voice for democracy

Threats to Democracy Come From the Left and the Right – RealClearPolitics

Like many “Never-Trump” conservatives, I see the assault on democratic institutions and norms launched by the former president and his followers as a clear and present danger to our republic. But I also fear that many progressives pose an equal threat, albeit one that will destroy our system more subtly and over time. My worry is that my allies in the former fight are choosing to ignore or downplay the significance of the latter. In so doing, we may win the battles against election nullification now being waged by Republicans in statehouses but lose the war to preserve democracy long term.
Democracy requires that the people choose their own leaders in free and fair elections, but it also depends on the willingness of the people to accept the results of those elections, and the losers in the contest to accept their defeat. We have systems in place — namely federal courts — to adjudicate disputes when they occur.
 After the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and his supporters filed more than 60 court challenges to the results based on fraud allegations or assertions that elections in certain states violated either state law or the U.S. Constitution. In all but one case, the plaintiffs lost, in rulings rendered by both Democratic and Republican-appointed judges, including eight who were appointed by Trump himself. These courts issued resounding rebukes of the plaintiffs’ claims and legal theories. Still, the Trump forces pushed state and county audits. Some of them, such as the Arizona audit conducted by Cyber Ninjas, were dubious undertakings. But none of them produced the Trump campaign’s desired outcome. Those audits continue, including proposed ones in Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, with no end in sight.
When the Trump forces lost in the courts, they took their battle to Congress, literally. On Jan. 6, the former president’s well-orchestrated “Stop the Steal” rally turned violent when thousands of Trump supporters marched to the Capitol to stop the constitutionally mandated counting of electoral votes. The bloody assault ended about 4½ hours later, with a handful dead, some 140 police officers injured, $1.5 million in property damaged or destroyed. To date, nearly 700 individuals have been charged with crimes including assault, possession of firearms, a large capacity ammunition device, other dangerous weapons, and conspiracy.
Although Republicans nearly unanimously condemned the attack when Congress reconvened to continue the count of electoral votes that evening, within weeks much of the leadership of the party were touting Trump’s lie that the election was stolen. At present, the lie is accepted by 52%  of Republican voters. Trump has now upped the ante to suggest that Republicans should refuse to vote in 2022 and 2024 unless his 2020 loss is somehow reversed.
Meanwhile, a host of Republican-controlled states have enacted or are considering laws that will allow state legislatures to nullify the results of future presidential elections.
But radical progressives are engaged in their own pernicious campaign to undermine the foundations of our democratic society, and doing so with little pushback from the Democratic Party or anti-Trump conservatives. Radical progressives’ efforts are not the frontal assault on democratic institutions that Trumpists are engaged in, but, if successful, they will pervert our society even more broadly. While Republicans target the mechanics of democracy, the radical progressives and their Democratic Party allies target our culture more broadly. They would re-write history, redefine biological sex, require proportional racial outcomes in all human endeavors, and impose limits on speech that does not conform to their Orwellian vocabulary.
It begins with sex, which the left in general prefers to call “gender” in the interest of establishing a more fluid category. Such an elementary scientific lesson should not need repeating, but in today’s atmosphere it must: The sex of human beings is determined by a pair of chromosomes conventionally labeled X and Y, which every human inherits from his or her parents at conception and whose combination determines the sex of the child. These chromosomes determine genital and reproductive structure and secondary sex characteristics, such as body hair and voice range. The English language (as do others) assigns words to describe the sex of humans: boy/girl, man/woman, with accompanying pronouns he/she and his/hers—a practice that until recently was both universal and uncontroversial.
