Opinion: Democracy being in peril is overplayed

Elections 2022

(NewsNation) — Pendulums swing.  

I was in college when George W. Bush won and television pundits announced Karl Rove had rewritten the rules of political engagement. They said that Democrats would never win again.   

Not seven years later I was part of an upstart presidential campaign fueled by hope — I started in Iowa for then-Sen. Barack Obama  — where pundits wrote us off as a long-shot run by underdog inexperienced political outsiders. They said we didn’t stand a chance.   

I was teaching at USC in 2016 (predicting a Trump victory) after serving in a White House and I watched my former colleagues claim we had a blue wall and there was no way Trump would get elected.  

Turns out they were all wrong.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about that as I prepare what I will say when I join NewsNation next Tuesday for their first election coverage with Decision Desk HQ.   

Candidates have been sending pleading emails, the president is saying democracy is on the ballot.  All the while, Americans are just trying to live their lives and figure out who’s telling the truth and what’s coming next. It’s a lot right now.  

I’m a mom of a 10-year-old boy, who asked me recently if our lives were better before or after COVID.  I realize in his short lifetime, there’s a very distinct before and after.  Before the pandemic, my son was going to school none the wiser that a virus from a bat or lab in China could upend his daily routine.   

After his world shut down, our schools closed, fights ensued, and the world turned on its head. I realized he, like all of us, is trying to make sense of it all.  And we’re all just trying to figure out what comes next. I also realized he’s asking because he’s afraid.  Will it ever get better?  

“After,” I answered my son.  After the pandemic is better. Because I think we have a better perspective of what’s really important.  
This election is important because America plays a pivotal role around the world.  A role we all have a responsibility in shaping.  But I do think that most of the hyperbole about our democracy being in peril is overplayed. 
Yes, do we have people on the ballot who scare me?  Absolutely.  Did we before?  Yes, absolutely.  And as a Democrat, not all of them were Republicans.  I have equal frustration with the hypocrisy of many Democrats.  

The truth is with power there are always those who seek it for themselves, rather than to lead the whole for the better.  And on election night, some of them will win.  From both parties.  

I grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, as close to an Americana experience as anyone could have had.  Galesburg is a town that felt the changing economy personally, as Maytag moved to Mexico.  Galesburg is still figuring itself out.  But it’s doing it.  It’s investing in its library, friends of mine from high school are running for the school board and people keep working hard toward Galesburg’s great future.  

It was my all American youth in Galesburg that kept me grounded as I had the opportunity of a lifetime to serve a president as director of press advance, and travel with him to 42 countries.  That travel and seeing the world up close confirmed my belief that there is nowhere better than the United States of America.   

I am not shy about this: I believe that without America on the global stage – despite our bruises, imperfections and sins – the world would be less free.  I am happy to take on the critics who point to our bruises because I absolutely agree – we can always do better.  But I do believe that to be better, to do better, we need to have tough conversations with each other.  

Our Obama campaign motto in Iowa was “Respect, Empower, Include.”  For too many years I’ve watched as so many in politics have disrespected each other, empowered only themselves and failed to include the American people.  We’re all exhausted by it.  And I have a feeling that many on Tuesday will do just that, they’ll double down and exhaust us.  With hot takes about the end of the world.  We need to do better than the pundits before and we need to find solace that our country is strong when we are united.  

As I join NewsNation Tuesday night, I’m probably going to say things that won’t make everyone happy, Democrats or Republicans.  (And I’ll probably be wrong about some predictions.) But I can promise this: I’m going to be honest.  And all I can hope is that more of us can be honest, about the imperfections we all have, about the fears we all have, so that we can come together and shape a future for our children.   

Johanna Maska will provide election analysis for NewsNation during midterm election coverage. Here’s how to watch.

Johanna Maska, CEO of Global Situation Room, served as President Obama’s White House director of press advance. Prior to that, Maska worked in Democratic political campaigns in Iowa and Kansas, having grown up in Galesburg, Illinois. With fellow Obama officials, Maska launched an award-winning podcast with Cadence 13, Pod is a Woman, named one of TIME Magazine’s best political podcasts of the 2020 election cycle.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not of NewsNation.

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