Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Protecting Democracy

Will Our Democracy Survive?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, March 17, 2021, p. 6A

Will our democracy survive?

Some things we prize can’t protect themselves. Like the environment. Since 1970 it’s had the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Our democracy can’t protect itself either. What percentage of a nation’s people must want a government “of, by, and for the people” to make it a reality?

Between 121 and 140 House members refused to recognize President Biden’s election.

The 2020 election turnout was a 120-year record. Yet one-third of eligible voters didn’t vote; 23% are “not interested in politics.”

Only 18% of Americans think our democracy is “working very well.” Alternatives to democracy thought “good” include government by experts (40%), a strong man with few legislative restraints (22%), and the military (17%).

It’s not that no one is aware of our democracy’s disintegration.

There are already numerous individuals and organizations working to reduce divisiveness and increase collaboration, such as the 56 U.S. House members in the Progressive Caucus, Dr. Chris Peters’ Our Braver Angels Iowa, and

From our nation’s beginning civics preparation was a driving reason for colleges and public K-12 schools. Educators know this, and organizations such as the Education Commission of the States and Educating for American Democracy (with its “roadmap for excellence”) are working to bring it back.

The origin of the word “democracy” (Greek words for “people rule”) has motivated expansion of the eligible voting base from white, male landowners over 21 to include people of color, women, and those over 18.

There are two options for those whose political party loses elections.

The one democracy compels is a revised party platform of proposals more attractive to the electoral majority than the proposals of the other party; the second is to make it possible for a minority of voters to win the majority of elections and legislative seats with gerrymandered district boundaries and a variety of voter suppression techniques.

The Republican Party has chosen the second. It had no new platform of proposals for the 2020 election. It learned, as Senator Lindsey Graham explained, that without “election reform” “there will never be another Republican president.” It is now pushing some 250 “reforms” in 43 state legislatures.

Many organizations and individuals are working on these challenges – including the U.S. House with its broad “For the People Act of 2021” (HR 1).

The point is not that no one is monitoring and trying to strengthen the weak spots in our democracy. Many persons are.

What’s needed are two things.

The first is a central institution, constantly monitoring and commenting on all elements of our democracy – the efforts to make them stronger, and where they’re under attack. It could be a nonpartisan commission, a major foundation’s project or an academic center.

The second is a commitment from the mass media to give the reports of this institution daily coverage – similar to the regular reporting this past year of COVID cases, hospitalizations, deaths and now progress with vaccinations.

For democracy to have a prayer of survival it will require the attention, words and deeds of each of us.
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, is the author of Columns of Democracy. Comments:

# # #


EPA 1970. Environmental Protection Agency,

Of, by and for the people. Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863,

Refusal to accept Biden’s election. Li Zhou, “147 Republican lawmakers still objected to the election results after the Capitol attack; Congress has certified President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the election — but some Republicans still objected,” Vox, Jan. 7, 2021,

One-third didn’t vote. Domenico Montanaro, “Poll: Despite Record Turnout, 80 Million Americans Didn't Vote. Here's Why,” npr, Dec. 15, 2020,

Americans’ support for democracy. Carroll Doherty, “Key findings on Americans’ views of the U.S. political system and democracy,” Pew Research Center, Apr. 26, 2018, (“About six-in-ten Americans (58%) say democracy is working well in the U.S., though just 18% say it is working very well.”)

Richard Wike, Katie Simmons, Bruce Stokes and Janell Fetterolf, “Democracy widely supported, little backing for rule by strong leader or military,” Pew Research Center, Oct. 16, 2017,

Divisiveness. Michael Dimock and Richard Wike, “America is exceptional in the nature of its political divide,” Pew Research Center, Nov. 13, 2020, (“Americans both see this problem and want to address it. Overwhelming majorities of both Trump (86%) and Biden (89%) supporters surveyed this fall said that their preferred candidate, if elected, should focus on addressing the needs of all Americans, ‘even if it means disappointing some of his supporters.’”)

Carroll Doherty, “Key findings on Americans’ views of the U.S. political system and democracy,” Pew Research Center, Apr. 26, 2018, (“Today, nearly equal shares in both parties (46% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans) say “they like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with.”)

Problem solvers caucus,; Dr. Chris Peters, Braver Angels Iowa,; Living Room Conversations,

Civics education. Integral to K-12 and higher ed. Lisa Guilfoile and Brady Delander, Introduction, Guidebook: Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning,” Education Commission of the States and National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement, Jan. 2014, (“Earlier in our nation’s history, civic education was broadly seen as integral to the purposes of public schools and universities.”) Education Commission of the States, (search: “civics”) Educating for American Democracy,

Voting. “Democracy (Ancient Greece),” Resource Library, National Geographic, (“The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words that mean people (demos) and rule (kratos).”)

“History of Voting in America,” Secretary of State, State of Washington, (“1776 -- Only white men age 21 and older who own land can vote.”)

No Republican Platform. Reid J. Epstein, “The G.O.P. Delivers Its 2020 Platform. It’s From 2016,” The New York Times, Aug. 25, 2020, (“Every four years since 1856, the Republican Party has produced a platform articulating its priorities for the next president. But like so much else disrupted by President Trump, the Republican National Committee has dispensed with producing a 2020 platform . . ..”)

Dominick Mastrangelo, “Graham: If Trump concedes election, Republicans will 'never' elect another president,” The Hill, Nov. 8, 2020, (“’If Republicans don't challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,’ Graham said Sunday on Fox News.”)

250 laws 43 states. Amy Gardner, Kate Rabinowitz and Harry Stevens, “How GOP-backed voting measures could create hurdles for tens of millions of voters; At least 250 new laws have been proposed in 43 states to limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting,” The Washington Post, March 11, 2021,

“State Voting Bills Tracker 2021; State lawmakers continue to introduce voting and elections bills at a furious pace,” Brennan Center for Justice, Feb. 24, 2021, .

H.R. 1 – For the People Act of 2021,

# # #