And I know I’m not the only one.
I am terrified by the increasingly real possibility that this country — if Republicans take Congress in 2022 and Trump prevails in 2024 — could become a white Christian authoritarian state, where constitutional rights and protections get rolled back either by law, by fiat, or at the point of a neo-Brownshirt’s gun.
I am terrified about a scenario the likes of which I would never have even imagined before a few years ago. I thought this country’s constitutional system was unshakeable. Now it’s shaking and so am I. What would I do?
And of course I’m not alone. A Quinnipiac poll out this week found that a significant majority of Americans – by a 58 to 37 margin – believe “the nation’s democracy is in danger of collapse.” Some of that is right-wingers who think the 2020 election was stolen, but it’s 56 to 37 percent among Democrats, too.
Over half of Americans also consider it very likely (19 percent) or somewhat likely (34 percent) that there will be another attack in the United States like the one at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
And while people who follow me on Twitter are hardly a representative group, I was struck by how many people responded to this tweet by telling me that not only are they terrified, but that everybody they know is terrified, too.
I don’t read about people who feel that way in the news, though.
A growing number of pundits are trying to sound the alarm, and some of them end up being quoted in news stories. But that’s not the same as a cultural trend piece that takes the temperature of a population.
It’s all highly reminiscent of what amounted to a near-boycott of Biden-supporter coverage before the 2020 election. New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie wrote in July 2019 that “anti-Trump voters are practically invisible in recent mainstream political coverage” – even though they represented the majority of Americans. It didn’t get any better in the ensuing 16 months.
It’s been true during every run-up to war in our history: the supposed “left” gets ignored. And it’s true again.
Where are the voices of the ordinary people who fear for democracy? Why has the majority been silenced?
We continue to get breathless reports from the Trump rallies.
What about talking to non-racist parents who worry their children will be taught propaganda at school? Or people in Black or brown communities who worry about barriers to voting, increased poverty and more militant policing? Or people in immigrant communities who don’t want to see their neighbors deported? Or trans people, who would have reason to be scared for their lives? Or government employees who would be asked to do things they consider abhorrent?
Or hang out at a Unitarian Church, or a reconstructionist synagogue, or a mosque, or a Common Cause meeting? Or, hell, just talk to people in a blue-state diner, if that’s easier? (Maybe make that a deli.)
It’s not only liberals who are terrified, either. It is, forgive me for saying so, pretty much anyone who occupies the reality-based sphere and is paying close attention.
That includes, for instance, the three dozen former Trump administration officials who, according to CNN, “held a conference call last Monday to discuss efforts to fend off his efforts to, in their view, erode the democratic process. Never-Trumpers were there already.
Our jaded, self-satisfied national political reporters could even benefit from talking to journalism colleagues in other departments. I have no doubt that a lot of reporters, editors, and publishers are worried about bogus prosecutions, harassment, and punishment of journalists perceived to be disloyal. Our entire industry should worry that even more extreme Trumpian bombast about fake news and the enemy of the people could well become rallying cries for armed militias.
Touched a Nerve
What I asked on Twitter on Monday was this: Has anyone seen any good articles on people who are truly terrified that we may well be headed to white nationalist authoritarianism?
No one had a good example. There were several links to excellent articles about the threat to democracy written by experts. But none about ordinary people feeling scared.
Nevertheless, some of the responses to my tweet blew me away. The frustration was overwhelming. Quite a few people volunteered to be interviewed.
Most in the media are too busy posting their Wordle games. Can’t be bothered with the end of democracy.
— Patrick Conner (@pdconner52) January 17, 2022
The media has not, since 2015, begun to cover the deep personal trauma felt by millions of Americans as we witness the rise of brutal neofascism. Nary one article. https://t.co/wKPMqRQ5EU
— Sara Dillon (@sara_dillon) January 17, 2022
No because we're normal thus boring. None of us do wacky things like dress up in Wall suits or periodically during the middle of a work week do we go hang out waiting for a deceased JFK Jr in the same area his dad was assassinated ??♀️ Normal doesn't earn clicks
— #Vive #GQP=DomesticTerroristsTraitors (@JustWhatNowWhy) January 18, 2022
Well, they could literally come to some of the literal diners where I live in Northern California and they could literally find all kinds of people worried about just that thing. But no one’s asking.
— we need a working multiracial democracy (@SullivansStrega) January 18, 2022
International news publishers have raised more alarms than any US pub I’ve seen. The view from outside the country is terrifying.
— Lynne green (@LynneMimayan) January 18, 2022
If you are not terrified about this, you are not paying attention.
— Jeremy Paul (@lawdeanpaul) January 18, 2022
Haven’t seen articles, but I’m a 70-something white Boomer and I’m frickin terrified. But NYT and WaPo won’t find me in a diner in Ohio.
— Ed (@leftistlutheran) January 17, 2022
I suppose people are hesitant to write it for fear of being called alarmist. Or that it can't happen, & that somehow we'll get pulled back like a movie's climax. But it's happened to other countries and to deny the possibility here is sloppy thinking or downright irresponsible.
— Clinton Reed (@Clintr1960) January 17, 2022
Does my diary count?
— David Ben Eleazar ? (@Sakefish) January 18, 2022
Unflappability Has Its Limits
The public needs to hear about ordinary Americans who are anxious and alarmed. And it would be good for top political reporters to be exposed to thoughts and emotions that don’t come from their colleagues’ elite, incestuous Twitter feeds and the occasional parachute into a red state.
Those reporters need to understand that a lot of ordinary Americans are scared. Some of us are even freaking out.
And that, in turn, might make their coverage about the growing threats to American democracy more urgent and a lot less emotionally removed.
There are two bills in the Senate that would go a long way to shoring up the voting part of democracy, but the coverage has been all about strategy and process and who’s up and who’s down, not what’s in the bills and the likely consequences of not passing them.
The stakes are simply too high for the coverage of these to continue to be so blah.