American democracy is under attack like never before. Throughout American history, our democracy has been threatened from abroad—first by the British Empire and later by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union and then Russia, and most recently Communist China and Islamist terrorism.
Yet today, the most dangerous threat to our democracy comes not from a foreign adversary but from within, as the radical right ascends in the Republican Party and the radical left gains strength in the Democratic Party.
This dangerous reality serves as the basic premise of our forthcoming book, America: Unite or Die, in which we explore how views that were once considered beyond the pale have now entered the mainstream of each party. The political right has embraced conspiracy theories about the Deep State and voter fraud, while the left has entertained socialism and the Defund the Police movement.
Ultimately, the recent rejection of compromise by far too many elected officials and citizens is emblematic of the inability of our government to deal effectively with many of the enormous challenges America faces today — the pandemic, the economy and rising inflation, border security, and how to counter our undemocratic adversaries abroad, to name a few.
We wrote America: Unite or Die as a call to action to all Americans to come together to support a collective renewal of faith in our democracy and a recommitment to America’s other founding ideals. These ideals include a belief in liberty, equality, opportunity, free markets, freedom of speech, the rule of law, and self-government.
At the same time, for the near-term, we call on the Biden administration to work with moderates and those in the opposing party, instead of embracing wide-eyed socialists who push for radical policies—i.e. redistributive economics, the Green New Deal, and dismantling systems of law enforcement via “defund the police”—that will destroy the American Dream.
We begin our book by demonstrating how the far-right and the far-left—two diametrically opposed forces—are moving further and further apart while becoming more and more mainstream thanks to a media ecosystem that gives greater standing to the fringes. We contend that the normalization of radical policies threatens not just our democracy but our most fundamental values.
On the right, prominent Republicans are threatening our democracy by embracing Donald Trump’s baseless “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 election. This lie has become the centerpiece of the party’s platform, and the G.O.P. now rejects members of its caucus, like Rep. Liz Cheney, who don’t accept it. This has perilously undermined faith in our elections and has emboldened dangerous undemocratic far-right extremist groups, including QAnon followers and white supremacists.
To that end, the Republicans who continue trying to re-write history by downplaying the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol are contributing to the rise in extremism by legitimizing the behavior of the violent mob that attempted the insurrection.
At a recent rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, for example, the emcee for the event asked attendees to cite the Pledge of Allegiance to a U.S. flag that was brought to the Jan. 6th insurrection. Youngkin denounced the incident as “weird and wrong,” but regardless, it speaks to how dangerous nationalism that has permeated the Republican base. And make no mistake, any Republican who does not speak out against inner-party extremism is also complicit in it.
Just like Republican officials won’t criticize extremists on the right for fear of angering that faction of their party, many Democratic officials won’t disparage the far-left for fear of angering their party’s radical wing. The extremist tail is wagging the mainstream dog.
On the left, party leaders neglected to directly denounce members of their caucus who condoned the rioting and theft that broke out in cities across the nation in the summer of 2020, as well as those who continue to support the Defund the Police movement—a movement based on demonization of police departments by the far left.
In June 2020, leftist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defended those who took advantage of the racial justice protests—which were a largely peaceful, justified response to the problem of systemic racism in the U.S.—to loot businesses across New York City.
“Maybe this has to do with the fact that people aren’t paying their rent & are scared to pay their rent & so they go out & they need to feed their child & they don’t have money so… they feel like they either need to shoplift some bread or go hungry,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Yet, Speaker Pelosi did not directly condemn Ocasio-Cortez for justifying the lawless behavior of the rioters and continues to work with her closely on the Democratic agenda.
Without question, the insurrection sparked by Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol was a much more serious problem than the riots in many American cities months earlier, because the attack on the Capitol was an attack on our democracy.
However, as we argue in our forthcoming book, we endanger the very foundations of our society if we condemn only the violence and lawbreaking committed by our political opponents, but fail to condemn it when committed by our political allies. Thus, we understand the concerns of those on the right who believe that those on the left have been willing to put our democratic values and public safety at risk for political purposes.
Furthermore, when it comes to the Democratic agenda as a whole, socialist-leaning viewpoints that were once considered to be fringe positions—dismantling systems of law enforcement via “defund the police,” class-based politics, redistributive economics, and excessive taxation and spending—are now at the forefront of the national Democratic party’s platform.
Indeed, progressive Democrats now wield unprecedented influence over national policy and have effectively called the shots on President Biden’s agenda. In Congress, they continue to hold the president’s bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage until moderates and party leaders agree to a dollar figure on a multi-trillion-dollar social spending bill, which Democrats plan to pass without any Republican votes.
While extremism is clearly prevalent in both parties, it didn’t use to be this way. Throughout much of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party was center-left and the Republican Party was center-right. There were moderate and even conservative Democrats (many from the South) holding local, state, and national office. There were moderate and even liberal Republicans – such as Senator Jacob Javits of New York – in office as well. We had “big tent” parties able to accommodate ideological diversity, each anchored in the sensible center.
Our forthcoming book argues that the 21st-century media revolution, where people are now given the option of choosing news sources that feed different versions of the same reality, is partially responsible for this growing divide.
A Quinnipiac Poll released January 11, 2021, underscores the dramatic difference in perceptions by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The poll found that 73 percent of Republicans believed Donald Trump’s assertions that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election in which President Biden defeated Trump, but only 36 percent of Independents and a mere 5 percent of Democrats believed there was widespread voter fraud in the election.
How can Americans hope to agree on anything if we can’t agree on basic facts? This problem poses one of the greatest challenges to uniting Americans with a revival of our faith in democracy—and it isn’t going away.
Additionally, in America: Unite or Die we make the case that inequality among citizens furthers this divide as well, due to some groups being perpetually left behind and denied just treatment by democracy. This is a common feeling in America among some of the protesters for racial justice in American cities in the spring and summer of 2020 and the insurgents who attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. It is the call for change from the aggrieved.
If we are to restore faith in our civic religion of democracy we must make democracy work for all Americans—whether the Black family worried about police brutality and systemic racism, or the White family worried about unemployment caused by American companies offshoring jobs to countries where labor is cheaper.
In addition to documenting America’s dangerous divisions, our book also offers solutions to restore faith in democracy. We propose bringing the American people together around a centrist, commonsense, bipartisan agenda and reforms—such as those described below, among many others—which America: Unite or Die expounds on in greater detail:
Election reforms, i.e. non-partisan redistricting, implementing ranked choice-voting, ending winner-take-all in the electoral college, encouraging the creation of a centrist third party, and expanding participation in presidential debates.
Congressional reforms, i.e. encouraging bipartisan cooperation on issues where agreement is possible, preserving the filibuster, and restrictions on lobbying.
Judicial reforms, i.e. requiring the Senate to hold confirmation votes on all justices, ending lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, and setting the current size of the Supreme Court at its current composition of nine justices.
Legislative reforms, i.e. criminal justice reforms that fund police departments while also understanding that some resources are best reallocated, increasing federal education funding, reforming the tax code to close corporate loopholes and the creation of a “living wage.”
Right now, America is at a crossroads: We can heed President Biden’s call in his inaugural address to end our “uncivil war,” or we can follow the path of those on the far-left and the far-right who refuse to compromise. If we take this second path, we will remain divided into two Americas— hating, attacking, and demonizing those who differ with us politically and seeing our government paralyzed by partisan gridlock.
America: Unite or Die lays out a path forward from the abyss that has nearly swallowed our democracy, and threatens to replace “government of the people, by the people” with authoritarian rule. The fate of our nation hangs in the balance. Our democracy must be saved before it is too late.