Political disagreements are nothing new. But in a healthy democracy, ideological and policy disagreements are settled through elections, and citizens on both sides respect the outcome and the rule of law.
More than 40 years ago, the Watergate scandal tested the strength of our democracy. For the first time since just after the Civil War, a president faced imminent impeachment. Some feared violence and a constitutional crisis. But Republicans and Democrats put principle before politics and Republican leaders, to their credit, called upon Richard Nixon to step down for the good of the country. The system worked because both sides, despite significant ideological differences, ultimately shared common values related to our democracy.
Today’s Republican Party refuses to recognize fundamental democratic values. The U.S. Capitol was not attacked during the Civil War, nor did angry mobs storm the Capitol in support of Richard Nixon. But on Jan. 6, 2021, Donald Trump incited a violent, deadly insurrection designed to impede the peaceful transfer of power. Yet, instead of condemning Trump and the insurrectionists, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election.
The recent indictments of Donald Trump on 37 felony charges should have been followed by bipartisan calls to respect the judicial process and the rule of law. Instead, Republicans have defiantly echoed Trump’s implicit threats of disorder and violence. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said on June 9 that the indictments are “going to disrupt this nation because it goes to the core of equal justice for all, which is not being seen today. And we’re not going to stand for it.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said “we have now reached the war phase. An eye for an eye.” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) referred to the indictments as “a perimeter probe from the oppressors.” Kari Lake of Arizona said that most Trump supporters are “card-carrying members of the NRA.”
None of the Republican presidential candidates have explicitly condemned this rhetoric. We cannot pretend that any of this is normal or acceptable. Republicans want to restrict voting rights, restrict reproductive rights, restrict minority rights (including LGTBQ rights) and ban books. Xenophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism and other forms of hate — all marginalized and condemned in the Democratic Party — are tolerated, emboldened and even embraced in the Republican Party, where white supremacists and right-wing extremists have seats at the table. This was clearly demonstrated by the record number of extremists who, according to the ADL, ran for office in the 2022 election — all as Republicans.
It is concerning to observe that, 153 years after the Civil War, many of the states that rebelled against the Union are still susceptible to this extremism and anti-democratic demagoguery. Equally concerning is that most Republican presidential candidates are still unwilling to criticize the most corrupt president in our nation’s history even as they run against him in the 2024 GOP presidential primaries.
Some might find it difficult to be optimistic about the future of our country when such deep divisions persist. That is certainly understandable under the circumstances. However, the most effective way to safeguard our democracy is by overwhelmingly voting the anti-democracy Republicans out of office. We need to vote and encourage others to vote. The consequences of not doing so will spell the end of our country and its government as we know them. ■
Michael Gelman serves on the national board of directors of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA). He is a member of the owners group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.