A few humans feel incompatible with the roles society assigns to their sex. Some men chose to present as women; some women chose to do so as men—a phenomenon generally described today as gender dysphoria, but that existed in ancient times and across many cultures. There is nothing inherently threatening to democracy in this behavior. The pursuit of happiness is encompassing enough to allow men who wish to lead lives as women or women as men. Civility, I believe, requires that they be able to do so without prejudice or invidious discrimination, much less threats of physical harm or violence. But radical progressives would go much further. They insist that there is no such thing as objective, biological sex — only self-determined gender, indeed that nature’s binary structure is as malleable as artificial hormones and plastic surgery can make it. Sex, apparently, exists only in the mind, biology notwithstanding. At the vanguard in this redefinition is the medical establishment itself. As a paper on transgenderism for the National Institutes of Health notes, sex reassignment surgery “is neither controversial nor experimental; rather, it is a well-recognized therapy advocated for by leading medical associations.”
So, how is this a threat to democracy? I would argue that once you begin defining the actual, physical world in ways that do not conform to reality, you undermine the very concept of truth, without which no democracy can survive. Moreover, progressives’ “truth” on the issue of gender directs the public policies they endorse.
Put aside for a moment the transgender bathroom wars. Transgender public policy is far more problematic than defining which public toilets a transgender person may use. If an adult male chooses chemical castration and surgery to conform his appearance to his gender preference, that is his business. But treating children or adolescents who exhibit gender dysphoria by giving artificial hormones to prevent puberty or surgically altering their sex organs is another matter altogether. These are permanent, life-changing choices, which, like other such irreversible decisions, should be deferred to adulthood. Worse, allowing parents, guardians, or doctors to make these decisions for them, as is the case in some countries, deprives them of reproductive rights they are entitled to, namely, to give birth to or father a child of their own in the future. In what other circumstance would we consider it morally acceptable to sterilize a child or adolescent, which is what sex reassignment therapy amounts to? Yet, most states allow at least some sex-transitioning treatments for adolescents, including hormone treatment and, more rarely, surgery, with parental consent and, in some cases, without such consent if approved by a court. Other nations go further, with the Netherlands allowing 16-year-olds to decide for themselves to seek surgery and Thailand allowing even prepubescent children to undergo sex reassignment therapies. We are early into this radical experiment. What happens when a transgender person who received sex reassignment treatment from female to male regrets that decision—especially one made under pressure from peers, family, and the medical community? Keira Bell, who transitioned to male under the encouragement of  National Health Service doctors in the U.K., has written eloquently of the heartbreak and physical pain that ensued.
As in other areas, progressives insist not only that we adopt policies that conform to their ideology, but that only language that reflects their “truth” is acceptable. Witness the backlash to Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special, “The Closer.” Chappelle’s humor is an acquired taste—he is crude, sexually explicit, and insulting to virtually all identity and demographic groups including feminists, blacks, gays, transgenders, and whites (his most consistent target). But nowhere in his special (and, yes, I watched every minute of it) does he engage in “hate speech,” as his critics assert, much less encourage violence against transgender people.
Chappelle’s jibes at transgenderism have a larger point to make: He assails the double standards of the woke left. The running joke throughout the 90-minute show involves vile rapper Jonathan Kirk, known to his fans as DaBaby, who shot and killed a teenager in a Walmart in 2018. (Kirk accepted a plea deal on illegally carrying a concealed gun but was not charged with murder in the case.) Chappelle’s point is that cancel culture didn’t result in DaBaby’s being barred from polite society after the rapper shot a 19-year-old in North Carolina, but hurling insults at gays and transgenders sparked calls that he be cancelled. Chappelle’s primary target is the hypocrisy of woke culture—and the woke are striking back with boycotts and staff walkouts at Netflix.
