On Jan. 5, two runoff elections for Senate will take place in Georgia, and the results will determine which party controls the chamber for the next two years. There are incredibly important policy questions hinging on the outcome, on topics including the pandemic, health-care reform and climate change.

But there’s something even bigger at stake in Georgia: nothing less than whether or not we have a functioning democracy.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not. If Democrats take these two seats, then the American system can operate in a manner that at least approximately reflects the public’s will. If Republicans win either one, their death grip on minority rule would thwart that will and grind Washington to a halt.

With polls showing both races in Georgia to be essentially dead heats, the GOP is barely trying to conceal its intentions. The message it has decided on builds on the one President Trump used unsuccessfully to discredit Joe Biden. It says that Democrats are lunatics bent on burning America to the ground, and only if Republicans hold the Senate can their nightmarish plan to destroy the country be stopped.

“This is America,” says Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s first runoff ad attacking her opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. “But will it still be if the radical left controls the Senate?”

Or as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said while campaigning for Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue, a vote for Democrats is a vote for “people that are crazy” who want to undermine the ability of “normal people” to “own a home and raise their family in a safe community and retire with dignity” and “give their children a chance at a better life.”

For the record, Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s challenger, are not actually running on a platform of making your community less safe and giving your children a worse life. And if the Senate is in Democratic hands, the legislation it produces would be a product not of “the radical left” but of no one so much as Sen. Joe Manchin, whose conservative views would have to be catered to on every bill Democrats want to pass.

So let’s return to reality and consider what could actually happen in the two potential outcomes of these runoffs.

If Democrats take both seats, they win control of the Senate. Even though the split would be 50-50, the 50 Democrats would represent 41 million more Americans than the 50 Republicans.

President Biden — who was elected by a margin that will probably rise to 6 or 7 million votes once the counting is done — would send his nominees for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions to the Senate for confirmation. The nominees, who would no doubt be experienced and knowledgeable professionals, would be questioned by both parties in hearings, and then be voted on.

When there are judicial vacancies at all levels of the federal courts, Biden would nominate people to fill them. These nominees, too, would receive hearings where their qualifications and views are explored, and then get voted up or down.

Finally, Biden would submit proposals to Congress to address the country’s problems. They would reflect the agenda that he ran and won with, including a public health insurance option, a higher minimum wage, green infrastructure spending and much more.

Because Democrats would be able to lose no votes in the Senate on any bill — with unified Republican opposition a near-certainty — some of the plans Biden submits would pass as legislation, and some would not. The most consequential bills would receive extended debate, with hearings and floor speeches and extensive deliberation. Biden’s more ambitious goals, despite enjoying wide support, would likely be whittled down to pass muster with Manchin and other moderate Democrats.

That is what would happen if Democrats win these two seats. It’s called democracy: The people vote, one side wins, the winning side does its best to implement the agenda it ran on, and then the public can judge the results.

Now let’s consider what would happen if either Republican wins and the GOP retains control of the Senate.

Biden’s Cabinet picks may be stonewalled; at the very least Republicans would drag out their confirmations for months and demand that his administration reflect their ideological perspective and not the one the voters chose. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would likely shut down all judicial confirmations for four years, or as long as it takes to get another Republican president.

And there would be no legislation of any significance, period. The policy agenda voters thought they were going to get when they chose Biden? Forget all of it.

Let’s be clear about what that would represent. We’ve gotten so used to the idea of the opposition simply stymieing whatever the president’s party wants that we’ve lost sight of what an offense it is the basic promise of democracy.

You wonder why Americans have no faith in government? One of the main reasons is that so often, government doesn’t give them what they voted for. How can you tell people that the system works when a president can win a sweeping victory, more Americans vote for his party for both the House and the Senate, and yet he’s prevented from passing any of the legislation he promised?

That’s the nightmare scenario, not the lurid fantasy of radical-left destruction Republicans are trying to terrify voters with. Unfortunately, it’s all too real.

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