Voters are making an important down payment for the future of democracy

The Democrats performed better than forecast in the recently concluded US midterm elections.

There was a lot of good news out of this month’s election – and enough bad news to remind us that we must never let our guard down when it comes to freedom and democracy. That year, democracy itself was on the ballot, and voters made an important down payment for their future.

In 2020, Americans voted not to grant President Donald Trump a second term. Unwilling to accept his loss, he attempted to overturn the election. The anger he fueled with lies about voter fraud led to a violent attempt to prevent Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s victory.

What did that have to do with this year’s elections? Trump was trying to put his people in power as governors and secretaries of state so they could do in 2024 what they couldn’t do in 2020.

The voters didn’t have it. The “Red Wave” that Trump had backed was blocked. Most of the Secretary of State candidates who ran over Trump’s electoral lies have been defeated, meaning important guard rails remain in place against future attacks on our democracy.

To continue to resist the threat of authoritarianism, we must produce young leaders who will be the champions of democracy for this and future generations. People For the American Way’s Young Elected Officials Network celebrates the election of young leaders as new members of Congress from across the country — Greg Casar of Austin, Texas; Emilia Sykes of Akron, Ohio; Maxwell Frost of Orlando, Florida; Summer Lee of Braddock, Pennsylvania; Robert Garcia of Long Beach, California.; Sydney Kamlager from Los Angeles, California; and Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, Texas. Dozens more were elected to local and state offices, building a crucial leadership pipeline.

A bright spot was Pennsylvania, where voters elected Attorney General Josh Shapiro as governor, rejected a far-right proponent of Trump’s electoral lies, and voted to send Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to the US Senate in place of Trump’s handpicked celebrity. Less noticed was the exciting news about who will replace Fetterman as lieutenant governor — State Representative Austin Davis, a stunning young black man who has dedicated his life to community and public service since adolescence.

There were other bright spots. Democrats will control the Senate, leaving Republicans unable to stop President Joe Biden from building on his excellent record of appointing brilliant federal judges who advocate for justice for all. Los Angeles voters elected Karen Bass as mayor and fired Sheriff Alex Villanueva, notorious for overseeing an abusive department. Voters in several states protected access to abortion. Far-right attempts to build a national Red Wave with racist scaremongering about crime and bigoted slanders of transgender people didn’t work, although they did enough damage to keep some good people out of office.

Bad news came with Kris Kobach’s narrow victory as Kansas Attorney General. Kobach made a name for himself with attacks on migrants and relentless attempts to restrict voting rights. Voters have previously rejected his bids for governor and Senate, but sadly he’s back.

So has Trump, who officially launched his campaign to return to the White House just a week after voters said “no thanks” to his most prominent ally. It’s a reminder that in politics, no victory is final. The fight is never over. In fact, even that election isn’t over, as Georgia voters must return to the polls for a crucial runoff between Sentor Raphael Warnock and Trump’s nominee Herschel Walker.

Citizenship is a responsibility that requires constant recommitment. On that front, I’d like to share some exciting personal news. Next year, I will continue my advocacy for a more just and sustainable world in a new role as executive director of the Sierra Club, the country’s most influential grassroots environmental group. I am pleased that my successor as President of People For the American Way will be Svante Myrick, who is exactly the kind of young leader our nation needs. While still a student, he was elected to the City Council of Ithaca, New York, and at age 24 became the city’s first black mayor and youngest mayor in the state. Re-elected twice by large margins, he is now bringing his leadership and passion for defending democracy to the national level.

There is much to be thankful for.

Ben Jealous is President of People For the American Way and Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. His next book, Never Forget Our People Were Always Free, is a New York Times Bestselling Author and will be published by Harper Collins in January 2023.

BenJealous

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