I’ve recently been avoiding political posts because the situation in the USA is so dire and depressing. Democracy and the rule of law are under assault as never before and the prospects for our becoming a truly authoritarian state are real, as I’ve discussed previously.
Many of these ideas were recently summarized by Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University in “How far will Republicans go to destroy democracy? And can they still be stopped?” Belkin argues that Republicans no longer value democracy or the rule of law. Here are some highlights and a few of my reflections.
Belkin begins by noting that Supreme Court has now approved hyper-partisan gerrymandering and effectively allowed (whatever the final ruling) the addition of a citizenship question to the census. Such actions have caused constitutional scholars like University of Chicago law professor Aziz Huq to state “We don’t really know how committed the Republican Party is to the project of democracy.” But, as Belkin puts it,
Unfortunately, the answer to Huq’s question is clear. The Republican Party is not at all committed to democracy, and GOP leaders and voters would happily tolerate alternative political arrangements … Republicans have abandoned any concerns they may have had for the integrity of our political system.
Unfortunately, the evidence for Belkin’s claim is overwhelming.
First is the GOP’s commitment to undermining free and fair elections. This includes tactics such as voter suppression, lying about voter fraud, gerrymandering, the Supreme Court’s evisceration of campaign finance law, the unlimited and unaccountable money flooding our politics, as well as the 50-year campaign that led to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act.
Second, “the GOP is structurally committed to lying.” In other words, they must lie. Consider that
One of the first things that Newt Gingrich’s Republican House majority did upon assuming power in 1995 was to undermine evidence-based policy by killing the Office of Technology Assessment and slashing the funding of the Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office.
Why? The reason is that Republicans must disavow factual evidence because to tell the truth would reveal their true motives. For example, the corporate wing of the party lies because it doesn’t want to admit that it cares only about tax cuts for the rich and corporate deregulation.
That’s why the 2002 handout to oil, gas and coal companies was called the “Clear Skies Initiative.” That’s why the 2009-2010 health care debate was framed in terms of “death panels,” as if private insurance does not ration care. That’s why the 2017 tax cut for corporations and elites was sold as a middle-class tax cut.
And the resentment wing of the party must lie to disguise its paranoia.
Gun enthusiasts cannot admit that they like firearms because they fear black people. “Pro-lifers” cannot admit that they oppose abortion because they are afraid of what would happen if women controlled their bodies. (If they truly supported life, after all, they would fight climate change). Anti-statists (of the Ruby Ridge or “Oregon standoff” variety) cannot admit that they oppose the public sector because they think government programs are for black people. Xenophobes cannot admit that they oppose immigration because they think brown people are dirty. (How often do you hear them oppose illegal immigration from Canada?) Religious extremists cannot admit that they oppose feminism and LGBTQ people because they are afraid of out-of-control sex.
Third, the GOP is helping bring about the collapse of civilization due to climate change. In fact, some experts have concluded that we have already passed the point at which the civilzationaly collapse is inevitable. The GOP has done everything possible to bring about a result worse than genocide and they happily facilitate it. As Belkin puts it, “The collapse of civilization will be worse than genocide, yet the GOP is happy to enable it. If a political party is willing to facilitate an outcome worse than genocide, then why would it oppose authoritarianism? The answer is that it would not.”
While Trump and the GOP are obvious threats to the rule of law they are ultimately symptoms, not causes of the problem. (Aristotle long ago taught me the importance of the rule of (rational) law as opposed to rule by the irrational passions of people.) Instead, the real cause of ” Republican radicalism is the triangular relationship among capital (e.g., the Koch brothers), the right-wing media (e.g., Fox News), and resentment voters (whom Hillary Clinton accurately labeled “deplorables”), the latter being the roughly 40 percent of the public who still believe Trump is doing a good job.”
This implies that even without an unqualified, unfit, despicable figure like Trump in the oval office,
Fox News will continue to manufacture paranoia to motivate resentment voters to vote for capitalists who will head to Washington to lower taxes, deregulate the economy and undermine democracy. The GOP’s capital wing cares about tax cuts and deregulation and, thanks to Fox News, has an unlimited capacity to manufacture paranoia. Its resentment wing cares about making scapegoats suffer, and has an unlimited capacity for consuming paranoia. Neither wing cares about anything else. Not fairness. Not national interest. Not democracy. Not the rule of law.
Can these trends be halted at the ballot box? Belkin is pessimistic. For the even after wave elections in 1992, 2006, 2008 and 2018 Republican Party became more radical. Why?
Even the most mild-mannered Republican … must govern, once in office, as a radical, no matter how sweet their smile or how gentle their manner. They are just as captured by the triangular relationship between capital, right-wing media and resentment as their more explicitly frothy colleagues. Brett Kavanaugh, after all, hails from the genteel, country club wing of the GOP, yet it took no time at all for him to unveil his radicalism, in both style and substance, at his confirmation hearing.
The implication of all this “is that if Democrats fail to take dramatic action in 2021, it will not matter if they occasionally win elections, because Republicans will continue to control the country, even when they are not in power.” Consider the following:
- Thanks to gerrymandering, dark money and voter suppression, it will remain very difficult for Democrats to capture the levers of power. They will require wave elections to do so;
- Thanks to the GOP’s unprecedented willingness to obstruct, it will remain almost impossible for Democrats to pass laws, even when they win elections;
- Thanks to the theft of the Supreme Court, Justice Roberts and his colleagues will shred or sharply curtail the few laws that Democrats manage to pass. When a party has a tough time winning elections, even when it captures (far) more than 50% of the vote; when that party is not allowed to govern even when it wins at the ballot box; and when that party’s laws are shredded by stolen courts even when it manages to govern, that’s not democracy. That’s single-party rule.
Thus “If corrective action is not taken soon … democracy effectively will be dead. Under this scenario, the country could even experience a real or manufactured crisis, prompting lawless GOP leaders to suspend the Constitution. At that point, all bets will be off.”
What then must be done to save democracy from single-party authoritarian rule?
Thanks to demographic trends, it will soon be all but impossible for Democrats to win a majority in the U.S. Senate. There is, however, a reasonable remedy on the table, and one last chance to un-rig the system and restore democracy. If Democrats hold the House of Representatives in 2020 and manage to capture the White House and Senate, they can (according to the Brennan Center) add up to 50 million voters to the rolls if they enact an aggressive version of HR 1, the democratization bill that House Democrats passed as their first order of business upon returning to power this year.
The expanded version of HR 1 would need to mandate an automatic right to vote, automatic voter registration, election holidays and early voting; enfranchise ex-offenders; provide a quick path to citizenship for all law-abiding immigrants as well as statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico; and ban voter suppression, dark money and gerrymandering. In order to pass such a law, Democrats would need to kill the filibuster. In order to give the law a chance to endure, Democrats would need to expand the Supreme Court, because the current court will not let Congress restore democracy.
While “A growing chorus of leaders and voters recognize that democracy is dying” Belkin argues that unles “the system can be un-rigged and the rule of law can be restored before it’s too late … we’re probably done as a democracy.”
In previous posts I’ve made arguments similar to those above. There is no doubt that people seek power and the corporate wing of the GOP, using propaganda to control the resentment wing, desires all the wealth and power of society for themselves. Ironically, while this may serve their short-term self-interest, it will not serve their long-term interest, or at least the interests of their descendants. Unfortunately, most of them don’t care about the future so in the end greed will likely destroy us all. I hope I’m wrong, but fear I’m right.
(For more here are some of the best recent books on the today’s political situation.)