American democracy is in the midst of a moment of acute threat that could set it back decades or more. Americans are losing faith in democracy, polarization is growing and accelerating, and the authoritarian movement is gaining more political power. This is the most dangerous time in America’s history for democracy, and it requires a dramatic step-change in strategy and support to reclaim our democratic future.
A new national image that reflects all of the contradictions and complexities of a modern, diverse, and free society is essential to overcoming these threats. It must not focus on the abstract – what democracy is or should be – but rather must bring people together around a shared vision for what an America might look like where all can thrive and advance under democratic conditions.
Across racial, generational and class-cultural divides, the prodemocracy movement must speak to the social forces that underlie these divisions and offer solutions. The movement must also challenge the distorted story of status that many conservatives and antidemocrats are cultivating, which enables them to gain power by empathizing with disadvantaged groups and blaming the system for their loss of dignity or status.
One of the key ways this authoritarian story is being used by conservatives is to exploit a widespread feeling among White Christian males that the system has intentionally tilted the playing field so that they cannot compete on equal footing with other groups for status or dignity, an emotion that often drives conservative voters. This sentiment has become a potent force in the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the rights of refugees and immigrants, or to block Black Lives Matter protesters from demonstrating at their local schools.
It is important to counter this by offering more progressive explanations for why the system has been unfair to some groups, such as highlighting how the economic policies of the Obama administration helped create millions of jobs and increased incomes. But this is not enough–the prodemocracy movement must work to separate out a majority of conservatives who want an inclusive democracy and believe that all Americans deserve the chance to have their voices heard without discrimination.
The prodemocracy movement must help those in these disadvantaged groups to understand that their lives could improve under an inclusive, progressive system of law and governance, and to encourage them to take responsibility for their part in bringing it about. This requires a critical, inclusive, and liberal vision of the future that brings all Americans together under a common set of societal values.
The future of democracy in America is a struggle for the fullest expression of a person’s unique identity and to break down barriers that prevent them from achieving that recognition. It is a battle for the most powerful and influential voices that can shape a future-centered version of what the country could be if it were truly free. It is the fight to reclaim our democratic future from the enemies that are attacking it right now and in the years to come, and to build a unified prodemocracy movement that will win the war against partisan polarization and static identities.