Saving American Democracy: Focus on the Senate Elections, Corporate Leaders Need to Include Impact on Democracy in Company Political Spending Decisions

Guest Column
Saving American Democracy: Focus on the Senate Elections, Corporate Leaders Need to Include Impact on Democracy in Company Political Spending Decisions
By Ira Shapiro

There was a time, in early 2021, to believe that our nation coming out of Covid, having elected Joe Biden president, and responding to the shocking January 6 attack on the Capitol, could begin to heal its divisions. Of course, that hopeful moment was fleeting. America is by all measures even more bitterly divided than at any time since the Civil War. That was true even before the shattering Supreme Court decision to overrule Roe v. Wade, eliminating, for the first time in history, a constitutional right on which millions of Americans relied, fundamental to women’s equality and freedom. Now, buoyed by their victory, opponents of abortion push for further restrictions and outright bans in states across the country. On the other side, abortion rights advocates will “harness rage over the decision to take to the streets, fight back in the courts, and push the Biden administration to do more to protect abortion rights,” reported Kate Zernike in the New York Times.

Amidst this frenetic activity, Democrats should not lose sight of the one thing that can most dramatically change our politics in the short term: winning Senate elections. Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans gave America this radical Supreme Court through a corrupted confirmation process that blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court in 2016; abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court justices in 2017; confirmed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 even after the National Council of Churches opposed his nomination; and rammed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett eight days before election day in 2020 after fifty million people had already voted. Of course, McConnell and his Republican caucus also stayed silent while Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen poisoned the nation and triggered the attack on the Capitol, and then refused to convict Trump even after he was impeached for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

Off year elections are notoriously difficult for the party in power; with inflation surging and Biden’s approval rating tanking, the political environment has rightly been described as “brutal” for the Democrats. But the Senate map is favorable: the Republicans are defending twenty seats, the Democrats only fourteen; five Republicans retirements have produced open seat opportunities for Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina, where strong Democratic candidates will be running against extreme Republican nominees. Several Republican incumbents—Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio, and Chuck Grassley—are potentially beatable. Democrats need to channel their despair and anger into focused political action. A Senate with 54-56 Democrats, instead of 50, would make it possible to change the filibuster rules, continue confirming progressive judges, and put major pieces of the Democratic agenda before the country in advance of the 2024 presidential election.

Seeking to regain the Republican Senate majority, McConnell has supported the infrastructure legislation, aid to Ukraine, and most recently, the bipartisan legislation which represents the first modest Congressional action to reduce gun violence. Democrats and independents should not be deluded by his effort to avoid the Senate Republicans being tagged as complete obstructionists. It is time to hold McConnell and the Senate Republicans accountable: for the radical Supreme Court they have given us; for their failure to protect America from Trump’s assault on our democracy and his unhinged leadership during the pandemic; and for constantly blocking action to address our most urgent problems. We have been living, and dying, in McConnell’s America far too long; the November elections are our chance to end his destructive reign.

With our democracy hanging by a fraying thread, each of us needs to assess whether he/she has done enough to preserve it. The corporate community bears particular responsibility; with a few notable exceptions, business leaders have continually underestimated how dire the threat to democracy is or found justifications to continue their usual pattern of political contributions. This can no longer be the case. Corporate leaders need to include the interest of their stakeholders and their company and the type of environment — a vibrant democracy — that benefits both as they weigh how to approach political spending.

Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration trade ambassador, is the author of three books about the Senate, most recently The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America. He can be followed on Twitter @shapiroglobal. His website is

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