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John Milloy: Catholicism has become a punchline in Canadian politics. It need not be this way – National Post

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How has the rich faith of denominations like Catholicism been boiled down to abortion and a handful of other issues mainly related to sexuality?

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In a new book, John Milloy discusses how Catholicism has become toxic in Canadian politics and how the faithful can re-engage with a pluralistic society.

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“Do you believe that being gay is a sin?”

That question, posed by a reporter to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer just after the 2019 federal election, marked a low point in Canadian political discourse.

“This is what it’s come to,” I thought. Religion, in this case Scheer’s Catholicism, has been reduced to a silly “gotcha” question based on bad theology. Religious faith, something that helps form the identity of millions of Canadians and has a rich history of social justice advocacy, is now a punchline in Canadian politics.

That we have reached a nadir in the religion-politics debate is not surprising. Growing suspicion of the role of faith in Canadian political life has been brewing for some time and came to a head during the 2019 federal election. Scheer is a devout Catholic who appeared to identify with the more conservative elements of the church. Questioning him about his beliefs on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage became an entertaining pastime for both the press and his political adversaries. After the “being gay is a sin” incident, another journalist even tried to rub salt in the wound by asking other party leaders the same question (they all quickly answered in the negative).

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It was an easy story to tell. According to Scheer’s critics, Catholicism is all about undermining a woman’s right to choose, with a bit of homophobia thrown in for good measure. Unless Scheer was prepared to distance himself from his faith, he obviously had a secret agenda to foist upon an unsuspecting nation. The idea that his religion could offer anything else to the conversation seemed to have crossed few people’s minds.

Overall, most voters would probably like to forget the 2019 election. Marred by personal attacks, scandals and a lack of policy focus, it was not surprising that the result was a minority government. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has made memories of the campaign fade into the background as we struggled to survive the ravages of the virus and resulting lockdown.

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As Canada prepares itself for another federal election, the question of faith and politics is certain to raise its head once again. Its almost exclusive association with abortion and, to a lesser extent, LGBTQ rights, makes someone’s faith an easy target. The Conservative party will undoubtedly feel the brunt of this type of attack for several reasons. Not only do the ranks of its general membership contain a significant number of religiously inspired activists focused on issues related to abortion and sexuality, but its parliamentary caucus contains a number of MPs with strong faith convictions who are unafraid to speak out.

Despite efforts by the party’s new leader, Erin O’Toole, to take a strong pro-choice position and sideline some of the more extreme voices in his ranks, his opponents have never let up in their criticism of social conservatives in his party. It will only get worse as the campaign continues. The war rooms of the opposing parties will spend hours systematically reviewing every single candidate, particularly Roman Catholic or Evangelical ones. Any evidence of a deviation from an absolute pro-choice position or non-mainstream views on other contentious issues will certainly be used to paint the party as “anti-choice,” homophobic and harbouring a secret agenda.

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How did we get here?

How did religious faith, particularly the Catholic faith, which has been such a source of strength and comfort to so many Canadians, assume such a negative connotation? Why is anyone associated with public life encouraged to keep a major part of their identity separate from their public work? Why has the wisdom of Canada’s faith communities been prevented from even being discussed in the public square? How has the rich faith of denominations like Catholicism been boiled down to abortion and a handful of other issues mainly related to sexuality?

There are many explanations.

Religious literacy in our society is not particularly high. Although millions of Canadians either practise a religion or are open to faith and spirituality, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a detailed understanding of the teachings of many mainline denominations and their history of progressive activism.

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Popular media doesn’t help. The idea that the teachings of the Catholic Church are exclusively focused on abortion and sexuality is a convenient narrative that sells itself.

Meanwhile, the good work of numerous Catholics and other people of faith in supporting the poor and marginalized, fighting injustice and caring for our planet receives little attention. Individually, through their faith community or larger faith-based organizations, scores of Canadians are living out their religious calling in concrete ways — welcoming refugees, helping at homeless shelters, supporting seniors, forming partnerships with Indigenous neighbours and the list goes on. Yet little of it gets noticed. This is partly due to the low profile of much of this work, but it is also because it tends not to fit the popular narrative that our church is filled with zealots obsessed with abortion and sex.

