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OPINION

Democrats are almost out of time to protect democracy and the rights of Americans

There is still much Congress and state and local governments can do to buttress those rights — but only if the people who are willing to do it are elected. Right now, it’s not looking great.

A polling station in Alexandria, Va., during the June 21 midterm primary election.Alex Wong/Getty

It is not alarmist to say that the future of the country rests in the hands of midterm voters. If the nation is to have any shot at regaining the ability to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens, safeguard its most vulnerable, and restore the strength of its democracy, the electorate must deliver. This is not an overstatement.

But if past is prologue, Democrats will fall far short in delivering that message. Most of them, anyway.

“There is an out-of-control Supreme Court that is eviscerating individual rights, and injecting religion and politics deep into the bloodstream of the functioning of this country,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the party’s most clear-eyed members when it comes to the stakes involved, told me. “If Republicans can seize control, Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence have already told us they will criminalize Roe, and Clarence Thomas has told us Roe is only the beginning.”

She’s right. Republicans played the long game and — after delivering on a promise to put guns and White evangelicalism above bodily autonomy and other inalienable rights — now stand at the cusp of cementing that legacy for decades. And we should take them at their word that the worst is yet to come.

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Even if Democrats won every race for the next decade, it’s too late to do much about the ultraconservative bent of the high court. However, there is still much Congress and state and local governments can do to buttress those rights — but only if the people who are willing to do it are elected.

Right now, it’s not looking great. Politico’s 2022 forecast shows the GOP with an advantage in its bid to retake the House and, much more troubling, the Senate. Meanwhile, an Associated Press analysis shows that more than 1 million voters switched their party affiliations to Republican in the last year alone, particularly in the very suburban regions likely to determine statewide races like those for US Senate and governors’ offices.

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Let’s put the finest point on it: GOP control of the Senate would give that party the ability to stop President Biden’s judicial nominations in their tracks. McConnell has already promised to do just that if he regains the Senate gavel. Imagine if the next Republican president selects the replacement for Justice Sonia Sotomayor or even Chief Justice John Roberts. The Supreme Court’s right-bent majority will be cemented for the better part of the next century.

Equally as urgent is control at the state and local government level, which are the front lines of efforts to protect the integrity of elections, voting rights, and democracy itself from the next coup.

Democrats hold a good deal of blame for being in this position. They failed to make the Supreme Court a priority in their campaigns in every single election — even in 2016, as Republicans held Merrick Garland’s nomination hostage. They fought among themselves over what slogan should be used to push police reform instead of delivering on policies that would have better protected the lives of Black Americans and police alike.

They declined to hammer home the fact that, under federal Democratic leadership and in the middle of a pandemic, Americans were pulled out of poverty, state and local governments were able to save the jobs of employees like teachers and police officers and firefighters, and unemployed Americans got a lifeline until the labor market rebounded.

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And worst of all, they continued to allow Republicans to define them — falsely — as the over-woke, anti-police, racial propaganda party that wants abortion on demand, all while letting the GOP get away with having no platform at all other than ceding to the will and whims of Donald Trump and his anti-democracy schemes.

There must be a sea change not only in Democrats’ messaging, but in their worldview. They have to stop fighting among themselves and fight for the nation. They must enlist voters in that endeavor with the same single-mindedness and determination that Trump devoted to overthrowing an election. They must make ending the filibuster, codifying the rights in the Supreme Court’s crosshairs, protecting voting rights, and saving democracy from tyranny their brand. They must underscore that this is a matter, particularly for those without access to reproductive health care, of life and death.

Can that happen by November?

“We have a lot of long-term building to do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t produce extraordinary change in a very short period of time,” Warren said. “If we produce that change, that will fuel the movement-building.”

That is, still, a big “if.”


Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a columnist for the Globe and The Emancipator. She may be reached at kimberly.atkinsstohr@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @KimberlyEAtkins.