“We Have It in Our Power to Begin the World Over Again”

“We Have It in Our Power to Begin the World Over Again”

“We Have It in Our Power to Begin the World Over Again”

Progressives can win the fight for democracy in 2022. To do so, they would do well to renew their acquaintance with Thomas Paine’s wise message.


For 2022 to be the year that it can and must be, no ordinary New Year’s resolution will do. So let us turn to the radical catechism of America’s founding: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

The pamphleteer’s call to revolutionary action was not meant to address a new year—although it was published on January 10, 1776—but, rather, the struggle to forge a new nation.

Now that the nation is showing signs of age, and struggling to unite around anything more than a general sense of malaise, Paine offers precisely the appeal that’s needed. “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” said Paine. “A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand.”

As progressives look ahead to the work of 2022, they would do well to renew their acquaintance with Paine’s message.

The year that passed on December 31 was weighted down with compromise, concession, cynicism, and, of course, a coup attempt. Add on the lingering threat posed by Covid and the new threat of inflation, and 2021 might easily be recalled as one big disappointment.

That computation does not bode well for 2022.

But that’s not the right calculus. Why?

To begin with, the coup was averted. The election results of 2020 were certified during the evening sessions of the Congress that followed the tumultuous events of January 6, 2021. And a new president and Congress began on January 20 to turn the ship of state back in the direction of responsible governance.

The turn was, to be sure, clumsy and incomplete. Yet it holds out the prospect that we might ultimately achieve the promise of economic and social and racial justice, sustainability, and peace.

Those may seem like distant goals at this point when the wreckers of democracy are busy gerrymandering maps, implementing voter suppression schemes, and proposing to have partisan allies override the rules for conducting free and fair elections. We are, surely, in a fight over whether the will of the people will be the law of the land. It was brutal in 2021, and it is likely to get uglier in 2022.

So why be hopeful?

Because the opponents of democracy would not be fighting so hard if they thought that the future belonged to them. The truth is that they are running scared, as every mad rant from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert makes clear.

On the eve of the January 5, 2021, election that would decide control of the Congress in favor of the Democrats, Trump rallied Georgia voters on behalf of Republican US Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. “If these two don’t win,” warned Trump, “and if we don’t take the presidency, you have a country that would be run by Schumer, Pelosi, and Biden. The people of Georgia will be at the mercy of the left wing, socialist, communist, Marxists.”

Loeffler lost to the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Perdue lost to Jon Ossoff, a former intern to late US Representative John Lewis. The Senate flipped to the Democrats. And Trump lost the presidency to Joe Biden.

In 2021, for the first time since 2009, Democrats gained control of the presidency and Congress. Biden’s popular ballot margin over Trump exceeded 7 million votes, and the Democrat who proposed a new New Deal won five states that had gone to Trump just four years earlier. One of those states, Georgia, elected two Democratic senators for the first time in decades, and is now poised to elect a progressive woman, Democrat Stacey Abrams, as governor.

And since Trump began his authoritarian makeover of the Republican Party, three others—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—have elected Democrats as governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general. It’s reasonable to suggest they could retain all those positions in 2022. And in two of those states, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Republican US senators could be replaced in by very progressive Democrats.

That’s not guaranteed. Midterm elections are hard for the party in power. But the prospect terrifies Republicans who know the arc of history is bending against them.

GOP proponents of extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression recognize that they can’t win honest elections, and that fact horrifies them—as it does the billionaire class that funds their campaigns. They fear a politics they can no longer control on behalf of their own selfish and narrow interests.

They are terrified that a robust democracy might deliver a more just and equitable future. That’s why they are desperate to dismantle it.

The desperation of those who are losing their grip on power should inspire progressives. This is a year for fighting hopefully for that just and equitable future, with faith that, in 2022, we can begin the world over again.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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