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Our church leaders need to shoulder some of the blame. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, once an important voice in Canada’s social justice movement, has been increasingly quiet on a whole range of social justice issues over the past few decades. When they have spoken up, it tends to be about life issues and those related to sexuality.

Admittedly, this has not been a good period for the Catholic Church. A series of sexual abuse scandals have rocked the church nationally and internationally. Most recently, horrific news about the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children in the grounds of former residential schools run by the Catholic Church has sent shock waves through the nation. The inability of Church leaders to provide an adequate response to the tragedy and their apparent hesitancy to invite Pope Francis to make an apology on Canadian soil (one of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) has fuelled an outrage that continues to grow.

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The last several years have also seen the growth of identity politics in Canada, which many believe is antithetical to religious faith. Many Canadians approach the public square seeing themselves as part of larger group based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or other common identifying factor. They see the dominant culture, through its institutions, systems and structures, as a source of oppression and advocate for the dismantling of the status quo and its replacement with a society that is more just.

Although Catholic teaching recognizes systemic oppression and calls on all of us to dismantle sinful structures, many paint Catholicism as part of the problem. They argue that organized religion is a source of oppression, particularly toward women and the LGBTQ communities, and it should have no voice in public policy debates.

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All these fears have become symbolized in a few key issues, with abortion usually front and centre. For many, a woman’s right to choose symbolizes what is right with society. It represents a long-fought fight to allow women control of both their own bodies as well as their own futures. They believe it to be non-negotiable. The Catholic Church’s unwavering opposition to abortion has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with mixing faith and politics in Canada.

In short, the Catholic Church, along with several other religious denominations, is not getting along well with society.

A culture of engagement

For the Catholic Church, there is nothing particularly new about this situation. Tensions between Catholicism and modernity go back thousands of years. Some might point out that the church is a heck of a lot older than any of Canada’s mainline political parties and will undoubtedly outlast them.

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Despite this historical reality, there is nothing preordained about our current situation. Vatican II, that great gathering of church leaders in the early 1960s charged with modernizing Catholicism, focused on how a reinvigorated church could engage with the outside world. What emerged, in the words of the American Catholic theologian and legal scholar Cathleen Kaveny, was a “culture of openness.” As Kaveny explains: “Rather than emphasizing what sets the church apart from the broader culture, the culture of openness stresses commonalities.” Such an approach would help usher in a period of co-operation between Catholicism and the outside world, particularly in matters of social justice, that would transcend “religious, cultural and national boundaries.”

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Despite this initial optimism, this “culture of openness” began to wane in North America, particularly as society’s values in a whole range of areas, including abortion, began to diverge from the church’s teachings. The election of Pope John Paul II brought a sea change in the church’s approach to modernity. As Kaveny points out, “Pope John Paul II urged the church to defend a ‘culture of life’ against a secularized Western ‘culture of death’ that denied the existence of absolute truth and devalued the vulnerable.”

Kaveny believes there is a better approach. In her work she calls for a culture of engagement between Catholicism and modern culture. A world where faith and our broader society can discuss, discern and learn from each other. A world where the spirit of Vatican II once again emerges, and Catholics make common cause with other elements of our society to address some of our most troubling challenges.

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Pope Francis has embraced this spirit. His 2020 encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is about the value of engagement and dialogue between Catholics and the wider world, even those with whom we profoundly disagree.

When it comes to contemporary Canadian politics, is something like a culture of engagement between Catholics and the rest of society possible? Can Catholics find ways to engage in meaningful dialogue with other parts of society? Without abandoning basic Catholic principles, can we learn from each other and change for the better? Can we come together to address the pressing problems of a country struggling with a global pandemic, suffering the dire effects of climate change and facing a host of other existential crises?

