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In 2024, democracy is on the ballot

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By Marc R. Pacheco, Dean of the Massachusetts Senate

In 2024, when half of the world’s population is heading to the polls, democracy is on the ballot.

More than ever before, American voters face an existential choice about the direction of our country this November, a choice that will have implications for the future of our republic’s representative democracy.

The outcome of this year’s election will also define the future of America and whether we continue to lead democracy in the world.

The two major candidates in the presidential election, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, have very different views about the future of governance in America and of America’s role in the world.

President Joe Biden is running a campaign based on upholding American values of freedom and opportunity for all by supporting the foundational institutions and rule of law that have made America a model for the rest of the world on how to implement and uphold core democratic principles. Biden has also continued his strong advocacy for the expansion of democracy throughout the world.

Biden has had the most productive first term of any president in my lifetime with the passage of legislation that has strengthened America’s economy, including the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

These and other policies have spurred historic economic growth across the United States, with nearly 11 million jobs created since Biden took office. The unemployment rate is at a more than 50-year low, with 2021 and 2022 being the two strongest years of job growth in American history. A record number of small businesses have also been started since Biden took office and over 750,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created in the United States.

Biden has also made historic progress on civil rights and social issues, including expanding benefits for American veterans with the PACT Act, passing the Respect for Marriage Act, signing executive orders to advance equity and racial justice and protect reproductive rights, providing student debt relief for middle- and working-class families, and enrolling more Americans in health insurance than ever before. President Biden also made the historic nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman and first public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.

On the international stage, President Biden has continued to support Ukraine amid Russia’s aggression, strengthened NATO by welcoming the additions of Finland and Sweden to the alliance, and most importantly, taken aggressive action on climate change by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and funding, through the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant investment in climate solutions in world history.

Many of these accomplishments have been overlooked in favor of headline-grabbing issues and the ongoing legal troubles of his opponent in November, former President Donald Trump.

Trump is running a campaign on revenge and retribution and has alluded to using the power of the presidency in an unprecedented way that threatens to dismantle America’s system of government and abandon America’s long-standing support of democracies around the world.

In office, Trump pulled America out of the Paris Climate Agreement and weakened the country’s relationships with its closest allies.

Should he be elected to a second term, Trump has said he would be a dictator “only on day one.” He has also promised to double down on his isolationist approach, including abandoning NATO, which would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the alliance, leaving Europe and our allies vulnerable to a variety of threats.

Included in those threats are those posed by major authoritarian countries that are looking to bring the same anti-democratic rule they impose on their own people to those beyond their borders. Many are also threatened by fringe political movements that seek an upheaval of their country’s democratic system, much like what happened in the wake of the 2020 U.S. election when Trump and his supporters attempted, on January 6th, to overturn the results of a free and fair election.

In and out of office, Trump has also cozied up to authoritarian leaders whom he has often praised publicly and shown a willingness to mirror many of the tactics employed by continuously eroding people’s confidence in vital institutions, from the federal government to experts in the academic and scientific communities and even the press, the most important of all institutions in a democracy.

America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, affirmed the importance of a free and independent press as part of a democracy when he said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

In authoritarian countries, the free and independent press is often suppressed and even banned in favor of state-run media that distorts facts and keeps citizens uninformed or disinformed on issues and events, foreign and domestic.

In the digital age, social media has grown to play a major role in the spread of information. However, it lacks the journalistic standards followed by the legitimate press, making it a minefield of misinformation and disinformation from both governments and outside political forces, in the form of everything from fake news to AI-produced deepfakes.

When it comes to elections, the media’s role in delivering facts play an important role in ensuring an informed citizenry, one that can make electoral decisions based on accurate information about candidates’ actions, viewpoints, and rhetoric.

One of the major points overlooked by the press and the discourse on social media is that the president is not the only person who will define the future direction of American democracy this November.

34 U.S. Senate and all 435 U.S. House of Representatives races will be decided at the ballot box, with each of those elected playing an essential role in preserving our republic.

American voters must be engaged in these races to make sure that we elect people who will keep their oath to the constitution held high above their allegiance to a person or party and who will be willing to do the right thing for the country and its leadership internationally, as opposed to what is best for their political and personal future.

Our leaders must adhere to the sacred system of checks and balances America was founded on, a system that is paramount to shielding the country from the erosion of the democratic system and ensuring the protection of essential freedoms.

For generations, the United States watched foreign democracies toppled in coups and the rise of one authoritarian regime after another, each stripping away freedoms—from subverting free speech, limiting a free and fair press, quelling political opposition, and other foundational aspects of democracies.

During that time, Americans often said it would never happen here and that our government, the longest continuously running experiment in democracy, is strong enough to deflect that type of turmoil.

But, since the country’s founding, citizen participation has been crucial in preserving our republic’s representative democracy.

This notion was shared by one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who was asked after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 what type of government America would have, to which he answered: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

American voters must understand that we are the ones who must keep our system intact while also keeping in mind the impacts these elections will have beyond our borders as the great advocates and defenders of democracy in the world.

We have the power, and that power is in our vote.

Americans must be engaged in this election and understand that, unequivocally, in 2024 democracy is on the ballot.

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