The Democratic Party is the only major political party in the United States that still believes representative democracy should prevail in a multi-racial society. Democrats represent communities that have long suffered exclusion from the democratic process and have a disproportionate stake in the perpetuation of our country’s young, pluralistic democratic system. As such, the Democrats have a moral obligation, on a deep and fundamental level, to pass democracy-reform legislation to head off an increasingly unveiled right-wing assault on our democratic institutions. In this existential task, they failed.

This failure of governance did not result from lack of energy from top Democrats. President Biden gave a fiery speech calling for reform, and in the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had the audacity to bring democracy reform to the chamber floor in order to provoke a debate on the future of our country. Forty-eight of the 50 Democrats serving in the United States Senate voted to reform the filibuster towards passing democracy reform, including some moderates who had previously been hesitant to changing filibuster rules. These people represent 33 million more Americans than the 52 senators who voted against changing the rules.Their steadfastness should receive plaudits from progressives and pro-democracy conservatives.

Instead, it was two Senators representing less than 1% of the U.S. population who doomed democracy reform. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin held fast to bankrupt Senate traditions in the face of our one chance to secure democracy before a likely Republican takeover of the House this fall. Appallingly, they not only refused to vote for the bill, they joined Republicans in voting to prevent democracy reform from even being debated. That is to say, Manchin and Sinema joined an autocratic party in taking the strongest possible stand against reforming our democratic institutions. Sinema and Manchin should both receive primary challenges over this atrocity.

Trumpist readers may accuse me of alarmism in stating that America democracy is balanced on a knife’s edge. They are wrong. Across the country and very much in North Carolina, Republican elected officials are setting up a possible coup should Donald Trump come close to winning the presidency in 2024, or perhaps even if he does not come close but is on the ballot and demands a coup anyway. They are removing electoral administration from pro-democracy officials. They are empowering state legislatures to invalidate electoral results. They are planning to gerrymander so aggressively that representative democracy will essentially be a dead letter in elections for the legislative branch of government.

This is a Code Red, all-hands-on deck moment for the world’s oldest major republic. The Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party alone, had the power to answer the call with autocrats amassing at the gates of American self-governance. Because of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Congress has failed to buttress the core of America against attacks by people whose values stem from some combination of international authoritarianism and the worst impulses that have always haunted the American spirit. Manchin, Sinema, and the Republican Party have proven themselves to be an absolute disgrace.

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