Homecoming weekend at Penn State means grills, games, and family gathering together. It should come as no surprise that thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the grounds of Beaver Stadium in “Happy Valley” in central Pennsylvania. And with tailgating and Big 10 football, there’s another autumn tradition every two years: journalists ruining the fun, and asking about elections on this crucial battlefield.
But beyond the issues that hog the headlines — the economy, crime and abortion rights — some expressed yet another concern, CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa.
“Our democracy is at stake in this election. And it may soon be taken from us,” said Kevin Knaff. “And that’s what elections, I think, are about. Because when these election denials come into office as secretaries of state and in roles where they control the process, and someone wins an election that makes them Don’t like it, they’ll reverse it. And will we care then? It’ll be too late.”
Indeed, CBS News has identified more than 300 Republican candidates for state and national office as “election deniers” who have called for their refusal to recognize the results of the 2020 presidential election as valid.
And with the most prominent election denial in the country, former President Donald Trump, still ruling the Republican Party, it is an open question how his followers will react when the votes are counted in just nine days.
Penn State professor Michael Berkman said, “Coming down from the oligarchy—from former presidents, Republican Party leaders, many candidates—is a continuation of the idea that something was stolen, that these elections are not legitimate.” Directs the university’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy. They study what is needed to nurture democratic institutions in America and abroad.
“People in the United States often say it can’t happen here,” Costa asked, the rise of a rigid, nationalist, anti-democratic government. But can it?
“Oh, of course,” replied Berkman. “I mean, I think the thing to remember about democratic erosion is that it is most likely to happen from within. We all see what is happening in Ukraine and are impressed and proud of Ukrainians. , how they are standing up and fighting their democracy. But democracy doesn’t usually die from a coup or invasion. It usually dies from within. An authoritarian-oriented leader is elected, and then they change the rules They start changing who the other people are in the office, start changing referees. And you start eating away from the norms, eating over the railing. You start changing people’s acceptance and the legitimacy of institutions. which are essential for democratic governance.
“And you could end up in a very unfortunate place.”
The framers of the constitution saw the free press as one of the pillars of representative government. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “…wherever people are well informed, they can be trusted to have their own government.”
But are today’s news organizations ready to meet today’s moment?
Costa asked Margaret Sullivan, a former public editor for The New York Times and media critic for the Washington Post, “The Republican Party is vulnerable to people who refuse to vote. How should the press deal with it? It’s within a particular party.” Happening. ”
“Okay. And we have to be very direct about saying this and pointing it out,” Sullivan replied. “Of course, we’re going to hold both sides to the same standards. It’s not like we’re on the same team. We hold both sides to the same standards.
“But when one side is the one who is doing something very troubling, we have to be straightforward about it. And if it does lead to criticism in the right way, that’s okay.”
Sullivan has a new book, “Newsroom Confidential,” in which she says the press has been reluctant to call out attacks on democracy for fear of being “partisan.”
“How does the press cover it without sounding an alarm at every step?” asked Costa.
“I don’t think we’re nearly alert enough,” Sullivan replied. “I think we need to stop sleeping on the switch and sound the alarm more about what might happen if the election deniers, you know, are in power and decide, ‘Oh, Well, we only like the outcome of this election, but not that one.’ I mean, we don’t have a country anymore.”
Rehan Salam, president of the conservative Manhattan Institute, which focuses on economic policy, says the stakes for this year’s election are “deep.”
“When you look at the excesses from COVID and various COVID relief measures, they have had a massive impact on the financial future of our country,” he said. “We may well be looking at a recession.”
Polls show Republicans could make big gains in 2022, but how will they use that power?
Salam shares the same “kitchen table concerns” as many Republican-leaning voters, but worries whether either party can provide a timely solution: “Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a matter of election policy.” I think the election is heavily a reaction to the state of the economy and if indeed conservatives are elected in large numbers to Congress, it will be a very serious challenge for them and beyond 2024.
“Basically, we’re in this dynamic right now where our politics are on such a sharp edge. Republicans can win, Democrats can win. So, it’s a total zero-sum dynamic in which Democrats don’t want to give victory to Republicans, and its Adverse.”
Washington gridlock is an old cliché, but like many clichés, it actually has a basis. Even amid the celebration we saw at Penn State, some were pessimistic that politics could effect any real change.
Lamar Shay told Costa, “A long time ago I really believed in the system, but not now.”
“What broke your faith in the law?”
“No problem is ever solved,” he replied. “Everyone is saying they’re gonna fix the economy, they’re gonna fix everything, health care. And everything’s in shambles.”
Just before the election, could a lack of trust in our system become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
For those determined to participate in democracy – politicians, journalists and voters – Margaret Sullivan says there is a duty we all share: “Well, you can’t take care of the people, but you can help the people.” Results can explain. You can talk to people. I think we can tell people to be their best as American citizens. And that means being informed, and not dismissing the news. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘I’m fine, I don’t want to anymore. It’s all negative. I don’t care.'”
“What do you tell them?” asked Costa.
“I say, if you want to live in this country and be a good citizen—and I think people do, have a deep sense of patriotism—that it’s important to be an engaged citizen and know what Used to be.”
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Story produced by Ed Forgason. Editor: Mike Levine.