"It Makes Me So Damn Mad": Democratic Inaction on Crises Is Leading to Voter Apathy
"Every election makes me feel a little less sure my vote accomplishes anything at all"
President Joe Biden’s inaction in the face of yet another crisis has even loyal Democrats fed up.
Monday’s shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois could have offered an opportunity for the president to push an agenda of real change on gun laws—but instead, Biden told the nation that he’d already signed one bill and that people would have to “earn” more by voting in November.
That approach put Will, a 34-year-old Democrat in Brooklyn, at his wit’s end.
“It makes me so damn mad after a week like we just had, capped off by the police shooting in Akron and the shooting at the parade in Illinois,” Will said. “What is the point of putting these people in power if they just go all ‘learned helplessness?’”
Will’s not alone. And party leaders should listen to their constituents.
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“Clearing the lowest possible bar”
Reporting from CNN Tuesday detailed how actress Debra Messing, a hardcore Democratic partisan, is so frustrated with the Biden administration she’s questioning the purpose of voting at all.
According to CNN:
The mood was fatalistic, according to three people on the call, which was also co-organized by the advocacy group Build Back Better Together.
Messing said she'd gotten Joe Biden elected and wanted to know why she was being asked to do anything at all, yelling that there didn't even seem a point to voting.
Less than two years into what had been billed as a potentially historic presidency, voters are walking away—58% of voters disapprove of Biden’s performance and a massive 88% of respondents think the country is on the wrong track.
It’s worth noting that Biden still has the backing of 74% of Democrats, though that’s a full 10 points below former President Barack Obama’s numbers in the second year of his first term. Messing is an extreme case of diehard Democrat turned nihilist (however briefly). But she might not be an exception. Biden may be losing the very political obsessives he needs to get reelected.
That Democrats demand fealty from voters without providing material gains for constituents is a familiar complaint. But the crises faced by the US in the present moment, pushed primarily by an emboldened and extreme right-wing Supreme Court acting as an unelected legislature of nine, have made the strategy of holding voters hostage to the whims of the GOP grate on supporters even more than usual.
“They count on Republicans being barbaric so that they can just barely clear the lowest possible bar and also benefit from their constituents shaming anyone thinking of holding out or complaining that they should do more,” Will said.
“I’m barely hanging on by a thread”
To Sam, a 40-year-old woman in New Mexico, the appeal of the Democratic Party was always the potential to push it left—plus the importance of curtailing GOP power as much as possible. But that’s been waning with every election, she told me, citing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushing anti-abortion, pro-gun incumbent Henry Cuellar against a progressive challenger, Jessica Cisneros, in the weeks after the Roe decision was leaked and just days before the Uvalde shooting.
“Every election makes me feel a little less sure my vote accomplishes anything at all, so I’m barely hanging on by a thread to the whole idea, and then here comes Joe and Nancy urging me to vote in four months while they sit on their hands?” Sam said. “When Nancy was throwing her weight behind, what, a week before Uvalde, an anti-gun control Democrat?”
“It seems like the only thing they are prepared to do after something bad happens is push out fundraising emails,” she added.
“We've got to stop feeling sorry for ourselves”
Some still hope that the party can be reformed. Danny Terreros, a Democrat in Kansas, told me that he’s trying to change the state party from the bottom after decades of frustration.
“I’m 40 and have been watching Democrats fail at leadership my entire life,” Terreros said.
While Terreros understands anger and frustration at Democratic failures, though, he’s equally committed to voting and keeping the GOP out of power. It’s a matter of priorities, he told me.
“You can feel the apathy in the atmosphere, the lack of enthusiasm is palpable,” Terreros said. “But good lord people, fascism is one election away—we've got to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get angry and get involved.”
Going third party
While most Democrats I spoke to said they are still resigned to casting their ballots for the party, some are considering going over to a third party. The refrain should be familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to American politics over the past few decades—Democratic inaction on big issues and disrespect to their progressive base leads to third party adopters, who are then blamed for the party’s failures. Still, when Democrats aren’t offering anything, what are people to do?
“My husband and I talk a lot about going third-party, because it’s starting to feel like the only way this party will change is if they get absolutely destroyed for their inaction,” Sam said.
Trey, a 30-year-old from Maryland, said he and his mother are going independent too. His mother was a hardcore Democratic partisan but the last six years have finally changed her mind.
“She loved Hillary, and thought Trump had pretty much no chance of beating her,” Trey said.
“But seeing how bad of a campaign she ran, and the overall weakness of Dems during these past few years, she's done.”
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