Opinion: Is democracy in trouble in the U.S.? How about in Utah?
Extremists on the right and left are claiming the governor and Legislature are dictatorial and authoritarian. But these antagonists perform without retribution and demonstrate that democracy is vibrant in the Beehive State
Media outlets, think tanks and special interest groups are bombarding Americans with polling questions regarding their political preferences and feelings about the country. These surveys show a high level of concern about the nation’s direction. Since your columnists have a lot of experience with these things (we’re almost as old as the republic), we offer our insights.
A recent NBC news poll revealed that 76% of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe “there is a threat to democracy and majority rule in this country.” Are these fears justified?
Pignanelli: “The thing about democracy is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.” — Molly Ivins
Our nation is amid a constitutional, economic and societal turmoil. But we have endured some tumult … every year … for centuries. Considering religious Puritans escaping persecution, indigenous people overwhelmed, immigrants fleeing poverty or victims of the slave trade, our nation was built on turbulence. Thankfully, the Constitution bequeathed to us continues to harness this energy into an entrepreneurial, innovative drive for freedom.
When political, business and community leaders continually express concern over the demagogic attacks on the government, it is no wonder citizens tell pollsters they are nervous about our constitutional structure. Yet, voters turned out in record numbers in 2020 and 2021.
This signifies a deep solid faith in the system. When one objectively views the panorama of current events, the resulting scene is 330 million Americans engaged in a massive debate on multiple issues. We are adapting to technological, environmental and demographic change. Such observations of passionate discourse reveal an actual beauty to what is happening — democracy in action.
We struggled through tough times before and prevailed. An understanding of history, combined with gratitude toward the founders, emphasizes democracy is messy and frustrating but well worth the effort.
Webb: I don’t believe our democratic republic is in imminent danger. However, I do believe rabble-rousers exist on both sides of the political spectrum who would do serious damage to our civic institutions if they got their way. But they’re not going to prevail.
Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the presidential election outcome and his continued demands that the election be overturned are a threat to the country. Especially disturbing is his recruitment of his millions of ardent supporters to follow him down this destructive path. His disparagement of anyone who disagrees with him — even his former Vice President Mike Pence, who loyally served him — is disgusting.
But Trump is not going to overturn the election. We have plenty of sensible and courageous leaders in this country of all political persuasions who will prevent anything crazy from happening. By going so far into the looney bin regarding the 2020 election, Trump has alienated sensible conservatives and destroyed his chance to run and win in 2024. He can still be a spoiler, however.
It’s important to note that left-wing politicians and elitist interest groups are just as dangerous as Trump. They would remake our political institutions by federalizing elections and turning America into a welfare state that is soft on crime and has no borders. They would trample over reasonable, rational heartland citizens who make America the great country it is. They won’t prevail either.
Our democratic republic remains a center-right nation with prudent, common-sense citizens who won’t allow rabble-rousers on either extreme to control the country.
What has led to this dismal state of national angst — the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, the congressional committee investigating it, Trump asserting the 2020 election was stolen, left-wing disparagement of unwoke behavior?
Pignanelli: History documents that new versions of media always propel significant changes in society (i.e. printing press, street cafés, telegraph, newspapers, radio, television, internet). Social media provides unparalleled opportunities for people to engage, learn, grow and improve themselves. But is also expands the cesspool of strange and dangerous thoughts.
I refuse to concede a bunch of weirdos endangered our republic by invading the Capitol on Jan. 6. The potential threat was from those attempting to commit fraud on the country through manipulating the Electoral College system. But our Constitution, and many good people from all political perspectives, firmly prevented them, proving once again America works.
Webb: The fringe people are certainly a problem. But a majority of citizens simply don’t like the way the liberal Democrats who control Washington, D.C., are running the country. Unfortunately for Republicans, things are so broken at the federal level that they won’t be able to do much better when they retake power.
Is democracy in Utah threatened?
Pignanelli: Extremists on the right and left are claiming the governor and Legislature are dictatorial and authoritarian. They scream and shout while watching and participating in the proceedings of those they dislike so much. These antagonists perform without retribution and demonstrate that democracy is vibrant in the Beehive State.
Webb: Utah is the most sensible of states. Yes, we have our extremists, but most Utahns are mainstream citizens who vote for good leaders and good policies.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: email@example.com.