Opinion: The current crisis of our democracy has been brewing for a long time


Another week, another column warning our democracy is slowly suffocating. But first, some good news.

It has been over four weeks since the primary election, and almost all the ballots have finally been counted. Almost every state assemblymember in New York City who faced a progressive challenger lost. Every one of the city’s assembly delegation who faced a more conservative challenger won.

Two weeks ago I suggested that thousands of absentee ballots would be invalidated and it could shift the results of elections. While thousands, indeed tens of thousands of votes — a higher percentage than ever before — were thrown away, this mass disenfranchisement appears not to have changed the outcome of any elections. It still might for the congressional race between Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel, which has not ended.

Beyond the machinery of democracy seeming to rust out or fill with grit, the other news is grim as well. President Donald Trump is currently behind in the national polls, but he has so far given zero indication he will respect the results of the election. He said as much at the end of a fairly unhinged, even by his standards, interview with Fox News this week.

This occurs at the same time as his government deploys federal law enforcement agents — mostly ICE and Border Patrol wearing camouflage — to liberal cities like Portland, Oregon, to teargas mothers and force protesters into unmarked cars that take them to undisclosed locations. We’re in a uniquely shameful and dangerous moment in American history that foreshadows the threats more of us might be facing this autumn.

Here in New York City, murders and burglaries are both up significantly over last year. The NYPD is drawing so much overtime that whatever cuts for this next fiscal year that the City Council supposedly gave it will be totally eroded. Occupy City Hall had been winding down for weeks now, but this week the police threw its remaining inhabitants, mostly homeless, in jail.

The crisis has been brewing a long time. Money has always played an outsized role in our governance, but the rich seem to have more and more control. The basic norms of democracy have been decaying for decades. The federal government has been getting more powerful for decades, has been killing and detaining people beyond our borders for so many years. It was foreseeable that a Department of Homeland Security would eventually be used to secure the homeland for the government against its people.

We are more and more a North American Ukraine. We need to focus not just on winning this November’s election but also on securing a safe count for the absentee ballots and preparing a mass gathering in Washington, DC after the election to ensure that Trump obeys democracy. An American Maidan, like Kiev had in 2014. Nowadays, Ukraine not only has a democracy again, but a new coronavirus infection rate that is one-sixth of ours. So there’s some hope.

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.