Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

A funny thing happened on the way to the midterm elections: optimism about America’s democracy seems to be budding after months of trouble, toil and turmoil stemming from political tribalism, an attempted insurrection and a former president who can’t stop stirring the pot.

Noted Charleston civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner, who last year co-wrote a book on the U.S. Supreme Court’s long dance with race and civil rights, beamed with optimism during a bookstore discussion this week. There will be pressures put on institutions like the court, viewed as widely out of step with American sentiment on abortion after it overturned Roe v. wade, to fall back in step with democratic principles. For the court, this may take time. But in the meantime, he said other institutions — the presidency, Congress, state legislatures, governors and more — are stepping up to right the ship of state.

“There will be pressure to do better things more in keeping with our traditions. … Many states will be better than they have been,” Derfner said, pointing to how conservative Kansasans voted to protect abortion over the summer.

Longtime state Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter, D-Orangeburg, says young people are waking up to the need for more civic engagement.

“While this does not apply to all young people, enough of them recognize the mess that we have made of things, especially the environment and intolerance of differences and that they are indeed the change they want to see,” she said.

ACLU of South Carolina Executive Director Jace Woodrum added, “What gives me hope is seeing South Carolinians fighting back for our freedoms. They’re signing up to be poll monitors to ensure no one is denied the right to vote. They’re coming to the Statehouse to oppose state legislators’ attempts to ban abortion. … It’s impossible not to feel optimistic when you’re arm-in-arm with your neighbors to protect the freedoms all Americans hold dear.”

The U.S. Constitution also has largely worked for more than 200 years, Furman University political science professor Danielle Vinson noted. 

“While some talk about violence, I think the majority of the country is not inclined to turn to violence in our current division,” she said, adding that there are people in government today who are committed to peaceful transitions of power — even when elections may not go their way.

State Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said people should remember the United States is a relatively young country — and experiment.  

“We are going to make mistakes, but the one fact about our democracy — the one belief we must have — is while we make mistakes, Americans will always fix them.”

A seasoned state administrator threw this into the mix — one of the nation’s greatest inventions was the system of checks and balances.

“I’ve certainly seen it work at the state level as relative power ebbs and flows along with the personalities in leadership at given points in time,” he said. “My biggest fear right now is that these processes take time, sometimes lots of time. The rapid nature of our discourse now has a tendency to overwhelm and eat away at the time it takes for the system of checks and balances to work.”

Not everyone is optimistic about what’s happening in politics today.

“Maybe my feelings will change in my lifetime if we see a real expansion of democracy,” said Columbia restaurateur Kevin Gray, who served as S.C. campaign manager for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign. “But when you have a two-party system, two poles in which many ‘tribes’ are forced to choose one or the other or a winner-take-all system where the goal is power either party or personal, then the system will continue to erode. I’ve always felt that the expansion of democracy means a real multi-party system and coalition government.”

Be a part of righting the direction of the country. Vote on Nov. 8.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper.  Have a comment?  Send to:

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