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Emergency Break Glass

The United States is "now at the 'In Case of Emergency, Break Glass' moment," writes Winship. "Pull the handle, sound the alarm." (Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

A Bipolar Nation in Danger of Destruction. We Can't Delay.

We’ve reached the “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” moment.

Michael Winship

Not that you asked, but I’m fine, thanks, how are you? Elated, energized, depressed or indifferent? Lately, it feels as if the country is going through a lengthy bout of bipolar disorder. Each highlight of our glorious post-Trump, semi-post-pandemic lives is countered by moments so dismal it sometimes feels as if we may never come out of the hole of anger, despair, and bigotry he and his followers created. But we can.

We’ve been dragged into this pit by a minority percentage of the populace and their so-called leaders who believe in the efficacy of nonstop lies that go unpunished, and that the only way to corner the market on political power is with aggressive authoritarian behavior—including violence—plus the active cultivation of ignorance and distrust.

"Jim Crow, post-Reconstruction style, is back with a vengeance and they’re using every crazy election fraud conspiracy theory to try to justify it."

And so, for example, while we’ve had good news about the continuing efficacy of COVID vaccinations, it’s countered by the ongoing resistance of misinformed anti-vaxxers. There are fears of new outbreaks caused by a Delta variant and possibly others that are especially dangerous to those who haven’t received their shots, many simply refusing to do so. Because, you know, freedom.

Last week, we celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time, yet we continue to watch in disgust as the GOP jumps up and down in hysteria about the teaching of critical race theory, which they willfully distort and misinterpret, mainly because they have nothing constructive to offer and when in doubt, stir up a culture war.

Meanwhile, Republican-dominated statehouses pass legislation not only attempting to replace state and local election officials with compliant stooges but also suppressing the votes of the young and citizens of color—in many instances trying to obliterate those votes altogether. Jim Crow, post-Reconstruction style, is back with a vengeance and they’re using every crazy election fraud conspiracy theory to try to justify it—from claims of Italians using military satellites to change American votes to the Chinese Communist Party hacking our voting machines. “Pure insanity” is how one Trump Justice Department official succinctly described it.

While this is happening at the state level, on Capitol Hill, the GOP is doing all it can to block passage of federal legislation protecting the sanctity of the vote. Even as obdurate Democratic Senator Jim Manchin offered a possible compromise, the moment that voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams endorsed it, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the bill dead in the water. And so, on Tuesday, the Senate failed to come up with the sixty votes necessary to stop a filibuster that would not even allow debate to proceed.

On the good news side, Joe Biden returned from his first presidential trip overseas, including a summit with Vladimir Putin, receiving overall good grades and a collective sigh of relief from our allies. Once again, the United States entered the fellowship of global diplomacy, ending four years of isolationism and resentment.

And for the third time, the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare against the constant din of Republican sabotage. 

What’s more, starting with this year’s successful, $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act of economic stimulus, the profusion of solid progressive legislation that has been offered up since Trump skulked away from Washington in January continues to offer a vision of change and advancement.  But the agenda remains blocked by the Dems’ slim majority, dissension within Democratic Party ranks and the aforementioned filibuster, which too many—especially Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—defend as an absolute necessity in the Senate, even though at bottom what it really seems to be is a tradition meant to retain power for those in the minority who all too often abuse the privilege.

Witness the filibusters against civil rights legislation in the sixties, echoed by Tuesday night’s successful effort by McConnell to block the For the People Act because the bill would end voter suppression, gerrymandering and dark money—a few of his favorite things. The same occurred with an independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, and they threaten to do it again when it comes police and criminal justice reform, immigration reform, gun control, efforts against climate change, etc., although each is supported by majorities of the public.

The rabbit hole down which McConnell and his minions have descended is now so heavily trafficked they might as well install E-Z Pass. Because of their fearless leader Donald Trump and the venal impulses that have bewitched so many, the Republican Party has become a toy chest for tools and cranks with an ATM welded to the side. Even an infrastructure bill so necessary and desired in this country is bogged down by Republican threats and bullying. Although compromise discussions are underway, chance are that by the time it’s presented, Mitch the Impaler will spike the deal.

From time to time, the filibuster may have served its stated purpose but we officially have reached the point of useless arguing over rules of order. You don’t think the Republicans will abolish the current filibuster rules if they return to power? And remember, the filibuster doesn’t apply to tax and budget slashing or appointments to the federal bench—the only things Republican senators really care about.

They’re mobilizing for 2022 and 2024 right now and as Robert Reich recalled the other day, “President Obama bent over backwards to win bipartisan support. But Democrats quickly lost control of the Senate and their agenda was completely stalled. If Biden and Senate Democrats don’t push now to abolish the filibuster, I fear we are on the same path.”

There’s even unhinged talk of installing Donald Trump as Speaker of the House if the Republicans retake that chamber in next year’s elections. That’s because holding the speakership does not require being a member, another of the arcane congressional rules with the potential to bite us all in the ass.

Barring a change of minds on the filibuster, an adjustment to or all-out abolition of it, the answer is simple but not easy, although it can be done: more like-minded voter turnout to rid us of every one of these relentless head cases. With each day, we learn more and more about the depths to which Trump tried to go to preserve his presidency in the face of a clear-cut defeat. His attempts while president to manipulate the Justice Department to investigate any and all outlandish claims of election fraud are a national scandal. And according to Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley at the Daily Beast, he even tried to get the DoJ to somehow punish “Saturday Night Live” and other late night shows for making fun of him. There’s thicker skin on a summer onion.

All of this, of course, is barking mad. To flip a familiar saying, Trump’s not all there but he’s still here—and try to convince his cult followers that it’s really about nothing but grift and flimflammery designed to facilitate a totalitarian takeover and even greater access to the cash register. Although out of office, he’s still a clear and present danger. That’s why we need to get out the majority vote next year and two years later as we never have before—even more so than in 2018 and 2020.

But for right now, in the wake of Tuesday night’s GOP blockade of the For the People Act, one thing you can do is support the group Indivisible and 100 other progressive organizations in an effort they’re calling “Deadline for Democracy,” described as “a nationwide campaign to spend the 4th of July Recess telling senators to pass For the People.”

They write, “It’s not hyperbole, this is a real deadline. If we want the democracy-protecting provisions of the For the People Act to be in place before the 2022 elections, the Senate needs to pass the bill before August recess.” After that, some two months will pass before the Senate returns to Washington and that won’t leave enough time.

Events are being planned around the country to let senators know that Americans demand their right to cast a ballot no matter what, no matter where: “Getting as many people in the streets and in Senate offices as possible and building enough media attention that senators can’t ignore us is crucial to succeeding this recess. We need you to join in. It worked for the Tea Party, and it worked for us when we saved the Affordable Care Act. It will work again now if you can join.”

Deadline for Democracy—we’re now at the “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” moment. Pull the handle, sound the alarm, there’s no time to lose.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Michael Winship

Michael Winship

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. 

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