Chipping away at democracy
By Charles M. Blow
On Jan. 6, as Donald Trump was revving up the rioters who would attempt an insurrection at the Capitol, just a short distance away, he said to them: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Almost five months later, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, fought like hell to block a bipartisan independent commission to investigate what happened during that insurrection and what caused it.
It is yet another clear indication to me that America wasn’t ceasing to be a country, it was ceasing to be a democracy.
Indeed, I don’t believe that Trump was saying that the country would end. Rather, the white nationalist president was saying to his overwhelmingly white horde of supporters that white supremacy in a white nation that honors the culture and legacy of white people, at the exclusion of others, was in jeopardy.
And how does a segment of the population that is losing its numerical majority — as the populations of other ethnic and racial groups, particularly Hispanics and Asians, surge — maintain control in a democracy? It abandons the basic tenets of democracy, that’s how. It redefines democracy smaller. It excludes more people from participation, while granting more power to others.
Republicans’ blocking the independent commission to look into an insurrection that targeted the Capitol on the day that Congress was set to certify the results of the presidential election is extraordinary in every way.
Republicans refused to defend democracy from a mob that came to upend it.
But it isn’t only Republicans in Congress chipping away at democracy, it’s happening all around the country. The latest raft of voter suppression bills is another example. Republicans don’t want to appeal to the existing and evolving electorate, they want to shave it down to a form more desirable to them.
Perhaps one of the more pernicious features are measures, like those in a Texas bill, that would make it easier for states to overturn results of an election. As The Houston Chronicle put it, not only would the bill change the burden of proof for fraud charges from “clear and convincing evidence” to “preponderance of the evidence,” a related measure would then “allow a judge to overturn an election if the total number of ballots found to be fraudulent exceeds the margin of victory.” The Chronicle continued, “In such cases, a judge could ‘declare the election void without attempting to determine how individual voters voted.’”
On the front end, Republicans are trying to limit the numbers and kinds of people who can vote, and on the back end, they are trying to give themselves the option of voiding those votes.
Another part of limiting participation is also to rail against more people — particularly those not coming from Europe — entering the country and becoming citizens.
One of the biggest hangups to getting comprehensive immigration reform has always been the trepidation Republicans felt about making more Hispanics citizens, since they vote about 2-to-1 against Republicans and for Democrats.
That is the reason that the Trump administration even wanted to limit legal immigration, and cap the entry of refugees and to do away with the so-called visa lottery.
Then, there is the influence on elections that the uber-wealthy — overwhelmingly white people in this country — are allowed to have on our elections, especially since the atrocious Citizens United ruling.
A recent report by Issue One found that “just 12 megadonors — at least eight of whom are billionaires — contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups between January 2009 and December 2020,” and that those donations “means that 12 megadonors and their spouses — a total of 19 individuals — accounted for about $1 of every $13 in federal politics” over that period.
America was not founded as a true democracy. Only wealthy white men were initially allowed to choose the leaders of this country, and I doubt the framers of the Constitution ever considered it would work differently than that. But, over the centuries, we have expanded the vote and moved closer to the ideal of democracy.
But, those moves have always been met with extreme resistance. And at times, they have been dialed back. Just look at the way Jim Crow was used after Reconstruction to crush the enfranchisement of Black people.
We are entering a new era of extreme restriction, of white supremacy and white oligarchy, and Republicans are attempting to maintain power by redefining democracy backward. They want to take “their” country back, back to a time when white people had complete control of the halls of power, the levers of industry and the crafting of narrative.
Most Republican senators couldn’t vote for the independent commission, because the people attempting the insurrection were their voters. The insurrectionists didn’t so much want to completely destroy democracy but to redefine democracy as a system in which their voice held more weight, determinative weight. The insurrectionists want the same thing as the Republican Party that shields them.