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Column: Our democracy is in peril. 'History will judge what we do at this moment.' – Chicago Tribune

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Many Americans worry about threats to our 245-year-old democracy, while many others do not seem to notice or care.
Journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa captured some of the concerns in a new book, “Peril.” Others warning about risks to our democracy include documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who said during a recent podcast that our nation faces a grave threat.
“It’s really serious,” Burns said. “There are three great crises before this: the Civil War, the Depression and World War II. This is equal to it.”
Burns summed up how many Americans have felt, particularly since insurrectionists violently stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Many feel a sense of dread that if supporters of a candidate dislike the outcome of a future election, they may use a mix of force, intimidation and political power to overturn results.
Others are sounding similar alarms. In June, more than 100 professors from prestigious universities outlined their concerns in a statement, “The Threats to American Democracy and the Need for National Voting and Election Administration Standards.”
“We have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election,” the scholars wrote.
They went on to describe how Republicans are attempting to leverage their legislative majorities in some states to potentially disregard the will of voters.
“In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election,” scholars wrote.
The serious threats to bedrock principles of our democracy keep some troubled souls awake at night, while others seem blissfully unaware. They blindly go about their daily lives, seemingly unconcerned about the moves to undermine our democracy.
You certainly won’t hear about it from Fox News, conservative talk radio shows or other right-leaning media outlets. Many outlets feed their customers a steady diet of propaganda about how evil Democrats hate America and seek to divide the country. Such messaging appears to generate good ratings and profits.
It seems like there is a concerted effort to downplay or ignore the events of Jan. 6 and new state laws that could enable a legislative majority to overturn the will of voters.
Instead, many national media outlets lately have given a lot of critical attention to how President Joe Biden managed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan or how his administration is handling an influx of refugees from Haiti at the southern border.
Some fans of democracy are dismayed by coverage of how Biden’s approval rating is sinking, or speculation that Republicans are likely to regain control of the House, Senate or both in the 2022 midterm elections.
Other stories competing for attention include the pandemic that has claimed more than 675,000 American lives and a political standoff over raising the debt ceiling that threatens to shut down the federal government, upend the global economy and undermine American stability. It is no wonder few paid attention to something a bunch of scholars published in June.
This week, at least, there appears to be a momentary blip of interest in the ongoing threats to our democracy, possibly as a result of Tuesday’s release of “Peril.”
“Peril” contains previously unreported details, such as how Vice President Mike Pence sought advice from former Vice President Dan Quayle about whether Pence could reject Electoral College outcomes from states on Jan. 6. Quayle reportedly told Pence his only authority was to count the votes, according to the authors.
The authors obtained a memo written by John Eastman, an attorney for former President Donald Trump. Eastman outlined a six-point plan in which he argued Pence could reject electoral votes from seven states where Republicans, without any legitimate authority to do so, had declared opposing slates of electors.
The scheme would have sent the dispute to the House of Representatives, where Republican delegations held majorities in 26 states, the bare minimum needed to reverse the outcome of an election that Biden won by about 7 million votes.
If all this evidence doesn’t concern you, you either willfully choose to ignore it or don’t care whether you live in a country where free elections determine representation. You are among the many willing to surrender their freedom to authoritarians.
Those with the courage to speak out about these ominous threats to democracy are often verbally attacked or accused of being overly dramatic and using excessive hyperbole.
It is likely those attacks are all part of a scheme to drive “good” people out of institutions and replace them with party loyalists. In Georgia, for example, one of the key states where Trump sought to reverse a Biden win, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused to do Trump’s bidding to “find” votes for him.
Raffensperger’s recording of Trump’s plea is evidence in a criminal investigation into whether Trump attempted to influence the outcome of the Georgia election. Trump has endorsed an opponent to Raffensperger in the Republican primary for Georgia secretary of state.
In Ohio, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to impeach Trump a second time, announced he would not seek another term. Little by little, institutions that withstood assaults on our democracy in 2020 are weakening.
A bipartisan House Select Committee is intensifying its efforts to investigate the violence of Jan. 6 and other threats to our democracy. Democrats seek accountability, but there are concerns they won’t do enough to save our democracy before the next congressional and presidential elections.
Many want Democrats to reform filibuster rules in order to pass federal legislation that would strengthen voting rights, but the majority appears unable to reach a consensus on the matter.
Scholars who signed the statement of concern urged Democrats to bypass filibuster rules for the sake of voting rights and democracy.
“It is always far better for major democracy reforms to be bipartisan, to give change the broadest possible legitimacy,” they wrote. “However, in the current hyper-polarized political context such broad bipartisan support is sadly lacking.”
I often hear from people who accuse Democrats of dividing the country, yet they ignore the deliberate divisive tactics of Republicans. The GOP political strategy seems to hinge on sabotaging Democratic efforts to govern, then relentlessly complaining about how the system is broken.
Many Republican elected officials will continue to value party over country and disregard their oaths to uphold the Constitution. They’ll try to do whatever it takes to seize political power.
“Our democracy is fundamentally at stake,” scholars wrote in June. “History will judge what we do at this moment.”
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.
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