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My answer to these questions is a resounding “yes!” In my opinion, Catholicism has much to offer our troubled nation that goes beyond sterile debates over hot-button issues. Canadian Catholics, collectively and individually, need to capture the spirit of Vatican II and work with other people of goodwill, religious or not, to transform Canada for the better.

What I see happening in our country scares me. Our nation is in a crisis triggered by the pandemic. Yet Catholics remain on the sidelines, incapable of engaging with a pluralistic society in a way that builds bridges. We seem to have lost the larger message of our faith. It calls for sacrifice, love for our enemy and a whole host of beliefs that challenge our world. It also calls on us to re-imagine our society in a way that puts the poor and the vulnerable on top. Although these may be counter-cultural messages, they have the potential to resonate loudly in a society that is struggling. If only Catholics and non-Catholics alike could realize that it is not just about abortion.

Excerpted with permission from “Faith and Politics in a Polarized World: A Challenge for Catholics,” by John Milloy (Novalis 2021).

  1. Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole  speaks to the media  Wednesday, August 18, 2021  in Quebec City.

    Kathryn Marshall: Liberals panic and resort to abortion-conspiracy theories about O’Toole

  2. None

    Kelly McParland: Liberals go for maximum hypocrisy on Scheer’s abortion views

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Canada’s Trudeau hammers main election rival’s COVID-19 approach

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seeking to carve out a lead ahead of a Sept. 20 election. On Thursday he accused his main rival of showing weak leadership in the fight against COVID-19.

Opinion polls show Trudeau’s center-left Liberals are tied with the right-of-center Conservatives led by Erin O’Toole and appear set to fail in their bid to win a parliamentary majority in Monday’s vote.

Trudeau, 49, noted that O’Toole, 48, had praised Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s decision earlier this year to quickly lift public health restrictions in the Western Canadian province.

Kenney, who was a minister in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before the Liberals took power in 2015, backtracked this week after a surge in COVID-19 cases threatened to overload the provincial healthcare system. Kenney apologized and said he would introduce vaccine passports.

“The choices that leaders make in a crisis matter … just a few days ago Mr. O’Toole was still applauding Mr. Kenney for his management of the pandemic,” Trudeau told reporters in Montreal.

“That’s not the leadership we need in Ottawa to end this pandemic for good,” added Trudeau, who backs mandatory vaccine mandates. The Liberal leader heads a minority government that depends on the opposition to pass legislation.

A central element of Trudeau’s campaign pitch is that Canada needs a leader who is clear on the need for vaccinations to get through the pandemic.

O’Toole has repeatedly sidestepped questions about his earlier support for Kenney’s approach to COVID-19.

“As prime minister, I will work with all premiers, regardless of stripe, to fight against the pandemic,” he told reporters in Saint John, New Brunswick, saying Trudeau should not have triggered an election during a pandemic.

A fourth wave of COVID-19, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, is continuing to surge mainly among the unvaccinated, Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said in a briefing in Ottawa.

“Hospitalizations could exceed healthcare capacities in impacted areas,” she said.

Alberta and neighboring Saskatchewan have among the worst rates of COVID-19 cases per capita in Canada.

Trudeau said his government would send ventilators to Alberta. Liberal campaign organizers, citing unhappiness with Kenney, say their party could pick up three of Alberta’s 34 federal seats after being shut out in the traditionally right-leaning province.

With Saskatchewan hospitals nearing capacity, Premier Scott Moe imposed a mask requirement for indoor public spaces starting on Friday. By Oct. 1, provincial government employees must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, and people must be inoculated or test negative to dine in restaurants.

OBAMA WEIGHS IN

How to handle COVID-19 has become a challenge for O’Toole. He supports inoculations, but says he prefers rapid testing to detect the virus rather than vaccination mandates.

The Conservatives are at risk of seeing some support leak to the right-wing People’s Party of Canada (PPC), which is feeding into public anger https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-mad-max-stokes-anti-vax-rage-could-help-trudeau-2021-09-14 over vaccinations and lockdowns.

