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Michaela Brant / Gavel Media

The Election To Define Our Generation: An Interview With Charles Derber

This midterm election may be the most important and most frightening election of the past century. As Professor of Sociology Charles Derber puts it, “We’ve never had a point where we are facing both an existential threat in the form of climate and ecological collapse and where our democracy is also at stake.” Professor Derber has been looking at elections for a while and he is ringing the bells about this election in particular. He worries that this election will allow the Republican Party to attack our democratic institutions, and that they very well might succeed if young voters choose to sit this election out.

If that seems like an exaggeration, keep in mind that the Republican Party under Trump has finished the job started by Ronald Reagan and his culture war that effectively tied the Republican party to neofascism. This neofascism in America takes on similar characteristics to that of 1930s Germany, according to Derber: small town and rural nationalism, a belief that social degradation stems from urban centers, rampant xenophobia and racism, and myths of national greatness long gone because of secularists and minority groups in positions of power. The Republicans have been using culture war wedge issues in order to bring working class white workers into their column ever since the 1980s, despite the fact that their policies always align with the big money donor class. “Donald Trump was the culmination of this strategy,” Derber said. “He managed to turn previously Democratic white workers to the Republican Party using the culture war to turn their resentment towards women, minorities, and immigrants instead of the business interests which are actually behind their problems.” Trump perfected the culture war strategy to turn out voters and to solidify the base of the Republican Party in 2016 and 2020. Now, even more dangerously, he has led this same base down the path of election denialism, something that will eventually bring down our democracy if left unchecked.

With the Republican Party, we are faced with impending climate catastrophe and a party that may not even believe that this catastrophe is coming; we are facing existential nuclear war with Russia and a party that wants to escalate tensions; we are facing economic collapse if the Republicans win and refuse to vote on raising the debt ceiling in January. This is not “just another midterm” where the Republicans will win and your comfortable life will remain largely unchanged. If they win both the House and the Senate, they will be in a position to take more and more of our ability to meaningfully participate in our democracy (with the help of an ultra conservative Supreme Court). This election is truly about sustaining our democracy and the electoral process.

Professor Derber warns us to not be fooled. “They tell their older voting base how important this election is so that they will show up,” he said. “Meanwhile, they are trying to tell young voters that this election isn't really that important—but it is!” When the Republicans won sweeping victories in both the House and the Senate as well as State Houses in 2010, they gerrymandered districts to maintain power even where demographic change worked against them—imagine what they will do now after Trump has riled them up with full-on election denialism. 

Despite all this, the situation should not feel hopeless—that is exactly what they want. Rather, every voter should feel inspired to do something. Professor Derber’s rallying cry to the youth vote is this: “Young people, without knowing it, I think, have the future of the country and planet on their shoulders. They have the ability, if they turn out in large numbers, to swing the election.” Young people are a crucial demographic for the Democrats and every year, they turn out in relatively low numbers considering that the future is at stake. Even a small change in the number of voters this election cycle could have big effects moving forward. Especially in midterm elections, a turnout of young people could swing the election, perhaps in the House, but certainly in the Senate. Winning the Senate would halt at least some of the worst effects of the anti-democratic Republican Party, and it is within reach.

Vote, call your friends and family back home to vote, organize whatever campus group you are in to register voters, and phone bank your home state. There is so much that we can do to change the outcome of this election, and since the stakes have never been higher, we can’t afford to stay at home.

Patrick Dumitrescu
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