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Anticipating the year ahead in politics in America

by David Silverberg

There are inflection points in human history, monumental years when everything changes.

This is such a year—and everyone can see it coming.

This is a year when the fundamentals of the future will be determined both at the ballot box and on the battlefield. Even little old Collier County, Florida, having marked a century of existence, will be fundamentally shaped for its next century.

It will be an interesting year but not a fun one. Indeed, it will be dangerous, stressful and frightening.

There’s no avoiding that reality. The stakes are immensely high, the main players are desperate and popular passions in America are at a pitch unseen probably since the 1860s. Abroad, the outcome of wars now underway will shape the international order and new wars may break out. At home, Americans will decide whether they will be governed under democracy or dictatorship—if their election even goes off as planned.

It’s an immense, almost overwhelming canvas. It will take three articles to cover it.

On Sept. 18, 1787 when he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether America was to be a monarchy or a republic. He famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

A “republic” simply meant that America wouldn’t have a monarch. The word “monarch” consists of the Greek words “monos”—“one”—and “archy”—meaning “power” or “authority.” America would not be governed by a single individual wielding all power.

Since Franklin’s time the American republic has become progressively more democratic.

This year will determine whether America will stay a democracy—if Americans choose to keep it.

That’s what the articles that follow will examine and try to analyze for the coming year: what is likely to happen and how best to respond to it?

Let’s start at home.

Democracy or dictatorship

There’s simply no other way to say it: the outcome of the 2024 presidential election will determine whether America stays a democracy or becomes a dictatorship.

Former President Donald Trump has made no secret of his authoritarian intentions. If elected he aims to demolish every institution restraining him (like the Constitution) and exact vengeance on every person who opposes him, now or in the past. He has called them all “vermin.”

Even when Fox News host Sean Hannity tried to give him an opportunity to deny the charges of authoritarianism, Trump didn’t take it.

At a Fox News televised town hall meeting in Iowa on Dec. 5, Hannity tried to shoot down the alarms about Trump’s intentions: “You are promising America tonight you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”

“Except for day one,” Trump answered. “I want to close the border, and I want to drill, drill, drill.”

Hannity looked nonplussed, which made Trump laugh. “I love this guy,” Trump said to the crowd. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no. Other than day one.’ We’re closing the border, and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.”

Without a doubt, if elected, Trump will make himself dictator—starting day one and every day afterward. The dictatorship will be driven not only by his own thirst for vengeance, retribution and desire for total control but also by the people he will unleash and encourage. He and his cultists at both the high and low ends of the political hierarchy are determined to impose their will on the American people and the world regardless of the consent of the governed.

Also fueling Trump’s determination is the fact that unless he goes to the White House he will otherwise go to jail due to all the criminal charges and accusations against him.

On Dec. 19 the Colorado Supreme Court issued a historic ruling that Trump was ineligible for the state’s Republican primary ballot because he had engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. As to be expected, the ruling is being appealed to the US Supreme Court. On Thursday, Dec. 28, Maine’s secretary of state also ruled that Trump is ineligible for the primary ballot there. That decision will also be appealed.

Throughout the year expect court rulings to drop like bombs, with Supreme Court rulings making the biggest explosions of all.

Meanwhile, Republicans around the country are trying to find ways to ensure that Trump gets the nomination when the party convention convenes on July 15 in Milwaukee, Wisc.

Regardless of how the Colorado, Maine and other rulings play out, Trump has maneuvered himself into a position of either winning everything or losing everything. There is no middle ground. If he wins he becomes dictator, he pardons everyone who committed a crime on his behalf, and he attains absolute, unrestricted power. If he loses, he forfeits his life, his fortune and his own freedom.

This situation makes Trump—and his cultists—very desperate and very dangerous.

On Jan. 6, 2021 Americans saw that Trump and his co-conspirators were willing to break every norm and law and destroy the Constitution to stay in power. The people around him were arguing for a military coup to seize voting machines, cancel the election results and name false electors. Trump himself incited an insurrection to overthrow the government and even murder the vice president to stay in power.

In 2024 there is a real possibility that Trump and his followers will use violence and foment civil war or civil disturbance to get their way. If he faces incarceration or they see a loss looming at the polls some people may even try to prevent the election from taking place at all.

Movie madness

It’s not often that a piece of entertainment factors into a political analysis but a movie titled Civil War is scheduled to be released on April 26. Its premise is simple: civil war breaks out and secessionist forces from the “Florida Alliance” and the western United States attack the government. The White House is invaded and the president dragged from behind the Resolute desk. A group of journalists travel across the country amidst the chaos and strife, witnessing the carnage

The movie stars Kirsten Dunst as protagonist and Nick Offerman as a thinly-disguised President Joe Biden. It was conceived, written and directed by Alex Garland, whose previous credits include the obscure, box office flop Men.