PPC leader Maxime Bernier, who also was a minister in Harper’s government, attacked Kenney over his vaccine passport announcement. Bernier tweeted that he would go to the province “to join Albertans in their fight against this despot.”

A rolling Nanos Research telephone survey of 1,200 Canadians for CTV on Thursday put public support for the Liberals at 31.9%, the Conservatives at 30.3% and the left-leaning New Democrats at 22.4%.

Such a result could produce deadlock in which no party is able to form even a stable minority government. Trudeau triggered the election two years early, seeking to benefit from his handling of the pandemic, but the Liberals have not so far been able to shrug off voter fatigue.

Trudeau, however, got a big endorsement on Thursday from former U.S. President Barack Obama, who wished his “friend” all the best in the election.

“Justin has been an effective leader and strong voice for democratic values, and I’m proud of the work we did together,” Obama wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Writing by David Ljunggren; additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Simao)

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Politics Briefing: Post-debate Nanos poll shows the Liberals ahead in Ontario – The Globe and Mail

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The travel patterns of the party leaders make one thing clear: Federal elections are won and lost in the Greater Toronto Area, Quebec and British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.

To provide a more in-depth look at those key battlegrounds, Nanos Research combined its daily polling data over the past five days to produce larger sample sizes for regional battles. The five days cover Sept. 10 to 14, meaning all surveys were conducted after the Sept. 9 English-language leaders’ debate.

The results show the Liberals are well ahead in the GTA, but are essentially tied with the Conservatives in the rest of the province. For Ontario as a whole, the Liberals hold a 10-point lead with 40 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 30 per cent, the NDP at 20 per cent, the People’s Party at 7 per cent and the Greens at 3 per cent. The province-wide numbers are based on a sample size of 588 and have a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In Quebec, the Liberals are slightly in front at 32 per cent, followed by the Bloc Québécois at 28 per cent, the Conservatives at 18 per cent, the NDP at 15 per cent, the People’s Party at 4 per cent and the Greens at 3 per cent. That is based on a sample size of 447 respondents, with a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In British Columbia, the Conservatives lead with 30 per cent support, followed by the Liberals at 28 per cent, the NDP at 26 per cent and the Greens and People’s Party tied at 8 per cent. That is based on a sample size of 300 respondents and has a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The polling data was collected as part of a daily tracking survey commissioned by The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

The Globe and Mail’s Marieke Walsh reports on the poll results here, including methodology and how pollster Nik Nanos is interpreting the data with just a few days left before election day on Monday.

Hello,

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. Today’s newsletter is co-written with Bill Curry. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

TRUDEAU, O’TOOLE, SINGH CALL FOR APOLOGY OVER BILL 21 ENGLISH DEBATE QUESTION: All three major party leaders are calling for an apology from the consortium of media broadcasters that oversees the federal election debates over a question about Quebec laws during the recent English-language debate.

The question, posed by moderator Shachi Kurl to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet during the Sept. 9 debate, has set off a firestorm of criticism in Quebec, including a unanimous call from the provincial National Assembly for a formal apology for the “hostile” views expressed “against the Quebec nation.” A report by the Globe and Mail’s election team is here.

CHRÉTIEN APPEARS ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Former prime minister Jean Chrétien made an appearance in support of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail, touting the Liberal government’s record as the party looks to gain ground in a competitive electoral race with less than a week to go until election day.

In a speech Tuesday evening to a packed room of about 400 supporters in Brampton, Ont., which is considered a key battleground, Mr. Chrétien spoke of the world being in turmoil and cited such issues as the impacts of climate change. The story by The Globe and Mail’s Kristy Kirkup is here.

TRUDEAU DEFENDS ONTARIO EVENT WITH 400 PEOPLE, SAYS ALL HEALTH GUIDELINES FOLLOWED: Mr. Trudeau is defending holding a packed campaign event in Brampton with 400 people on Tuesday evening, saying the event was in keeping with provincial guidelines despite criticism, including from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. Kristy Kirkup’s follow-up story is here.

