We could face the sunset of democracy — or the end of the world: Get off your butt and vote

In a season of venom, insanity and global peril, our imperfect democracy still offers a path forward. Let's take it

By Brian Karem


Published October 20, 2022 9:08AM (EDT)

US Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia talks to reporters before former US president Donald Trump speaks at a "Save America" rally in Warren, Michigan, on October 1, 2022. (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
US Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia talks to reporters before former US president Donald Trump speaks at a "Save America" rally in Warren, Michigan, on October 1, 2022. (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

The midterms are nigh upon us, and the concerned crazies are riding their social media platforms far and wide, alerting the countryside.

The pundits are screeching like banshees, warning of gloom and doom.

Extremist voters are on high alert and spewing maximum venom, while casual observers are wondering why the NFL sucks so damn much.

Some might say we've all done gone plumb crazy from the heat and pandemic. How else do you explain all of these people trying to turn left from the far right lane?

Crowds are cheering Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama for spouting racist comments. Crowds are cheering Nancy Pelosi after video surfaced of her on Jan. 6 saying she wanted to punch out Donald Trump.

Crowds cheer misogyny, hatred, "wokeness," ignorance, climate change, asteroids crashing into the earth and nuclear hellfire, as well as the lifelong argument regarding ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats — who continuously scream that their representatives aren't framing the narrative well enough — seem to forget they outnumber the Republicans. There's your argument framed nicely. 

There's no need to scare the populace: Just encourage your guys to vote. Quit telling us how scary the Republicans are — the GOP's big stars do a fine job of that all by themselves. No one need explain the extremism of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert or anyone else on that side of the ledger. More than 300 of the people running for office as Republicans across this country believe in the "Big Lie." If they won't see facts, there's no point in talking to them — or about them. 

So: Shut up and vote.

Quit telling us how scary the Republicans are, and how they have an unfair advantage through voter suppression and gerrymandering. It's all true — but shut up and vote.

One real problem that needs to be framed and discussed, and that's key to the "Get out and vote" issue, is that voter suppression in some areas may give the Republicans an unfair advantage — and they will definitely seize whatever edge they can to grab and hold power. They're likely to claim that if they lose, the election was fixed against them, while they were busy trying to fix the election for themselves. Classic bait and switch.

Vote anyway.

Hey, originality isn't the strong suit here. We're talking about the Republican Party, or what's left of it. They're the vampires who are still hanging around after the overnight keg party wiped out the venue. Drunk on the Donald Trump corn liquor, the lost remnants of the GOP rely on anger and fear. The only arrows left in their quiver are the ability to run a bait-and-switch on key issues or to rant like a toddler who just soiled their diapers. Sometimes they do both. That's just enough to make the Republicans a credible threat to the Democrats — a party of soft-hearted do-gooders who want to help you out, unless you disagree with them.

For the will of the people to be exercised, the will of the people must be expressed accurately. Rather than pulling our hair out and running around screaming tht the sky is falling and we're out of Adderall, we should ask some pointed questions of those running for office, and take some decisive actions.

So vote. And do it after taking the time to get informed.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

At the bare minimum, know who is running for office. I've known people who've walked into the voting booth on Election Day and had no idea who was on the ballot. They voted any way. If you're going to vote the straight party ticket because that's the way you've always done it, then you're part of the problem. Casting an informed vote is the minimum required of every registered voter. The League of Women Voters produces wonderful voter guides across the country, as do other civic groups. So at least attach a name and a face to every office on the ballot. If you'll spend hours binge-watching your favorite show, if you can manage to sit through an NFL game without vomiting, then you can spend at least that amount of time getting informed before you cast a ballot. You can always binge-watch old episodes of "Seinfeld." This election matters.

If you have to, think of it as studying your roster in a fantasy football league or getting to know your favorite "Game of Thrones" character. Only it's real life, and it really matters. 

Gather information from a variety of sources — especially from the candidates themselves. And don't worry about the polls.

Polls are not facts. They're ephemeral snapshots of questionable entertainment value. They are the bargain basement of all debasement of facts. You can make statistics say anything, and we always do. Remember; 80 percent of the people polled say 100 percent of the polls suck.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," said John F. Kennedy. Vote. That's what you can do for your country right now.

Ignore the polls. Polls are not facts. They're the bargain basement of the debasement of facts: 80% of people polled say that 100% of the polls suck.

But there's a deeper reason for casting an informed vote. "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one," Thomas Paine wrote. Through our own actions, we have reached a place in history where our country has the potential to become truly intolerable — or even to cease to exist altogether, along with the rest of humanity. 

Being uninformed isn't a viable option. The doomsayers are right about one thing: Your vote counts. Use it wisely.

By now, maybe you've actually met or seen a couple of candidates who are on the ballot where you live. If not, there's still time. Go take in a couple of appearances. Hear them for yourself. Ask questions if you can. If you can't, there's this wonderful invention called the internet to help you gain access to all the information you need — as well as plenty you don't.

Be discriminating. Use some common sense. Be willing to change your mind. If you find out the emperor has no clothes, don't pretend he does. Move on. Use the scientific method in assessing facts and candidates. If your favorite candidate gets heckled by his own family, admits to paying for an abortion but says he doesn't know that he did and otherwise embarrasses himself on a grand scale, then maybe he's not worthy of your vote — even if he did play football and you love football. Don't you deserve something better? Think about it.

