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Joe Biden is trying to protect what many of us have already renounced

Joe Biden is wrong.

His appeal to American voters that the future of democracy rests with crushing Donald Trump may be well intended, but the future of democracy itself no longer resonates with MAGA Republicans and only faintly does so with the rest of the party. Trump acolytes and cultists have no interest in a country where majority rule holds sway but maintain instead that a vocal minority, constructed on religious dogma and ossified thought, should control the destiny of this country.

It hardly bears repeating that Donald Trump won only 46% of the popular vote in 2016 or that close to three million more Americans preferred Hillary Clinton, but the significance of minority rule goes well beyond the vote count. Trump's Electoral College victory—won despite most Americans finding him unsuitable for office—provided for a shift in the Supreme Court that will endure long past the vagaries of mere election cycles.

To no one's surprise, this new court faced surprisingly acerbic recriminations from a populace that prides itself on individual freedoms. We reacted angrily to the abrogated freedoms stated and implied by the Dobbs decision. Yet the ruling stands—another tribute to minority rule and the further amalgamation of church and state. (Has anyone else been nauseated by the sound of the amoral and dissolute Donald Trump claiming he wants America to pray again? Many of us are indeed praying—for his removal from our lives.)

We are at—maybe past the point where personal freedoms have been usurped by religious dogma, and the rights of men and women to make individual choices have become the province of a Roundhead like Samuel Alito and a rapacious reactionary like Clarence Thomas. If we had been brought to this point kicking and screaming, we might feel better about ourselves. But we weren't. We got here in the same way that Germany and Russia welcomed Hitler and Stalin—by a combination of laziness, carelessness, and ignorance.

Which brings me to O. J. Simpson. He died last week, bringing to an end a sometimes tragicomic though often remarkable life. But beyond biography, the story of O.J.—the murders, the chase, the trial, the glove—turned us away from hard news and toward the sensational. We ate up every scrap of information about him from crime to acquittal and maintained that interest long afterward. And because newscasters and their producers understood the attraction, the most trivial event led the news and dominated talk radio. A host with two hours to kill could mention O.J. and open the phone lines: instant programming.

However, that lack of investigative preparation provided no differentiation between hard facts and undeveloped opinions. Nothing required verification—everyone's opinion was as valid as anyone else's, and scholarship was deemed boring and stuffy. Then came social media, which increased the number of "experts" exponentially.

The throughline from the 90s to the rise of Donald Trump and his so-called "fake news" is easy to plot. Trump arrived at a time when we had lost our ability to be critical—when we were more interested in what our old high school friends on Facebook felt about this country than what scholars and thinkers did. Last month, while tens of thousands were dying in Gaza, the Dulos trial, though settled, led the news.

No wonder our politics revolves around conspiracy theorists and backwater buffoons. We can't elect people who want to preserve democracy because we can hardly define the term anymore. Those who hold that a civil war is coming may be right, but it won't be the MAGA people with the automatic weapons enforcing our loss of liberty. It will be the suppressed Americans awakening to remember what it was like to live in a free country rising up to overthrow the autocrats. Trump's place in history will reside near that of Jefferson Davis, just another ignominious traitor. But the journey to that point will be harrowing.

Future generations will blench at the fact that we elected an amoral grifter like Donald Trump to the highest office in the land. Of course, simple mortality will save many of us from a lot of uncomfortable explanations, many of which we can avoid by eliminating Trump from the political landscape once and for all. Right now, we lack that will and want the courts to do it for us. They won't. And they shouldn't have to. Somewhere along the way, the citizens of a democracy are responsible for maintaining it.

That's why Joe Biden is wrong. The threat of democracy being replaced by autocracy no longer frightens the American voters. Eight years ago, we chose the latter and lived to tell about it. Though those eight years have shown the damage and horror that an autocrat like Vladimir Putin can cause, we still believe it can't happen here. Biden wants to convince us that it can. He's wrong: we're still not listening.

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