In a New York Times guest essay related to their book, Illing and Gershberg write:
Too many people assume that liberalism and democracy are one and the same. They believe that certain norms, like respect for minority rights and the rule of law, are wired into the political system when, in fact, they are just conventions that matter only to the extent that citizens care about them. If nothing else, the past six years are a reminder that democracy is a contest — and there are no inevitable outcomes or assurances that all sides will play by the rules.
The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all forms of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.
Can you hear Alec Jones and his fellow conspiracy theorists who are the master manipulators of the unsocial media chirping?
It’s not just the first amendment to the constitution that protects individual rights posing a threat to a unified and unifying democracy; it’s also the 10th amendment, which protects states rights. As we noted in our first blog of this year, “…this amendment ( the 10th) might be labeled the Island States of America Amendment.”
We went on to state,
As the foundation and framework for this democratic republic and our representative democracy, the U.S. Constitution is unquestionably one of the greatest documents ever written. Unfortunately, that same document establishes the context not only for the United States of America but for the Island States as well.
The Constitution does that by:
* Assigning the same number of U.S. senators (2) to each state regardless of its population
* Giving the states the rights to redistrict their federal Congressional, state senate and house districts in accordance with census results
* Establishing the electoral college with electors from each state as the means for electing the President and Vice President of the United States
Those provisions in the Constitution make the states the fulcrum for political decision-making and give the smaller states disproportionate power in the governance of the nation.
If there is any question about the power of the states in this current system, just look at what has happened in the red states across this nation since the election of 2020 as they clamp down and exercise complete and almost total control on everything from voting rights to health care to public education to ensure the federal government’s roles and responsibilities are constrained.
This brings us back to this year’s midterm elections. The odds against them retarding or reversing the progress toward Stop Making Sense becoming our new national anthem are high.
But polls don’t vote, people do. And even the odds-makers lose every once in a while. So there is no reason to be faint of heart or to give up hope.
In fact, if there is a loss, it should be seen as a victory in disguise. It will provide concerned citizens from across the nation with the opportunity to recognize the seriousness of the current situation and to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.
In 1776, during the darkest days of the revolutionary war, Thomas Paine, declared, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from their service; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
At the end of the constitutional convention in 1787, when asked by a woman what type of government the constitution was bringing into existence, Benjamin Franklin responded, “A republic — if you can keep it.”
These 21st century citizens will heed the call of Paine and Franklin and stand together as true patriots to keep this republic intact. They will demonstrate Common Sense and say that Stop Making Sense will not be America’s new national anthem. This house may be on fire but we will not let it burn down.