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We need to talk about what's at stake in the midterms

Most coverage would have you think this election is about inflation and gas prices. It isn't.

To say that the upcoming election is the most important in American history is a cliché at this point, more of a biannual tradition than an actual warning. The arguments made often sound ridiculous in retrospect — but there is a strong case for the 2022 midterms to be the most important election in American history.

The results of next month’s voting will determine if there are any more real elections in the future. Also on the ballot are potential global financial apocalypse, enormous cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and all manner of ancillary issues. And yet these issues are almost totally absent from mainstream political reporting, and apparently, the minds of swing voters who will decide the control of Congress and statewide offices around the country.

The stakes badly need to be clarified, so consider this an attempt to lay them bare.

The stakes badly need to be clarified, so consider this an attempt to lay them bare.

First, Republicans have nominated 2020 election deniers to oversee electoral processes in swing states Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And these nominees are barely trying to hide their intentions. Given the attempted putsch Jan. 6, 2021 — which Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania’s Republican candidate for governor, not only attended, but also organized buses for — we should take these candidates at their word.

Follow our 2022 midterm elections live blog at beginning Nov. 7 for the latest results, news and expert analysis in real time.

Should they win, they will certainly attempt to end democracy as we know it in their states. The effort will probably look like an updated version of Jim Crow: extreme gerrymandering of state legislative seats, like in Wisconsin, where an 8-point popular vote loss gives Republicans a 63 percent supermajority in the state Assembly; tight restrictions on who is allowed to vote, like in Florida, where the Republican government blatantly ignored a ballot initiative that restored the franchise to largely-Black ex-felons; and above all, violent intimidation of liberals and minorities, again like in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis arrested and charged numerous people for supposedly illegal voting that was, in fact, his own administration’s fault.

I would not even rule out actual organized election theft, as Trump attempted to bully Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into doing, or canceling elections entirely, as the deranged “independent state legislature” theory currently before the Supreme Court could possibly allow. Should Republicans take control of any three of these swing states, they would be able to rig the Electoral College for whoever their nominee is in 2024.

Second, let’s look at what Republicans would do if they won control of either branch of Congress. All four Republicans running to be chair of the House Budget Committee recently promised that should they win, they will take the debt ceiling hostage to force President Joe Biden to agree to massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed, telling Punchbowl News on Tuesday that America “can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt.”

It’s important to remember that the debt ceiling is a legal anachronism dating from World War I that has nothing to do with spending and borrowing as such — it’s just an arbitrary legal number that is reached occasionally after Congress has voted for budgets that create debt. No other country has anything like this, because it is logically assumed that if the government has voted through a budget, it has therefore authorized any required borrowing.

If the debt ceiling were breached, it would likely mean the government would miss an interest payment, putting it in default on the national debt. Because U.S. government debt is a foundation for the global financial system, a shattering financial crisis would probably follow. That’s why Republicans want to take it hostage. They would be putting a gun to the head of the global economy to extract policy concessions they can’t get through normal means — and, in fact, didn’t even try to pass the last time they were in power, because cuts to Medicare and Social Security are hugely unpopular.

Once again, I take them at their word. Not only because Republicans tried to do this in 2011 and 2013, but also because the House GOP caucus is dramatically more unhinged today than it was even under then-President Donald Trump. As a person who once chased down a school shooting survivor while yelling threats, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., would have hitherto been somewhat marginalized. In today’s GOP, she’s an accepted and influential member of the caucus. (One shudders to think who will replace Greene on the GOP right wing as the party continues to radicalize.) Such a party really might pull the trigger on financial Armageddon instead of merely threatening it.

It is bizarre that these issues aren’t front and center in election coverage instead of inflation, which is getting endless attention. That may be why a recent New York Times/Sienna poll found that while 71% of voters think democracy is at risk, just 7% said it is the most important political problem. Whatever the reason for this unsettling lack of urgency about America’s institutions, these are the stakes that midterm voters have to consider. A vote for Republicans might just be the last one you ever cast.