One Sunday afternoon in November, several of President Jimmy Carter’s former aides and advisers met on Zoom for a private call. Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of State, made an appearance, along with Dick Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader. Les Francis, a former deputy White House chief of staff in the Carter administration, was watching the waiting room for late arrivals while, from his log house in the foothills outside of Denver, Gary Hart, the former senator from Colorado, was having difficulty logging on.
For three or four years, the Carter administration veterans had been meeting like this to keep in touch. But more recently, as Republicans went from initial, brief discomfort with the Jan. 6 attack to rallying behind former President Donald Trump’s false assertions that the election was stolen, their conversations had begun to become more urgent, focusing on the state of American democracy. And the assessment was grim.
Trump had tried to overturn an election. Now, with the GOP widely expected to control the House and, potentially, critical statehouses in 2024, it appeared at least possible that a second attempt by Trump or some like-minded Republican to seize or cling to power undemocratically might just succeed.
“It’s time to ring the alarm bells, and it’s time to say to people, ‘Hey, wake up. There’s nothing written that democracy always has to exist,” Gephardt told them. “In fact, most writers on democracy say that the average life of a democracy in history is about 300 years. Well, we’re moving into the 300-year mark. So, this is an alarming situation.”
He said, “It’s scary as hell.”
Yet as members of the Carter group discussed the prospect of democracy’s collapse, there was another crisis that troubled them just as much: The fact that, as a voting issue, so few Democrats seemed to care.
Even after the experience of 2020 and the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and even as Republicans in the midterms parrot Trump’s falsehoods — democracy has polled relatively low on the electorate’s list of concerns. The Jan. 6 committee hearings were encouraging. But Democrats competing in elections this year have not been pressing the issue anywhere near as hard as other concerns. [Continue reading…]