American democracy at a tipping point? | Midterm elections in the United States

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American democracy at a tipping point? | ÉUS midterm elections

In a country polarized as ever, the fear of being robbed of the elections now sweeps a large part of the American electorate, both Republican and Democrat.

Experts believe that a new page in the history of the United States could be written after the presidential elections of 2024.

WASHINGTON – The midterm election campaign ends in a climate at loggerheads. Republicans and Democrats glare at each other, accusing each other of endangering American democracy.

On the one hand, some still believe the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, despite the lack of evidence. On the other hand, there are fears that candidates backed by former President Donald Trump will be elected to positions through which they would have control over the validation of the results of the 2024 presidential election in certain key states.

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Has American democracy reached a point of no return? Radio-Canada spoke with Daniel Brumberg, Director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, and Peter Levine, Citizenship and Civic Engagement Expert at Tufts University in Massachusetts

Yes, definitely, says Daniel Brumberg. There is a basic rule that all democracies must follow, and that is to ensure that those elected to power do not prevent the opposition from winning an election. If either party perceives that its opponents are going to exclude it from exercising power, or representing its interests, permanently, you cannot have a democracy. And that is a concern now [in the United States].

Yes, I believe so, also believes Peter Levine. Many Americans now see politics as an existential fight between good and evil, while the norm in a democracy is to commit to accepting one's losses and to making compromises, specifies the one who is also a graduate in philosophy at the University of Oxford, England.

The most immediate danger relates to the integrity of the 2024 presidential elections, Levine argues. In the United States, politicians and [not independent bodies] manage elections at the local and state level. And the legislative assemblies – therefore partisan – which establish the electoral laws, he recalls. In addition, Congress [whose Republicans could regain control next week] has the power to decide disputes over a presidential election.

A political party can therefore overturn the will voters, but traditionally both parties have abstained, Levine continued.

“Now ex-President Donald Trump and several Republicans are indicating they won't help it in 2024. If they fail to show restraint, they could make Trump president in 2024, regardless of the outcome.” real of the election.

— Peter Levine, expert in citizenship and civic engagement at Tufts University of Massachusetts

In my view, adds Mr. Brumberg, there is no more greater threat than ex-President Donald Trump, who rejected the results of an entire election and who encouraged his supporters to attack the Capitol, on January 6, 2021, to prevent the certification of the results and the victory of Joe Biden.< /p>

In this January 6, 2021, file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump besiege the U.S. Capitol in Washington .

Another deeper threat to democracy is the attitude of American voters, according to Peter Levine. In a recent New York Times/Siena poll, 71% of Americans said democracy was in danger, but only 8% thought it was the most important issue in the world. country right now. In addition, voters plan to vote based on other issues, such as the economy or crime, adds Levine. It demonstrates a low level of commitment to democracy.

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Moreover, the inequity of the American electoral system amplifies the voices coming from rural areas, recalls Daniel Brumberg. Indeed, the 100 Senate seats – two per state – are distributed without regard to the number of voters per region. If you vote for a senator in Montana or New York, your vote counts in a very different way, he illustrates. The Senate really amplifies the power of rural, largely conservative voters. And I think this system has made it increasingly possible for a party that defends minority ideas on a range of issues, such as abortion, to impose its will.

If the Republicans take control of one of the two chambers, especially both, it will feed this fear among the Democrats that the democratic institutions created to promote compromise and consensus are now used by a minority of voters to impose his agenda, analyzes Mr. Brumberg.

For Peter Levine, if a majority of those elected in the midterm elections – either in Congress or in key local positions – allows the election results to be reversed in 2024, this will cause a major crisis in the United States. I anticipate that many Americans will actively resist being robbed of an election, and that they will fight to restore and consolidate our democracy, he predicts.

“This crisis would be a new page in the history of the United States, but not the permanent end of democracy.

— Peter Levine, citizenship and civic engagement expert at Tufts University of Massachusetts

A new law is being studied in Congress to improve the electoral system and the presidential transition, recalls Mr. Lévine. It would help, but the threat will not pass until the conservatives of the Republican Party do not truly recommit to democracy, he believes.

A voter makes his choice for the midterm elections, in Los Angeles, October 24, 2022.

For Daniel Brumberg, the introduction of preferential voting (ranked choice voting), where voters choose candidates in order of preference, would make it possible to select less polarized candidates, especially during the primaries. Right now our primary system tends to really give extremist candidates, left and right, especially the right, an edge in the race within their own party and then the state, argues he.

“This is a process that is very harmful to democracy.

— Daniel Brumberg, Director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University in Washington

The states of Maine and Alaska are already using the preferential vote, but the debates on this method of voting are taking place across the country.

In such a climate of tension, some are also considering more drastic remedies. If there really is an attempt to overturn the [2024] election, Levine fears, large-scale acts of civil disobedience may be necessary to protect democracy.

  • < strong>November 8, 2016: Donald Trump wins the race for the White House with 46.09% of the vote, but a majority of voters. In the same year, he claims that millions of voters voted “illegally” for Hillary Clinton, robbing her of the majority of the vote. An unprecedented allegation for a US President.
  • November 8, 2020: Joe Biden becomes President of the United States with 51.3% of the vote. Donald Trump refuses to concede victory, saying the election is “far from over”.
  • January 6, 2021: A crowd of pro-Trump supporters storm the Capitol in Washington to prevent the certification of the results and the victory of Joe Biden. These thousands of supporters are galvanized by the ex-president, who maintains that victory was stolen from him.
  • September 1, 2022: In a address to the nation, President Joe Biden says “equality and democracy are under siege” because of “Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans (Make America Great Again), whose extremism threatens the foundations of the Republic”.
  • November 8, 2022: Date on which the midterm elections will take place. According to the Washington-based Brookings Research Institute, 345 candidates (all Republicans) publicly claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent. About 200 of them have significant chances of winning the race.

Report produced as part of an internship at the office of Radio-Canada in Washington, thanks to a grant from the Foundation of the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

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