This election isn't about inflation or abortion. It's about whether democracy can survive

Of course the economy and reproductive rights are important. But in the shadow of fascism, they almost don't matter

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 17, 2022 9:28AM (EDT)

Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Protest At Pennsylvania State Capitol on November 05, 2020 (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Protest At Pennsylvania State Capitol on November 05, 2020 (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We are three weeks out from the midterm elections and by all accounts many races are within the margin of error. It's pretty clear that the "red tsunami" everyone was expecting has not materialized. Republicans are still favored to win (at least in the House) but it's looking more and more as if it will be a very narrow victory if they do — and there's a decent chance they won't.

So, of course, Democrats are going on television arguing that everyone is doing it wrong. It's just how they roll. The latest disagreements come from those who think candidates should focus on the old saw, "It's the economy, stupid," because inflation has people so spooked. Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared on "Meet the Press" over the weekend and gave his familiar spiel about income inequality and big corporations, suggesting that some Trump voters would be open to that argument. He begged Democrats to focus more intently on the economy and attack the Republican threats to Social Security and Medicare.

Others believe that the best issue for Democrats this fall is the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which has already been shown to motivate women of all demographics in the primaries and special elections. And some believe the fascist turn of the GOP and its assault on democracy is the most important issue and must be addressed head-on.

If only we were living in a world in which one could pick and choose issues of importance to the American people from an à la carte menu. But that's just not where we are as a country. The Democrats have to be prepared to address all those things and more.

No doubt the economy is a difficult issue this year, even though Democrats have an excellent legislative record to run on and the best job market in 40 years. But there's simply no denying that inflation is a big problem for everyone. Democratic strategist Mike Lux has circulated a memo based on polling from Stan Greenberg and Celinda Lake that recommends five economic points for candidates to emphasize. The first is to grab the Bernie Sanders complaints about multinational corporations — Big Oil, Big Food, Big Shipping, etc. — which are making record profits in this time of inflation by gouging consumers, and point out that the Republicans have nothing to offer to tame these abuses, which is true. (This report in the Washington Post suggests that swing voters already understand this.)

Lux also suggests that candidates remind people that the Democrats are lowering drug prices and health insurance premiums, point out that Social Security recipients are going to get the biggest raise they've gotten in 40 years, inform voters that manufacturing is coming back to America (which they probably don't realize) and, finally, promise to fight for reinstating the child tax credit that has now expired. All of taht certainly beats the stale GOP talking points about cutting taxes and "entitlements."

The abortion issue is straightforward. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, Republicans all over the country have raced to restrict abortion rights in the most draconian way possible, in some states banning abortion altogether. Stories of rape and incest survivors being denied care are everywhere. Women often can't get needed medication and procedures because ill-informed zealots have drafted sloppy laws that make it impossible for doctors to perform their duties without risking legal jeopardy. It's a mess, and Democrats are morally bound to talk about it.

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Meanwhile, on the other side we are seeing a full-fledged racist and antisemitic festival of hate used as the primary motivator to get their base out to vote. Take a look at this ad that has played throughout the Major League Baseball playoffs on Fox, which, according to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is brought to you by a group run by Trump's "immigration czar" Stephen Miller:

That makes the infamous Willie Horton ad — which ran only briefly 34 years ago, because it was considered too blatantly racist — look like child's play.

And now we have the former president of the United States blithely posting antisemitic tropes on his struggling social media platform, demanding that American Jews be grateful for everything he has supposedly done for them and suggesting they get with the program "before it's too late." Too late for what, he doesn't say.

So yes, Republicans have gone back to the deep well of racism once again, obviously believing that's what motivates their base. They aren't wrong.

When you see all of that laid out, you might think we were dealing with a standard issues-based election, more or less, however critical those issues are and however extreme the Republicans have become. Certainly, the media is trying to treat it that way. But this is an election like no other and it's got nothing to do with "issues" in the normal sense. The Republicans are intent upon electing hundreds of election deniers to office, and are bent on destroying our election system as we've known it for the last half-century or more.

Mainstream media is eager to treat this as a standard issues-based election, no matter how extreme the Republicans have become. But this is an election like no other and it's got nothing to do with "issues" in the normal sense.

Bolts Magazine has compiled a comprehensive analysis of the election deniers running for secretary of state around the country. Seventeen out of 35 Republican nominees have either denied the results of the 2020 election, sought to overturn them or refused to affirm the legitimacy of the outcome. Six of those 17 candidates are in crucial battleground states. There are hundreds of candidates in down-ballot races that feature similarly delusional or malicious candidates.

Plenty of big Republican names running on election denial as well, even if some of them are willing to modulate that just a little. When asked if they think Joe Biden won the 2020 election they'll respond by saying things like, "Joe Biden is the president," which I guess they think fools some people. But everyone knows what they mean. They are making it clear that, like their mentor Donald Trump, they will only accept election results if they win:

Donald Trump plotted the Big Lie long before the 2020 election, and it had been on his mind since at least 2016. That was clear enough shown in real time and was recently laid out in detail by the House Jan. 6 committee. Any Republican officials who are not fully on board with this dangerous attack on the election system are seemingly paralyzed and unwilling to deny it.

The MAGA movement is openly assaulting democracy. Yet as we head into the final days of this campaign, mainstream media keeps trying to portray this as just another election. Gas prices are going up and down and Republicans are running scary ads with Black and brown people and threatening to cut Social Security, all of which is important and must be addressed. But none of that will matter if these authoritarian, anti-democratic election deniers win their races. There is nothing ordinary about any of this. I don't know whether the voters understand the true implications of this election, and I'm not sure the media does either. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Abortion Commentary Donald Trump Election Deniers Elections Fascism Inflation Media Republicans