The party is in the grip of an ideology that believes the entire constitutional construct is illegitimate.
The man who told black voters that if Mitt Romney (Mitt Romney!) won the presidency in 2012, he would “put y’all back in chains” now wants us to believe that a Republican victory in Tuesday’s midterms will end American democracy as we know it.
Perhaps, to be fair, Joe Biden is like the boy who cried wolf. That he fabricated a threat last time doesn’t necessarily invalidate his warning now. Or perhaps he’s more like the Trojan priestess Cassandra, endowed with prophetic wisdom but tragically fated by the gods never to be believed.
Or perhaps he’s just a desperate and shameless political hack, not for the first time in his life wildly spinning yarns designed to scare people with lurid predictions so that they will vote to extend his own political career and further the ideological aims of his own Democratic Party.
I can’t decide. You choose.
To question the sincerity of the president’s rhetoric—and that of his party—is not to dismiss the challenge posed by the various noisome currents of antidemocratic sentiment and behavior running through our politics like the effluence of overflowing sewers. Refusal to accept election results, acquiescence in political violence, advocating extra-legal ways to advance a cause are all poisoning the waters that nourish democratic life. And it’s true there are plenty of Republicans for whom these are now routine political activities.
But America’s democracy is guaranteed and protected by a constitution of extraordinary genius, complexity and durability. To suggest it is one set of midterm elections away from extinction is ludicrous hyperbole. It’s a long and tortuous way from a House Republican candidate telling voters he thinks Donald Trump won the election in 2020 to the dismantling of a 230-year-old order and its replacement with autocratic rule.
This isn’t complacency. We’re all familiar with the role eternal vigilance plays in the defense of liberty. But it is central to understanding how dishonest and hypocritical the closing Democratic argument in these midterm elections is. It is, after all, the Democrats themselves who have become the most insistent evangelists for the idea that the very system that has protected American democracy for two centuries is not fit for its purpose.
It is the progressive left—with the ready endorsement of the top figures in the Democratic Party—that wants to dismantle many of the most important constitutional institutions and principles that protect American democracy: states’ rights, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, due process and the enforcement of the rule of law.
This isn’t some fringe view or even merely a cynical attempt to remake the system for political advantage. The party is in the grip of an ideology that believes the entire American constitutional construct is illegitimate; that the Constitution itself was founded to preserve a hideous racial tyranny, and therefore that all those quaint ideas enumerated in it that have become synonymous with America’s republican democracy—equal rights and protection, freedom of speech—are all merely instruments of repression.
Mr. Biden thinks he can issue laws by edict and then pretend they were passed by Congress. Democratic lawmakers tried to enact a bill that would have eliminated states’ constitutionally guaranteed right to determine the conduct of elections. Large numbers of Democrats want to reduce the Supreme Court to a politically directed arm of the elected branches of government by ensuring it has a majority of justices ideologically aligned with the political leadership. They want to eliminate the protections the Constitution and longstanding precedent have established for the careful checks on majority power in institutions such as the Electoral College and the Senate—institutions, by the way, that progressives now frequently denounce as undemocratic.
Democrats eagerly supported the protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Many of them signally failed to condemn the widespread violence that attended many of those protests. Some even offered rhetorical and financial support for perpetrators of violence. It is Democrats who believe the American democratic experiment has not only failed, but was an exercise in oppression from the beginning.
For Republicans to make this case is not another tedious and empty example in political whataboutery—the endless process of excusing your own faults by pointing to those of others. It is essential to begin the urgent process of restoring faith in the virtues of the American system and repairing the damage to trust done in the past few years by Democrats and their progressive allies in the media and the culture. The restoration of that trust also requires the repudiation of election deniers on both sides—yes, Stacey Abrams and Hillary Clinton along with Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
It requires also genuine national leadership, not unprincipled demagoguery, from a president who was elected in large part because of voters’ revulsion at rhetorical extremism, demonization of opponents and denunciation of dissenting views.
The voters will surely send that message again this week. Listening to it, rather than denying it as illegitimate or denouncing it as antidemocratic, would be a good way to start restoring American democracy.
Appeared in the November 8, 2022, print edition as ‘The 2022 Midterm Election Endangers Democrats, Not Democracy’.
Gerry Baker is Editor at Large of The Wall Street Journal. His weekly column for the editorial page, “Free Expression,” appears in The Wall Street Journal each Tuesday. Mr. Baker is also host of “WSJ at Large with Gerry Baker,” a weekly news and current affairs interview show on the Fox Business Network, and the weekly WSJ Opinion podcast “Free Expression” where he speaks with some of the world’s leading writers, influencers and thinkers about a variety of subjects.
Mr. Baker previously served as Editor in Chief of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones from 2013-2018. Prior to that, Mr. Baker was Deputy Editor in Chief of The Wall Street Journal from 2009-2013. He has been a journalist for more than 30 years, writing and broadcasting for some of the world’s most famous news organizations, including his tenure at The Financial Times, The Times of London, and The BBC.
He was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, where he graduated in 1983 with a 1st Class Honors Degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.