Ellen Brady: Now is no time to let down our guard on democracy

The fascist forces Donald Trump unleashed will not fade away quietly.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Election workers sort vote-by-mail ballots at the Salt Lake County ballot processing center on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

As some celebrate and others mourn the failure of a midterm “red wave” to materialize, it is important to look at context, gain perspective and examine the challenges going forward.

The local and national issues were and remain enormously important. The list includes the preservation of the ballot access and election integrity necessary to ensure survival of our democracy among rising threats of fascism.

Basic civil rights, including a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, are threatened by a Supreme Court that seems unmoored from the law and justice. The economy is still recovering from an ongoing pandemic. Environmental issues and climate change threaten our health, the planet, the economy, and national security. The Ukrainian war continues to keep NATO and the world on edge.

Democrats and disaffected Republicans have a lot to celebrate, as voters defied historic precedents by driving back more extreme voices. Democrats kept control of the U.S. Senate; the Republican margin in the House will be narrow. Governorships and state legislatures flipped in important “swing” states such as Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Trump-endorsed candidates lost races that would have positioned them to overthrow future elections.

Democrats held Salt Lake County’s elected leadership, most notably, the county clerk’s office, but election-denying clerks won unopposed in two other counties. Democrats also lost two Utah House seats. In spite of Democratic support for an unaffiliated Senate candidate, all of Utah’s U.S. House and Senate seats went to Republicans. However, before celebrating too enthusiastically, one must look at the impact of these “modest” losses.

Congressional Republicans plan to block important initiatives, indulge in revenge hearings, hold the government hostage via budget and debt ceiling negotiations and attempt to impeach President Joe Biden. Support for Ukraine is in jeopardy, thereby threatening to further destabilize Europe while signaling our lack of resolve to China. Renewed gridlock will block meaningful progress.

Locally, the loss of two Democratic Utah House seats will further weaken a minority that was already unable to stop many egregious legislative actions, most notably the rejection of voting districts drawn by a non-partisan Better Boundaries commission. Those districts would have given Salt Lake County a truly representative congressional representative as voters in that county overwhelmingly chose Democrats in the First Congressional District (with about 70% of the vote) and the Second Congressional District (about 63%), while 44% and 41% did so in District 3 and District 4.

The autocratic, fascist forces Donald Trump unleashed will not fade away quietly. Repairing the damage to norms and institutions will take decades. The Electoral College, the Senate structure and gerrymandering enable minority rule, thus dampening hope for meaningful change. The Supreme Court has lost credibility as an even-handed arbitrator. In Utah and nationally, only the legislatures can initiate constitutional amendments, thereby creating a power loop that is difficult to break. Hope remains in spite of these barriers, but solutions require hard work by everyone.

Republicans, are the values put forward by the vocal far right really your values? Do you believe in fair representation or simply in holding power at all costs? Do all Utahns have a place at the table or just those that fit the preferred demographic? Do you believe that rising tides lift all boats? If yes to any of these (and many more) questions, it is time to take control from the extreme elements of the party and work with Democrats to institute the necessary reforms.

Democrats, a recent Salt Lake Tribune editorial outlined the job ahead of you. Elect state and county party officers with the skills to strategize, recruit and train candidates, message effectively and organize grass roots efforts. Build the bench. Don’t leave any Republican candidate unopposed, whatever the odds. And try, try again.

Utahns must step up individually. Stay informed. Speak up through conversations, social media, letters to the editor and outreach to your representatives. Consider running for office. Donate time and money to the party or candidate of your choice. Whatever happens, your voice and your vote do matter. Three seats in the Utah House were determined by fewer than 500 votes, an outcome that is not acceptable when less than half of registered voters voted.

This election has shown that change can happen, but only if we work for it.

Ellen Brady, M.D.

Ellen Brady, Murray, is a retired physician and issues director of the Women’s Democratic Club of Utah.