I cannot write computer code, and I have no idea how to make a decent roux. The engine block on a standard-issue Honda may as well be a Rubik’s Cube to me. I don’t know how to serve drinks to 25 people simultaneously from behind the bar on a busy game day. I couldn’t begin to conduct an autopsy, or a symphony. In a million years I would not try to drive an 18-wheeler through a Colorado snowstorm, because I would die explosively for lack of experience. I do what I do, and am thrilled on the daily to be surrounded by people who know how to do all the things I cannot do.
These we call “experts,” and lately they’ve been getting treated like clay ducks at target practice. You have specialized knowledge? Ha! Clearly you are a mole for evil forces. Tell me to wear a mask during a pandemic? Communism. Argue for equal rights based on the law? Terrorism. Deliver an ocean of evidence that the ocean is coming because the climate is changing? Communist terrorist socialism, and why? Because feelings and opinions, and the tripe I heard on the radio yesterday. So there.
On June 1, the mechanics of democracy fired a warning flare that lit the sky. These experts on social entropy run the ideological gamut from Francis Fukuyama to Michael Latner. They are professors, deans, activists, scholars, experts. More than 100 of them have drafted and signed a “statement of concern” regarding what they view as the imminent collapse of democracy in the United States, and they pulled no punches in the process.
“Specifically,” begins the statement, “we have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election. Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections. Hence, our entire democracy is now at risk.”
Over the weekend, a bold walkout by Democratic state legislators in Texas thwarted a Republican attempt to pass a raft of the most draconian anti-voter laws in the country. Like as not, the Republican majority will find a way to jam these laws through, and it is precisely this behavior that motivated the publication of this statement.
Much of it boils down to broad Republican refusal to accept the legitimate outcome of the 2020 presidential election, and that refusal is due to Donald Trump’s ongoing insistence that he won. The furor he has inspired over the ’20 election is directly responsible for the lethal January 6 attack on the Capitol building in Washington D.C., which was nothing less than an attempted coup d’état. When that failed, more than a dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures began churning out voting laws that would make George Wallace wince.
“Every citizen who is qualified must have an equal right to vote, unhindered by obstruction,” continues the statement. “And when they lose elections, political parties and their candidates and supporters must be willing to accept defeat and acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome. The refusal of prominent Republicans to accept the outcome of the 2020 election, and the anti-democratic laws adopted (or approaching adoption) in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Montana and Texas — and under serious consideration in other Republican-controlled states — violate these principles. More profoundly, these actions call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy. As scholars of democracy, we condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms as a betrayal of our precious democratic heritage.”
The phenomenon of shunning experts and expertise has been vividly on display within public conservative circles in recent years. Prideful ignorance is nothing new on the right, but as hard data on climate disruption, gender, racism, economics and lately COVID-19 has advanced, those seeking to protect their fortunes and feelings from facts have paid handsomely to inject doubt into areas where experts have put doubt to bed.
This has, in the intervening years, gone from being a clever way to disrupt debate and transformed into something akin to gospel among the adherents of Republican ideology. Knowing things is scary for those who crave near horizons and the absence of doubt, and if you have all the money in the world, you can shout down experts from million-megawatt microphones like Fox News all day long. We live today in the aftermath of that effort, and it already has a body count from the pandemic. We must not allow our democracy to suffer a similar fate.
“We urge members of Congress to do whatever is necessary — including suspending the filibuster — in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want,” concludes the democracy scholars’ statement. “Our democracy is fundamentally at stake. History will judge what we do at this moment.”
These experts must be heeded, and soon.