It commanded a huge budget: $75 million, making it the most expensive movie made to date. A horrific-looking trailer was released on Dec. 13.

Intended to be controversial, the movie has already succeeded. Right-wing conspiracy theorists are viewing it as an attempt to discredit the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement. With only the trailer to judge it, on the contrary it appears to be a MAGA fantasy of power and domination. Its tagline is: “Every empire falls.”

Whether pro or anti insurrection—or even anti-American—the most dangerous thing about this movie is that it will encourage those thinking of civil war and political violence to actually take up arms and make this fiction real. People living in deep red, heavily MAGA, gun-saturated places—like Southwest Florida—where there has already been talk of armed revolution, know that the line between fantasy and reality in this matter is already very thin.

Naples farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes takes aim in an Aug. 8, 2021 Facebook post stating, “I pray we have election integrity in 2022…. if we don’t we must prepare for the worst! Our second amendment right is specifically to revolt against a a tyrannical government! Prepare for the worst and pray for the best.”  (Photo: Facebook)

The closest similar event in the past was the release of director DW Griffith’s epic movie Birth of a Nation in 1915. That movie inspired revival of the Ku Klux Klan and led to a wave of racism and violence that saw such events as the 1920 Ocoee race massacre in Florida, the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma and even the 1924 Fort Myers lynchings. Incredibly, Griffith denied that he had any racist intentions even as he directed the most viciously racist propaganda film in American history.

Similarly, the producers, director and stars of Civil War the movie will no doubt wash their hands and deny any responsibility for the consequences of what they unleash. In the volatile, combustible atmosphere of the 2024 election, releasing a movie like this is an act of incredible irresponsibility and foolishness.

If violence breaks out, if people are wounded or killed because of this movie, the creators and stars should be held liable. And the creators and stars should take note of something else as well: if this government is lost, if the Constitution is suspended or abrogated, in the resulting dictatorship they will never again have the unrestricted freedom to make the movies they want without interference.

At the ballot box

In the more conventional political process, the Iowa caucuses take place on Jan. 15 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23. All polls as of this writing indicate that Trump will sweep those and all other Republican nominating contests—or at least the ones in which he’s a candidate.

In late November Republican strategist Karl Rove predicted that the Iowa caucuses would be “do or die” for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). As of this writing, that is likely to fall on the “die” side of the equation. And Trump is apparently determined that once down DeSantis will never get up again. If Trump wins and becomes dictator DeSantis might be the first political opponent he imprisons.

Indeed, the entire Republican nominating campaign will likely be over after New Hampshire.

Trump clearly has a lock on his cult in the Republican Party. But whether that fanatical loyalty can be extended to the entire American electorate will be one of the great questions of 2024.

For Democrats the task is simpler but at the same time difficult: stay united and bring independents, the uncommitted and disillusioned Republicans into their fold for a majority coalition. The Republicans will be throwing everything they can at Biden, like a baseless impeachment proceeding that is unlikely to go anywhere, and attacking him through his son, Hunter. They will be doing all they can to divide, distract and disrupt the Democratic coalition.

However, Biden is a very experienced and canny politician, as he has proven many times, especially when he won his party’s nomination and the general election in 2020.

Biden would also likely crush Trump in any one-to-one debate. Trump avoided all debates with his Republican rivals during the primary campaign. Given the partisan nature of that phase of the campaign he could get away with it. He will likely refuse debate with Biden in the year to come, saying it’s unnecessary. The big question during the general election phase will be whether he pays a penalty for that kind of cowardice. The Presidential Debate Commission and the broadcast networks could schedule debates and hold them with an empty chair if Trump refuses to attend, penalizing Trump and giving Biden complete domination of the national stage. But will the networks and the Commission have the nerve to do it?

Also working in the Democrats’ favor is the mobilization of pro-choice forces, chiefly but not exclusively women, alarmed and infuriated by the Supreme Court’s revocation of the national right to abortion. Combined with younger voters’ concern over climate change and Trump and the Republicans’ hatred toward immigrants, ethnic and minority voters and everyone else outside their tight and exclusive base, the Democrats would seem to have a winning formula.

The possibility of one—or even both—of the candidates dropping out or dropping dead must be considered. Biden is 81 years old. Trump is 77. Both are beyond the average life expectancy for American men (which is 73.5 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Both men’s doctors give them clean bills of health but of the two the grossly obese Trump seems in the worse physical shape and he increasingly appears to have cognitive issues.

If either man falls the entire political calculation will fundamentally change. Sensible planning would assume that there’s a Plan B in both camps to cope with the contingency, although Republican leadership struggles in the House of Representatives do not inspire confidence on that side of the aisle.