SINGH SAYS CANDIDATES RESIGNING WAS THE ‘RIGHT DECISION’ AFTER ANTISEMITIC TWEETS SURACE: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that the resignations of two NDP candidates was the “right decision” after old Twitter posts recently came to light that were deemed to be antisemitic.

At a campaign stop in Windsor, Ont., on Wednesday morning, Mr. Singh was asked about Sidney Coles and Dan Osborne, two NDP candidates that were running in the ridings of Toronto-St. Paul’s and Nova Scotia’s Cumberland-Colchester, respectively. Both stepped down less than a week before election day, after old Twitter posts from each candidate resurfaced. The story by the Globe and Mail’s Menaka Raman-Wilms is here.

TRUDEAU WARNS PROGRESSIVES TO VOTE LIBERAL TO WARD OFF CONSERVATIVES, AS O’TOOLE COURTS QUEBEC: Mr. Trudeau appeared alongside the former leader of British Columbia’s Green Party on Tuesday to make a final attempt at appealing to progressive voters, arguing that the Liberals are the only party that can stop the Conservatives as election day draws near.

Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole sent a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault in an effort to ease concerns about the Conservative Party’s child-care plan, as the Tory Leader looks to court Quebec voters. Story by the Globe and Mail’s election team is here.

CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE APOLOGIZES FOR SPREADING COVID VACCINE MISINFORMATION: Manitoba Conservative candidate and incumbent Ted Falk has apologized after he was quoted in a local newspaper making the false claim that people are 13 times more likely to die from the Delta variant if they were double-vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated. The Canadian Press report can be found here.

TRUDEAU SAYS HE PLAYED NO ROLE IN DEAL WITH CHINESE GOVERNMENT PRESS THAT REPUBLISHED HIS MEMOIR: The Conservative Party is asking Canada’s federal ethics watchdog to reveal whether it scrutinized a 2016 deal where a Chinese state-owned publishing house republished Justin Trudeau’s private memoirs under the title The Legend Continues. Meanwhile, Mr. Trudeau distanced himself from the book deal and declined to explicitly say whether the ethics commissioner okayed the China book deal. Story by the Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase and Robert Fife is here.

NEW INFLATION NUMBERS SPILL INTO ELECTION CAMPAIGN: Canadian inflation surged in August at the quickest pace since 2003, jumping 4.1 per cent in August from a year earlier. The Globe and Mail’s Matt Lundy reports on the details here. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who has been raising inflation concerns throughout the campaign, said in a statement that Canada “is experiencing an affordability crisis” and Liberal and NDP policies will make it worse. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suggested the situation is temporary and said his party is offering policies on housing and child care that will help lower costs for Canadians.

LEADERS

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet campaigns in Montreal. Longueuil, Châteauguay, Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Varennes and Mont-Saint-Hilaire.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole made an announcement and held a media availability in Jonquiere, Que., and is scheduled to hold an evening event with supporters in Orford.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul holds a press conference in Kitchener, Ont., with Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Ontario Green Party, and mainstreets in Kitchener and Toronto.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made an announcement and held a media availability in Halifax.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke to the media in Essex, Ont., and visited supporters in London. He was scheduled to visit supporters in Niagara Centre, Hamilton and Brampton and join a Twitch stream event with YouTuber Ryan Letourneau.

OPINION

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Maxime Bernier’s disgraceful election campaign:Election campaigns are bruising, generally thankless affairs, in which the mood of the candidates is inextricably linked to the proximity of the finish line. That is, unless you have nothing to lose, then you can often enjoy the experience and get more exposure than you ever imagined – or frankly, deserved. Welcome to Mad Max Bernier’s world.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on why the Peoples’ Party of Canada should be represented in Parliament: “If PPC members fail to break through in Parliament, just as Mr. Bernier was unfairly denied representation in the leaders’ debates last week – they will find another way to be heard.”