Race, too, has become a cornerstone in the woke’s effort to transform democracy. Unquestionably, race has bedeviled the American Experiment from our beginning. The enslavement of Africans stained democracy at this nation’s founding, and racism infected our laws for nearly two centuries afterwards. Conservatives, in my view, are often too eager to ignore that history and to underestimate its effects on blacks and others to this day. But progressives go further than acknowledging the sins of slavery and racial discrimination, claiming instead that preserving slavery was the very foundation of the Constitution and that systemic racism infects all our institutions and distorts all our laws. The 1619 Project, a compilation of articles put together by Nikole Hannah-Jones and published in The New York Times Magazine, promoted this view and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. The series  has become the basis for school curricula across the country, notwithstanding the fact that it is littered with factual and historical errors, which have been pointed out by liberal scholars as well as conservatives, but more importantly is a gross distortion of America’s founding. The Declaration of Independence’s unequivocal assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” is no less consequential in the conception of our nation because its author was a slave owner. Thomas Jefferson may have been a hypocrite and a sinner, but his words laid the foundation for the greatest experiment in liberty the world had yet known. Now, woke progressives demand Jefferson’s name be erased from schools, his statue removed from City Hall in New York City and elsewhere, and the words he wrote deracinated from their meaning and history. Their efforts smack of Soviet-style historical revisionism. The choice in teaching about Jefferson, George Washington and others should not be between the type of hagiography that prevailed in textbooks until the mid-20th century and demonizing—or worse, erasing—them.
We can and should celebrate our national heroes and heroines while also recognizing their faults and failures to live up to the very principles they advocated. This is not to suggest that all statues celebrating historical figures are equal. We wouldn’t think of erecting monuments to honor Benedict Arnold, yet hundreds of statues celebrate Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and others who waged war against the United States.
The insistence of progressives today to place race at the center of everything goes far beyond past efforts to promote a more inclusive historical narrative. Past controversies over including more non-whites in our textbooks and in the academic canon were never the full-on assault on our institutions and founding principles now posed by critical race theory. Though the term CRT is bandied about by both the left and the right and dismissed by the mainstream media as a mere academic theory confined to university classrooms, in fact the underlying premise of CRT infects much of the current debate over systemic racism.
As Althea Nagai points out in a forthcoming paper on CRT for the Center for Equal Opportunity, which I founded and chair, CRT rejects the concept of equal protection guaranteed in the Constitution as well as the goal of colorblind equal opportunity as “social fictions” requiring “an alternative, revisionist history of civil rights law and the civil rights movement.” CRT posits that laws, indeed all public policies, regardless of whether they are neutral and nondiscriminatory in intent, must be judged by their “disparate impact” on racial groups. Under CRT, any law or policy that results in statistically different outcomes for racial minorities is offered as proof of “systemic” racism. Schools that apply tests for admissions are deemed systemically racist if blacks, Hispanics, or other racial or ethnic minorities, score, on average, lower that whites. So, too, are requirements that loan applicants demonstrate creditworthiness, that certain jobs require applicants to have no criminal record, or that certain professions require licenses or qualifying exams because such neutral and, in many cases prudent, standards more often disadvantage racial minorities. In this paradigm, racial disparities in outcomes—no matter what the actual cause—is proof of systemic racism. Of course, this logic applies only when the disparities disfavor racial minorities, and even then, only when certain minorities are disadvantaged. Racial imbalance on NBA and NFL teams, where black players predominate, raises few complaints, for example. Nor do critical race theorists come to the defense of Asian students whose enrollment at elite schools would drop precipitously if colleges eliminated or devalued SAT scores as a factor in admission.
Yet despite the radical positions on race and sex taken by progressives, few Democratic political leaders object, choosing instead to mouth obeisance to the belief that systemic racism infects all our institutions, and that critical race theory is no problem; to sacrifice free speech at the altar of political correctness and ostracize anyone who, for example, questions sex transitioning treatments for adolescents or uses conventional pronouns to denote biological sex. Such behavior will not bring down democracy tomorrow or next year, but over time it will erode the habits and principles of liberty.
Those of us serious about protecting democracy need to recognize that putting out the fires of election nullification ultimately will not save our nation if we ignore the slow-creeping menace of thought control that has permeated the left. If we don’t, we may end up slouching toward totalitarianism like George Orwell’s “1984” character Winston Smith:
“The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself,” Smith reminds himself. “The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak.”
We should embrace neither the Trumpist autocrats who hope to control more state legislatures around the country nor the radical progressives who already control many cultural institutions, including the media and our universities, in this struggle. The future of democracy depends on it.

Linda Chavez served in the Reagan White House and writes frequently on race, ethnicity and immigration.

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