In terms of presidential succession, Vice President Kamala Harris would be next in line to be president. House Speaker Rep. Michael Johnson (R-4-La.) would follow her.

Congress and choice

As in all election years the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate are up for election.

In Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), 71, is running again despite a string of failures. He’s up against Democratic former-Rep. Debbie (her birth name) Mucarsel-Powell, 52. Scott is vulnerable but he has always spent his way into office and he can be expected to try the same again. Mucarsel-Powell has a chance but must raise the cash for a competitive race.

Since the election of 2016, both Democrats and Republicans have hoped for—and expected— “waves” that would sweep away their opponents and give them full dominance of Congress. When the votes were counted, no waves occurred.

Instead, current polling shows a closely divided electorate that is likely to be reflected in the next Congress, both House and Senate.

The results of aggregated generic congressional polling from ABC/ as of Dec. 23, 2023. (Chart: 538)

Nonetheless, results of the off-year 2023 elections and the mid-term 2022 elections were encouraging for Democrats. An expected “red wave” did not materialize in 2022. In 2023, Democrats showed surprisingly strong results in local contests in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia.

All these elections also demonstrated the importance of the abortion issue at the ballot box. Anti-choicers may have gotten their way thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, but every time choice has been on the ballot voters have overwhelmingly approved it, including in conservative states like Kansas.

Will this intense pro-choice sentiment translate into Democratic congressional victories? That will be one of the key questions to be answered in 2024. 

But since the legal abortions were thrown to the states by Dobbs, there are abortion legalization measures on the ballots or being considered across the country in 12 states.

In Florida, as of Dec. 19, pro-choicers stated they had collected 1.4 million signatures to put a pro-choice amendment on the ballot, more than the 891,523 signatures required that must be submitted by Feb. 1. The amendment would make abortion legal for 24 weeks of a pregnancy, in contrast to the current 15 week limit.

Ashley Moody, the Florida attorney general, has been fighting the initiative in court, trying to keep it off the ballot, arguing that it’s too vague.

In Florida questions that loom for 2024 are: will pro-choicers get their amendment on the ballot? Can the DeSantis administration suppress it through the courts? Will Florida officials invalidate the signatures? And if it is on the ballot, will it receive the 60 percent approval from voters to pass?

Around the country, as in Florida, anti-choice activists, legislators and state officials are looking to discredit or discard pro-choice efforts in courts or state houses in order to restrict or keep abortions banned.

Access to safe, legal abortions is an immensely important and personal issue that certainly won’t go away no matter the vote counts in November. It could tip the political scale if elections proceed as scheduled.

Hope and promise

For all the threats and dangers of the year ahead, for all the sickness and psychosis that Donald Trump will continue to unleash on the American public and the world, there are still great sources of strength for Americans who believe in the Constitution and democracy.

Most Americans don’t seem to realize yet that this is not a “normal” election; that everything is on the line and that choices are too important to be made casually. However, the realization is growing. As the magnitude of the stakes become apparent, as people start to understand exactly what losing democracy will entail and as presidential campaigning gets under way in earnest, people who are now indifferent or apathetic will hopefully be inspired to activism on behalf of law, justice and democracy.

There is also the fact that anti-Trumpers in fact outnumber Trumpers by quite a bit and all indications are that this continues to be the case.

Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by over 2 million votes. He definitively lost both the popular and electoral votes in 2020. It just may be that the prospect of a Trump dictatorship—or any other dictatorship—will prove so repugnant to the majority of the American people in 2024 that they reject it and hopefully do so completely, decisively and overwhelmingly.

Those who favor democracy have another powerful weapon in their arsenal—legitimacy.

It may not seem like much, but over time and undergirding their efforts is the fact that they have right on their side and that is a quiet but persuasive force.

The fact is that America is a democracy and democracy is its legal and legitimate form of government. Those supporting democracy are supporting the rule of law, the Constitution and the principles of equality and justice on which the country was founded.

No matter how seductive the prospect of revenge, retribution, hatred, prejudice or rage, no matter how overwhelming the cascade of authoritarian propaganda, no matter how much they project their own intentions onto their enemies and no matter how loud and threatening the cult of personality worshipers may be, the fact is that those supporting democracy are in the right and their opponents are in the wrong. That can be a compelling inspiration for strength and activism. Legitimacy by itself, though, is not enough. It must be acted upon.

As Florida pundit and political analyst Rick Wilson has put it: “The miracles in politics are the ones we make. They come from work, planning, preparation, organization, and focus.”

In 2024, all things being equal, Americans can surge their activism and determination to preserve democracy. It has to take every form of political involvement and courage.

But America does not exist in a vacuum and 2024 will be as momentous abroad as it is domestically. Each will impact the other. And that requires a completely separate examination.

Special to Big Mouth Media from the Paradise Progressive. Originally published on January 1, 2024.

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