A Year on a Hinge of History

A Year on a Hinge of History

If we want to save the republic, we will have to do it ourselves.


Explore all the content from our 2021 year in review here.

A little under a year ago, I was in my kitchen cutting up vegetables and watching the joint session of Congress called to certify the results of the Electoral College. Still recovering from the Covid-19 I’d caught before Christmas, I was trying to decide whether Mitch McConnell had redeemed himself even a little bit by his speech warning that to humor the soon-to-be-ex-president’s delusions risked sending our democracy “into a death spiral” that if not speedily checked “would damage our republic forever.” A few minutes later, the mob broke into the Senate chamber.

By the end of that day, January 6, Andrew McCormick, a Navy veteran and frequent Nation contributor, had filed a vivid eyewitness account of the events outside the Capitol. Within the month, Representative Jamie Raskin—another longtime Nation contributor, who on a visit to magazine’s office during the first Trump impeachment had laid out such a powerful case that I couldn’t help wondering why he wasn’t in charge of the prosecution—would indeed be leading the second impeachment (whose findings may yet disqualify Trump from holding further elective office).

So, as we look back at 2021, and peer cautiously into the future, it’s worth remembering that while the great promise of last autumn has been at best only partially redeemed, the fear last winter that we were witnessing the death of our republic has—so far—not come to pass. Instead, we remain, however uncomfortably, on a hinge of history—a familiar position for The Nation, but also for the country. It was, after all, on an autumn day in 1789 that Elizabeth Powel, a Philadelphian known for her wit and her political acumen, asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government the American experiment would adopt. Franklin’s reply—“A republic, if you can keep it”—has this year become painfully pertinent.

Can we keep it? With the Supreme Court stacked 6-3 against progress, congressional Democrats divided, and the wholly Trump-owned Republican Party increasingly committed to minority rule and the death grip of white supremacy, the answer is far from certain. Yet, if the past year has given us nothing else, we now have a much clearer sense of what we’re up against—and who is paying their bills. Many Nation readers might still be reluctant to use the F-word (fascism) to describe the threat, but, as Dan Simon so eloquently argued, the parallels between Hitler’s rise to power and our perilous present are compelling. Our national affairs correspondents John Nichols and Joan Walsh, whose intricate knowledge of the political scene makes for must-reading every week, also function as a superb early warning system for all the wannabe dictators and demagogues waiting in the (right and far-right) wings. And, as our justice correspondent, Elie Mystal, has repeatedly reminded us, the Supreme Court will not be coming to the rescue. If America is to remain a republic, rather than succumb to the long slide toward oligarchy or the cult of Trumpian personality, we will have to save it ourselves.

A daunting prospect, but that is where we are. At The Nation, we’ve been facing the facts for 156 years—and in 2021 we’ve had a lot of difficult facts to face, from the US role in the immiseration of Haiti (a beat Nation contributor Amy Wilentz has been covering for over 30 years) to our for-profit health care system’s deadly incapacity to respond to the pandemic, to the philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s diagnosis of collective fatigue, aggravated by Covid-19 but also a preexisting condition of our obscenely unequal society.

Yet there is also something invigorating, and liberating, about the shedding of illusions. Tim Schwab’s dispatches from the front lines—and back rooms—of billionaire philanthropy have made it clear that Bill and Melinda Gates aren’t going to rescue us either. As columnist Jeet Heer reminded us, utopia and dystopia are twins. So. when former heroes disappoint us or supposed allies sell out or the temptations of an easy victory evaporate, we fight on.

And as always, The Nation is in the thick of the struggle, from a perhaps parochial warning that New York shouldn’t pick a Potemkin mayor to our crucially important national reckoning on racism, to the fight for fair housing, to breaking the chains of Internet monopolies, to resisting anti-immigrant hysteria, to dismantling the carceral state, to ending our forever wars, to stopping climate change in its tracks—which may be the biggest fight of all.

We’re also here to celebrate victories, in both politics and culture—not that the two can be so easily separated. And to lift up those whose words or works still inspire us. Or who declare that something as modest and momentous as parenting can be a radical act of love.

So can we keep it? Can we, going into 2022 in what Bernie Sanders describes as “a pivotal moment in America history,” finally deliver on the broken promise of a country truly built on the recognition that all humans are created equal, and endowed with rights that no court or president or police officer’s badge can take away? There is only one way to find out. We hope you’ll join us. Welcome to the fight!

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