A model for mid-terms
“Unfortunate is the country that needs a hero.” The famous line is taken from Brecht’s “Life of Galileo”, and it is often repeated in reference to repressive regimes and their dissident dissenters: Václav Havel, in Czechoslovakia; Nelson Mandela, in South Africa; and now Alexei Navalny, in Russia. How unhappy political life has been in the United States was demonstrated recently in Lansing, Michigan, when Lana Theis, a Republican senator from the state, delivered an invocation to the legislature that mixed the cadences of prayer with lexicon of QAnon’s paranoia: “Dear Lord, across the country we see in the news that our children are being attacked. That there are forces that want things for them other than what their parents would have them see, hear and know.
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat who represents Mitt Romney’s hometown, understood Theis was taking the opportunity to call for a crackdown on teachers who mention slavery, racism or violence in the classroom. ‘homosexuality. Michigan Republicans, like so many Republican lawmakers across the country, have tried to foment moral panic among their constituents; in Lansing, they are eager to draft their own version of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. McMorrow and two other Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest and expressed their dismay on social media. Shortly after, Theis sent a fundraising email attacking her by name: “These are the people we are up against. Progressive social media trolls like Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Snowflake) who are outraged that they can’t teach can’t groom and sexualize kindergarteners or that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery.
It was unclear whether Theis was speaking out of sincere conviction, careerist desperation, or both. She faces a primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed candidate named Mike Detmer, who said voters should “be ready to lock and load” at the polls. McMorrow, responding to Theis, gave a fierce and eloquent speech in the Senate chamber that argued for decency and integrity in politics better than anything heard recently from a desk in the District of Columbia. She denounced Theis’ “hollow” rhetoric as an attack on “marginalized children in the name of ‘parental rights,'” and bogus culture warfare tactics in Michigan — and, by implication, on the national stage — as a diversion:
McMorrow’s speech comes at a time when many are convinced that Democrats are doomed in this year’s midterm elections and beyond. The presentiment is general, the prognosis is grim: a Republican and Trumpian majority in Congress will thwart any substantive legislation coming from the White House and, in revenge, will establish fictitious committees to harass Joe Biden. The House may even find a reason to impeach the President, if only for fun. Biden has sounded wrong since the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan and soaring inflation. In 2024, Trump, or one of his epigones (Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is when the time is right), will crush the incumbent – legitimately or not, as the need arises. At this point, the hideous scenario concludes, we will be entirely in the hands of a more experienced and vindictive version of Trump 1.0. American democracy will not be in jeopardy. It will be erased.
Anxiety cannot be ruled out. As McMorrow said in an interview, “If Democrats don’t stand up and fight back, Republicans are going to come up with people who may never again support free and fair elections.” In fact, they already do. A revival of Trumpism is an invitation to an increasingly authoritarian America, a nation with contempt for the rule of law, the underprivileged, and the planet itself. The effect on national security is a misery to contemplate. Imagine if Trump had won in 2020. Imagine his inevitable indulgence towards Vladimir Putin, his expressions of disdain for NATO, for Ukraine, for Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he once tried to extort for political purposes. At a time of wanton killing in Ukraine, Trump showed little concern. His only interest in the area seems to be whether he can persuade Putin to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden.
But while the alarm is appropriate, the crippling despair is not. After fifteen months in office, Biden is voting about forty percent. At the same time, so did Ronald Reagan – then, as inflation receded, he ran for re-election against Walter Mondale and won forty-nine states. Trump is making a huge splash as he travels the country endorsing JD Vance and other obedient candidates, but his popularity has waned. His miserable handling of the pandemic and his leading role in the Jan. 6 insurgency have eroded his standing with at least some Republican voters. Its near future is not very promising. The select committee investigating the insurrection will hold hearings in June, and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland predicts the revelations will “blow the roof off the House.” The former president also faces ongoing legal scrutiny in cases in New York and Georgia, and from journalists around the world.
Analysts who continue to whip Biden for his failure to pass more ambitious legislation through Rooseveltian persuasion and Johnsonian party discipline tend to ignore the fact that FDR and LBJ enjoyed huge majorities in Congress. Biden has Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. His stimulus bill, a significant achievement, attracted no Republican support. Members of the GOP political class, with rare exceptions, have determined that their constituents are with Trump, and so they must be, too. These men and women have all the political independence and moral courage of the trembling members of Putin’s National Security Council. They traded the principles of a liberal democracy for a job. Does the future belong to them?
“We have to let go of the idea that this is politics as usual,” Mallory McMorrow said. She did a heroic thing in the Michigan State Senate. The country really needs a lot of such acts, many such heroes. ♦