Column: This, future historians, is how it all unravels

Voters casting ballots at Venice Beach
Elections alone do not constitute a democracy.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Dear Future Historians,

It is December 2021 and they still fly Trump 2020 flags on the back of pickup trucks in Maricopa County, Ariz. Three months after results from the fourth audit/recount showed locals — yet again — that the election wasn’t stolen, it is still not unusual to see those large, billowy flags flapping in the Whole Foods parking lot near where I live. I don’t know if they’re there to “own the libs” or to grab some kale.

Who knows … maybe both. What I do know is when you begin to analyze what happened to democracy in America, you should not forget about Arizona.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

In September, as the state’s largest county, Maricopa, was wrapping up an audit that ended up adding to President Biden’s winning vote total, Mark Finchem, a member of the state House running for Arizona secretary of state, tweeted that an audit needed to be conducted in Arizona’s second-largest county, Pima.


“There are 35K votes in question from multiple sources and I want answers,” he wrote.

The delusion just never stops.

Even after the Arizona attorney general’s elections integrity unit investigated his claims and found no evidence to support them, Finchem still told a crowd at a Trump rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in October that a whistleblower sent an email to the Department of Justice as well as lawmakers claiming “there’s 34,000 or 35,000 fictitious voters, and they’ve been inserted in system” and that “we believe we found them.”

In November, Trump repeated Finchem’s debunked claims while pressuring state Atty. Gen. Mark Brnovich, who is running for the U.S. Senate and doesn’t want to make Trump an enemy, to decertify the 2020 results.

And this, future historians, is how it all unravels.

The attack at the U.S. Capitol was shocking. But as Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt pointed out in their 2018 book “How Democracies Die,” nowadays it is rare for a singular event or military coup to destroy a nation’s democracy. Nowadays democracies die from things like normalizing authoritarianism and conspiracy theories or failing to hold accountable those who instigated events like the Jan. 6 terrorist attack.

Democracies die when Fox News anchors can be caught behaving more like lap dogs than watchdogs while viewed by millions. Democracy dies the moment people start acting as if it can’t.

But it can.

And it is.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a group supporting democratic institutions around the world, has labeled the U.S. a “backsliding democracy.” It points out that the threat to America is internal, not from a foreign power imposing its will.

We are slowly imploding, and instead of rallying together to defend democracy, we have become accomplices in weakening this foundation. A recent poll found 40% of Republicans “completely agree” that the election was stolen, despite a lack of evidence. That same poll found 30% of Republicans believe “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”


It’s a sentiment so palpable here in Arizona that many of the folks I’ve spoken to don’t care that Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents a district in western Arizona, tweeted a video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Recently I saw a bumper sticker that read “Live, Laugh, Love. If that doesn’t work: load, aim and fire.” It was near a pair of thin blue line bumper stickers and another one supporting Trump. I used to think hypocrisy escaped people like that. I have now come to understand people like that do not care about things like hypocrisy.

Only winning.

Whatever winning means to them. It’s hard to tell. After Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan voted for an infrastructure bill that will fix our roads, bridges, airports and ports — all things Trump wanted to do as well — someone called his office and said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your f— family dies.” Perhaps winning means more potholes and flight delays. Or maybe it’s getting Trump back in office, even if democracy is mortally wounded in the process.

There is an Avett Brothers song with an increasingly prophetic refrain: “there’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light … and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.” It is the perfect summation of a nation that can’t see that it is becoming a one-party state because it believes elections make it a democracy. Well, China and Cuba hold elections as well, and no one stateside considers them to be beacons of freedom.

This, future historians, is at the heart of our pending undoing. It won’t be from an attack by Russia. It will be from us becoming like Russia, where the violent deaths of President Vladimir Putin’s critics have become normalized. And before you dismiss this as hyperbole, think about how children being shot and killed in our schools has become normalized. Think about how Steve Scalise almost died from political violence in 2017 and he wouldn’t even condemn Gosar’s tweet depicting violence against Ocasio-Cortez. Think about the fact the FBI is still looking for the suspect that placed pipe bombs near the national headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic parties the night before the terrorist attack at the Capitol.

Think about how many members of Congress voted not to investigate the attack, even though police officers were injured and some later died, colleagues were running for their lives and the peaceful transfer of power — the hallmark of our democracy — was violently interrupted by insurrectionists.

There is a darkness upon us that’s flooded in light … and I’m frightened by those who see it and don’t care.


“It’s amazing people want to kill me over paving roads and clean water,” said Rep. Andrew Garbarino, a New York Republican who voted for the infrastructure bill.

That’s because it’s not about paving roads or clean water.

It’s about winning.

Even if we lose democracy in the process.