Eric Reguly (The Globe and Mail) on how Norway’s election thrust climate to the political forefront and may be a taste of elections to come: The Norwegian election might be a foretaste of elections to come as the planet heats up. The election result – the swing to the left partly propelled by heightened environmental awareness – signaled climate issues are entering the political mainstream, at least in western Europe, and are less divisive than they used to be. Canada is not quite there yet, but give it time. Wealthy Norway has the luxury of knowing that throwing fortunes at reducing emissions won’t hurt the economy, as it might in some other countries. Cries of hypocrisy as the oil revenue continues to fill Norwegian state bank accounts will not disappear any time soon. But give that time, too.”

Erna Paris (Contributor to The Globe and Mail) on why federal leaders’ sycophantic acceptance of Quebec’s Bill 21 is dangerous for all of Canada: “To back such legislation is not only hypocrisy on the part of Canadian leaders, but an affront to the fundamental commitments we espouse in this country. During the debate, it was striking to note that in the same breath as the main party leaders refused to challenge Quebec’s right to discriminate, they simultaneously mouthed their support for the Canadian shibboleths of human rights and equality.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. Please note that it is not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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Trump's Big Lie is changing the face of American politics – CNN

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(CNN)The Big Lie is already tainting the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Relentless efforts by former President Donald Trump and his true believers in politics and the media have convinced millions of Americans that Joe Biden is a fraudulent President who seized power in a stolen election.
This deep-seated suspicion of last November’s vote, which threatens to corrode the foundation of US democracy, mirrors the message adopted by the ex-President months before he clearly lost a free and fair election to Biden.
It has immediate political implications — the lie that the last election was a fix is already shaping the terrain in which candidates, especially Republicans, are running in midterm elections in 2022. And the widespread belief that Trump was cheated out of power is building the former President a 2024 platform to mount a GOP presidential primary bid if he wishes.
Longer term, the fact that tens of millions of Americans were seduced by Trump’s lies about election fraud poses grave questions about the future of America’s democratic political architecture itself. Ultimately, if a large minority of the population no longer has faith in rule by the people for the people, how long can that system survive? And if the will of millions of people is no longer expressed through voting, what other outlets are there? Already, the January 6 insurrection has shown what happens when aggrieved groups — in this case incited by a massive lie — take matters into their own hands.
Trump’s great success in creating his own version of a new truth about the election and his still-magnetic talent for spinning myths into which his supporters can buy is revealed in a new CNN poll released Wednesday.
The survey finds that 36% of Americans don’t think Biden legitimately got sufficient votes to win last November. On the one hand, that means a handy majority does believe Biden won fair and square. On the other, however, a restive one-third minority in a nation of 330 million can be a powerful and destructive force. Among Republicans, 78% believe Biden did not win the election and 54% believe that there is solid evidence to support such a view, according to the poll, even though no evidence exists and multiple courts and states and the US Congress certified a victory that Trump’s Justice Department said was untainted by significant fraud. Among Republicans who say Trump should be the leader of the party, 88% believe Biden lost the election. And in a sign that many Americans think that the ex-President’s efforts are causing more permanent damage, 51% say it is likely that elected officials in the US will successfully overturn the results of a future election because their party did not win.
Paradoxically, Republicans are more likely to say that democracy is under attack than Democrats. That is despite the fact that any fair reading of the last few years shows that Trump has repeatedly battered the pillars of the democratic political system. The twice-impeached ex-President abused power repeatedly, politicized the Justice Department and sided with tyrants rather than democratic leaders. When it was the will of the people that he be ejected from office, he tried to stay, came close to staging a coup and trashed the election that ended his presidency.
Such is the power of Trump — and the conservative media propaganda machine that created an alternative reality for his followers — that the President is able to reinvent the truth in plain sight, and get away with it. The former President effectively writes the script.
“I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy, I’m the one trying to save it. Please remember that,” Trump said at a rally in Arizona in June that itself highlighted a sham audit orchestrated by Republicans of 2020 election votes in crucial Maricopa County that helped Biden win the state.

