pexels tara winstead 8850712It is halfway over now, but in some ways, it is just beginning.

We pretty much know who is going to be on our general election ballots in November, and the few races still undecided will be over shortly after a handful of runoff elections, or “second primaries,” as we call them in North Carolina. That means the time has arrived for careful thought and research into candidates—what positions they take on issues that are important to us and what kind of human beings they are—before we cast our final votes in November.

Knee-jerk reactions to candidates for whatever reasons are inappropriate, shortsighted, foolish, and, ultimately, dangerous to ourselves, our families, and everyone else.

There is little question that American democracy is on the line in November. The Harvard political scientists who wrote 2018’s stunning How Democracies Die have a new book out, Tyranny of the Minority, and if what they assert does not scare your socks off, then you are not paying attention.

Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that our nation has always been an experiment in democracy, evolving since its inception, and now reaching the point of becoming one of the few multi-racial democracies in history. This possibility, they write, has birthed an authoritarian reaction, some even say backlash, that has the potential to rip us apart at the seams. The scholars propose several governmental changes, some already embraced by other world democracies, to reform our political system. They make the case that we have done so in the past, notably after the Civil War. In true book jacket fashion, they assert that “we are at a crossroads: America will either become a multiracial democracy or cease to be a democracy at all.”

Those are terrifying words, and if nothing else, they should impel voters to look closely at political candidates at all levels, especially for our top jobs. Do the people running respect democracy and the judgment of the American people, or do they believe they alone are suitable for the positions they seek? Do they call others names? Do they see our complex nation and world in black and white terms or do they understand that there are few, if any, easy answers to the problems that face us?

Our individual lives are complicated, and issues facing our nation are both pressing and dangerous. Levitsky and Ziblatt, like millions of other Americans, see the 2024 general election as a turning point. The United States can either stand up to those who fear a multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy or we can give up on a democratic ideal in favor of some authoritarian form of government. The final stage of our toxic political polarization leaves little room for anything else.

As a Baby Boomer, the results of the 2024 elections, however they turn out, are unlikely to affect me and my generation profoundly, as we are heading for greener pastures. But elective choices made in 2024 will certainly affect the lives of my children and grandchildren, which, in fact, does scare my socks off. Millions of Americans feel the same way.

Elections do have consequences. When we enter the voting booth, we would all do well to think not about our own angers and disappointments but about the futures of those we love.

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