Or use a dog. Does your candidate have a dog? You can always take your dog to a political event and introduce him to the candidate. If your dog growls at the candidate, you should then immediately know not to vote for that person. Dogs know. Conversely, if the candidate has neither children nor dogs (sorry, cats are covered in the column "Men of power who love their kitties"), don't trust that candidate.

Curiously, Donald Trump had no dog. Joe Biden's dog bit Secret Service agents. I rest my case.

Other guiding factors to consider, as you stand in line for the voting booth, mail in your vote or show up for early voting, includes how the media is covering the elections. 

We in the media love false equivalence — as if a party that embraces racism, authoritarianism and misogyny should ever be held equivalent to a party of do-gooder incompetent underachievers.

We in the media love nothing more than a false sense of equivalence — as if a political party that embraces racism, bigotry, authoritarianism and misogyny, and is both greedy and careless, should ever be seen as equivalent to a party that merely consists of Constitution-respecting, do-gooder incompetent underachievers.  Nonetheless, we in the media think we need to appear balanced and we'll bend over backward to do so. Why? Well there's money in it, and the press needs to make bank. So, we're going to serve it up, and if it smells and looks like what comes out of Trump's front or rear orifices, we don't care. As long as it sells. Again, you only have yourselves to blame if you keep buying the crap we're serving. Demand better. We'll do whatever it takes to make a sale.

*  *  *

In a few weeks, the American people will get the government they deserve. Quit whining about how anti-American everything is, or how woke you are, or how you want to cancel or kill someone because they don't think as you do. Just go get the voters. Let them vote. Count the vote fairly. Accept your win or your loss like an adult and move on.

Those who claim victory without ever achieving it may find themselves happy for a time in their mistaken belief that they have succeeded. But remember Gandhi's words: "Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always." 

Well, let's hope so. But they won't fail if we don't put in any effort to make sure they do.

Logically, the greatest tool to make sure that tyrants and murderers fail under a democratic government is the educated, well-informed voter. Our democracy cannot live without such voters. Look around if you doubt that.

Yet today's media world is simply incapable of supplying the raw information needed to drive the democratic engine. Consolidation, vulture capitalists, incompetent management and government interference — all of which began under Ronald Reagan and dominate the media industry today — are to blame. The press is no longer capable of doing the job that is demanded of us. 

The masses rail against us, but also have no idea what's wrong or how to fix it. We're all too busy being distracted by things that do not matter.

There is a reason why there have been more Marvel movies than climate-change conferences. We love our comforting myths and fictions. We believe our status in the world gives us a pass on arrogance and showing our ass. It does not. But the media won't tell you that — we're busy covering the Marvel movie.

Too many reporters and media companies act subservient to the people we elect. It's rare that we actually speak truth to power. In most cases, we think of ourselves as part of the inner circle. The funny thing about that is we're setting ourselves up to be used, because no politician actually considers us their confidant. We're just a tool to be used and thrown away. 

Donald Trump was supposed to be a public servant, a guy who worked for us. Worshiping a politician makes as much sense as worshiping the pool boy.

For that matter, so is the general public. It is among the rank and file where this subservience to elected officials does the worst damage. One thing we can all agree on is that those people who support Donald Trump passionately worship him. That's wrong and distorted: Donald Trump is (or rather was) a public servant. His actions were supposed to be for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Whether or not he accepted his mandated pay, or jacked up the price on his hotels for Secret Service agents, he was an elected politician, who supposedly worked for us and got paid with our taxes. Why would you worship the pool boy? That's all politicians are. They are the guys we pay to maintain our democracy. They are not our leaders. They are our representatives — hired to keep the pool of democracy reasonably clean.

Worshiping any of them makes less sense than worshiping the sun god in ancient times. At least the sun brings warmth and makes life possible. Worshiping politicians is like worshiping canker sores. 

Yet the public and the press continue to do so with near-pornographic glee.

*  *. *

The state of the world has everyone concerned, but what we still don't understand is that we're all in this together. The threat of obliteration by a stray asteroid, the threat of nuclear war from Russia, the threat of a global pandemic and the threat of civilization-killing climate change have done nothing to alert us to the fact that we must all hang together or we will most assuredly all hang separately.

Benjamin Franklin never experienced today's world. He didn't have to face a pandemic. He didn't have to deal with nuclear threats or global climate change. But he understood democracy, and he understood why it was more important for us to work together for our common interests than to be divided and conquered by politicians and kings who capitalize upon our superficial differences.

The midterm election is a chance to silence both the naysayers and the crackpots. Yes, it is an important election. Yes, democracy is in the balance, and yes indeed, we could be watching the sunset of American democracy if we do not act.

But the sun always rises after a sunset. Democracy isn't done, and we can silence the critics, pundits, sideshows and batshit crazy politicians if a majority of us will just exercise our right to vote — no matter how personally taxing it is and no matter how painful and time consuming we find it to be.

If we inform ourselves, if we vote, and if we can keep our heads while everyone else is losing theirs (and blaming us for it), then we should be OK.

Fear is the currency of the Republicans — and of all politicians whose real fear is they won't have any power after the next election and will have to find a real job that entails real work.

Hope is the currency of democracy. So if you still have hope, get your soft, wide gluteus maximus off the couch, get informed and go vote. 

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

MORE FROM Brian Karem

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Democracy Democrats Elections Marjorie Taylor Greene Nancy Pelosi Republicans Voting