‘Democracy is not a football’

Most Americans don’t spend much time pondering democracy and constitutional guardrails — a subject that has become an obsession for Beltway media and lawmakers in the Trump era. The cost of health care, the pandemic, kids trying to get back to school, expiring unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums, and a homelessness crisis highlighted by the California recall election are more likely to concern most people. But ultimately, such problems are harder to solve if the faith of the people in their political systems fails.
And the daily erosion of democratic standards — thanks to Trump’s lies and the actions of his Republican enablers on Capitol Hill — can reach critical mass over time. The experiences of other nations — in Eastern Europe, for instance — that have seen democracy tarnished is that incremental damage adds up, and it becomes obvious only at a point when it is impossible to reverse.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, fresh off his defeat of the recall effort that critics saw as the epitome of an undemocratic exercise, reflected on how political freedoms need to be protected from the likes of Trump, who had said the California election was “rigged” before the returns had even come in. The Democratic governor reached for a message that might be the building blocks of a broader attempt by his party to push back against the extremism of some Republicans.
“Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around,” Newsom said Tuesday night. “It’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smash it in a million different pieces.”
Trump is poised to reap the fruits of his own anti-democratic campaign. His lock on the party grassroots appears to give him a prohibitive advantage in the next presidential primary campaign if he decides to run. It’s easy to imagine a presidential debate when Trump forces rivals to buy into his own false conceit that the 2020 election was stolen from him. There is no political incentive for any GOP rising star to get on the wrong side of Trump. Some, like the third-ranking Republican in the House, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, have already made the choice between the truth and their own skyrocketing careers, which can prosper in Trump’s shadow.
Republicans who have challenged the ex-President and pointed out the reality of his authoritarian impulses, however, like ex-Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona or Wyoming’s Rep. Liz Cheney, whom Stefanik ousted as conference chair, find that their political prospects darken.
The next presidential election is three years away and the political winds can change. And it’s possible that GOP voters will tire of Trump’s antics and seek a fresh face. Perhaps Trump’s increasingly extreme position on election fraud would be counterproductive in a national election — and create more momentum against him than it currently gives him in his own party.

Democracy on trial in the midterms

But there can be little doubt that the former President’s assaults on democracy are helping to keep him politically relevant, and his capacity to create a false narrative in which he won is a tangible sign of his power.
Before the next presidential election, the impact of the Big Lie is already being felt in the run-up to the congressional and gubernatorial elections next year. Many of those races will be fought under conditions set by new voting laws passed by conservative legislatures that often discriminate against minority voters and are inspired by Trump’s Big Lie. If the California recall election is any guide, Trump acolytes will go into the midterms warning that any Democratic victories, especially where mail-in voting is heavily used, will be fraudulent even though Republicans are predicted to do well.
The former President has also worked hard, using the carrot of his valuable endorsement, to ensure that GOP candidates up and down the midterm ballot buy into his face-saving and untrue narrative that he won the last election.
He has, for instance, endorsed Alabama’s Rep. Mo Brooks, who is running for Senate and was a speaker at the infamous January 6 rally in Washington that incited the US Capitol insurrection. Last week, the former President endorsed Michigan state Rep. Steve Carra, who is mounting a primary challenge to Rep. Fred Upton, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the mob attack on Congress earlier this year. In another of his many endorsements countrywide, Trump this week backed Kristina Karamo, a Republican running for secretary of state in the Wolverine State, praising her as “strong on Crime, including the massive Crime of Election Fraud.” It was a move that underscored how, alongside the ideological gulfs between Republicans and Democrats, there is a new divide — between political hopefuls who support democracy and those prepared to deny it.
It is a new dimension in American politics that has shocked many people who have been involved in it for years, and it is drawing grim historical analogies.
“I think about … those democracies that were lost in the middle part, the early part of the 20th century where democracy was not adequately defended and authoritarian regimes rose,” former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” on Tuesday.
“And it wasn’t because democracy was unpopular. You know, democracy was strong. But the reality is the defense of democracy was weak, and we cannot allow that to happen in this country.”

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