I read a statistic the other day that worried me, and it should worry you, too: Countries that flirt with authoritarianism — as the United States undeniably has over these last four years of unchecked and often criminal exercise of executive power — historically have about a one-in-five chance of restoring a functional representative government and reestablishing the rule of law.
Twenty percent. A four-to-one shot. You wouldn’t take those odds in Vegas, would you? Leastways not if you were gambling with your own money. But that’s where we find ourselves. And we’re all in it together, no matter how we as individuals may have voted last time around. We are all of us — citizens and residents of all ethnicities, of every and no religion, rich and poor — crowded shoulder to shoulder around the table, all of us betting the farm on one roll of the dice.
The future of American democracy is at stake. That sounds like hyperbole; but like so many things that would have sounded like the ravings of a madman just four years ago, it’s stone truth. The wealthy and well-connected have always disdained the rule of law, of course — that’s why we have a penal code that basically makes permissible any misdeed short of murder, as long as you can afford to pay the fine — but they’ve generally paid lip service to the idea that the common folk deserve a say in how they are governed. But increasingly, the mask has been slipping, and they no longer even pay token respect to such quaint notions as ”the will of the people.”
Here’s a sitting U.S. senator — a member in good standing of the self-described world’s greatest deliberative body — displaying open contempt for democracy itself. If it comes down to a choice between obeying the voice of the voters and making the trains run on time, well, Senator Lee is going to ride that choo-choo straight to Fash Town.
Ask yourself: If we do not soundly repudiate the American tilt toward fascism in the 2020 elections, do you think there will even be meaningful elections in 2024? Oh, there may be some pro forma campaigning — even in full-blown authoritarian states, they like to maintain the veneer — but it will be largely ceremonial. The fix will be in; in fact, it’s in already. In the name of protecting their minoritarian rule, the opponents of American democracy have already gone all-in on voter suppression, and are counting on the Supreme Court to settle the matter this fall.
There’s only one hope to save our democracy. Only one way to even have that one-in-five shot at seeing that government of the people, by the people, and for the people does not perish from the Earth.
And that is to vote.
Vote in such large numbers that they cannot discount us all. They can only cheat if it’s close — so vote. Vote, and be ready to act.
There are reasons to hope. Voting by mail and in-person early voting are way, way up this year. At this point in the 2016 election cycle, about 75,000 votes had already been cast; at the time of this writing, more than 5 million Americans had already made their voices heard.
This election is different. And so I’m dropping my biennial Election Day mixtape now, instead of on the first Monday in November. Election Day ends on November 3 this year, but it’s been going on for some time already.
So instead of listening while you stand in line to cast your ballot, you can stream or download these eighty-some minutes to listen as you fill out your ballot at home, or walk to the post office, or however you do it. But please: Do it.
Voting in itself is not going to save our democracy. We need massive reforms in all branches of government, codifying our democratic norms into law to prevent the rise of future rogue actors. We need to transform commerce models and media landscapes that allow too many of our fellow Americans to believe that fascism is ”good for business.” We need to fix a lot of things. But we can’t get started on any of it unless we stand together and vote the bastards out.
We’re up against long odds.
But maybe — maybe — this time, we can make our own luck.
Stand true. Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living. And be ready for a wild ride.
Download the full 2020 mix (1:21:00).
Download the full 2018 mix (1:20:20). Read the 2018 essay here.
Download the full 2016 mix (1:18:37). Read the 2016 essay here.
Download the full 2012 mix (1:20:51). Read the 2012 essay here.
intro: ”Street Fighting Man” montage
Winter in America — Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson with the Midnight Band
Change — John Waite
This Is Why We Fight — The Decemberists
Keep On Pushin’ — Curtis Mayfield
President Am I — Slow Children
Time Has Come Today — The Chambers Brothers
Holy Joe — U2
Defenders of the Flag — Bruce Hornsby and the Range
March March — The Chicks
OYAHYTT — The Coup featuring Lakeith Stanfield
Ball of Confusion — Love and Rockets
Rican Beach — Hurray For the Riff Raff
Paint the White House Black — George Clinton
Same Old Song and Dance — Aerosmith
America (live) — David Bowie
I Still Believe (Great Design) — The Call
House — The Psychedelic Furs
”Heroes” — TV on the Radio
coda: Let’s Get This Over With — They Might Be Giants