President Joe Biden frequently calls out his political opponents as dangers to democracy. It's an easy charge to make, given former President Donald Trump's refusal to accept a loss at the polls, his followers' rioting at the Capitol, and subsequent snipe hunts for election fraud and efforts to erect barriers to voting. But the current president's opponents credibly riposte that Biden and company seek control of the economy and suppression of dissent. Those who want to be left alone are stuck between a deluded Republican cult of personality and the smug, creeping totalitarianism of Democrats.
"There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today — an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are — who we are as Americans," Biden insisted last week in Philadelphia. "We're are [sic] facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War … The Confederates back then never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on January the 6th."
The president's "insurrectionists" were the rioters who invaded the Capitol in a failed effort to prevent certification of the Electoral College vote acknowledging Biden's presidential win. They were motivated by Trump's bogus claims of a stolen election.
"All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing," Trump told his audience on January 6, before the riot. "And stolen by the fake news media. That's what they've done and what they're doing."
But that's not what people looking at the record have found.
"We have closely examined what appear to be the main pieces of statistical evidence of fraud in the 2020 election," wrote Andrew C. Eggers of the University of Chicago, and Haritz Garro and Justin Grimmer of Stanford University in a February 2021 paper. "For each of these claims, we find that what is purported to be an anomalous fact about the election result is either not a fact or not anomalous."
Not that bogus claims of fraud had no effect.
"The Trump campaign delivered a blueprint for losing candidates to undermine support for the winner or even steal the election," Eggers, Garro, and Grimmer added. "It seems unlikely that he will be the last to try these tactics."
Actually, Trump is still trying these tactics, insisting just this week, "The Voter Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election was monumental, and the facts are coming out daily!"
Republicans reward Trump with strong polling support for a repeat presidential run in 2024—he took 70 percent of the vote in a July CPAC straw poll, up from 55 percent in a February CPAC straw poll. They also conduct neverending ballot recounts, and push a wave of voting restrictions of various degrees of seriousness in states they control. If that's not an assault on democracy, it's certainly an attempt to tweak its outcomes.
Unfortunately, Biden and Democrats pretend that protecting democracy requires concentrating power and muzzling dissent.
"As you all know, information travels quite quickly on social media platforms; sometimes it's not accurate," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki huffed on July 15 as she pressured private companies to delete controversial vaccine messages. "And Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful, violative posts — posts that will be within their policies for removal often remain up for days. That's too long."
Much of the information tagged as misinformation by Psaki is, in fact, bullshit—but so is a lot of what the government itself says. It's not always possible to separate truth from falsity right out of the gate, as demonstrated by officialdom's about-face on speculation that COVID-19 leaked from a Wuhan lab. Once a forbidden conspiracy theory, it's now a credible possibility. Disagreement, it seems, is pretty valuable.
But the White House's impatience with dissent doesn't stop there. Leveraging concerns about the Capitol riot and social unrest, federal agencies now target "extremism."
"The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to combat domestic extremism, increasing funding to prevent attacks, weighing strategies historically used against foreign terrorist groups and more openly warning the public about the threat," The New York Times reported last month.
But "extremism" tends to be in the eye of the beholder, often conveniently so when powerful beholders wield the designation as a political weapon.
"In the last two decades, successive presidential administrations have pursued federal programs to prevent 'violent extremism' or 'radicalization,'" points out the ACLU. "Unfortunately, these programs have had little or no scientific or evidentiary basis for addressing or understanding what are often ill-defined problems, and have resulted in unmerited stigma, discrimination, and infringement of the rights to equality, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion."
Biden's plan is "a jackpot for public unions and big business," charges Reason's Veronique de Rugy. "Coming after two decades of spending indulgence under the last three presidents, culminating in an explosion of outlays during Washington's COVID-fighting efforts, Biden's spending extravaganza is in effect the final stage of an effort to centralize power in the federal government."
His latest policy brainstorm, issued via executive order, "will tilt the economy toward larger businesses via heavier government control" agrees the American Enterprise Institute's Mark Jamison.
Those schemes seem worthy of debate, as does the president's addiction to executive orders.
"This is no way to make law," the editorial board at The New York Times cautioned in January. "A polarized, narrowly divided Congress may offer Mr. Biden little choice but to employ executive actions or see his entire agenda held hostage. These directives, however, are a flawed substitute for legislation."
A divided Congress refuses to pass the president's preferred legislation? That might well be frustrating, but it sounds like the normal workings of the democracy that Biden says is under assault. Lawmakers aren't supposed to dance at the command of one official.
"87% of Trump backers and 60% of Biden voters agree that our democracy is under threat," noted Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Poll, of the results of an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published earlier this month. "But, they view the reasons for such risk through a very different lens."
No doubt Republicans and Democrats view political dangers differently, seeing each other as threats to America's creaky political institutions. As it turns out, they're both right. That leaves those of us committed to freedom and a live-and-let-live attitude out in the cold.