What a Minority Does to Maintain Power

Josh Marshall is right to point to this article by Michael Barone as an important indicator of what is driving our politics these days. Noting that Clinton will win the state of California by something like 62 points, Barone literally warns that without the electoral college, white America would be colonialized by “those people” in California.

California has been called the Left Coast for quite a while. Just about everyone in Silicon Valley except Peter Thiel and in Hollywood except Pat Sajak supported Clinton. White middle class families have been pretty well priced out of the state by high taxes and housing costs, and the Hispanic and Asian immigrants who have replaced them vote far more Democratic…

California’s 21st century veer to the left makes it [electoral college] a live issue again. In a popular vote system, the voters of this geographically distant and culturally distinct state, whose contempt for heartland Christians resembles imperial London’s disdain for the “lesser breeds” it governed, could impose something like colonial rule over the rest of the nation. Sounds exactly like what the Framers strove to prevent.

Allow me a brief detour to wonder how those Hispanic and Asian immigrants are managing to survive in a state that “priced out” white middle class families. But we’ll have to leave that discussion to another day. Barone never tackles that one.

Another thing Barone doesn’t mention in his attempt to scare people about being overrun by the Hispanic and Asian immigrants in California is that the same phenomenon that he describes in that state is also at work reducing Republican margins in red states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia. In other words, if he feels the need to halt the “colonialization” of white America – he’d better get to work in those states, regardless of whether or not the electoral college survives.

But Josh Marshall also notes the bigger picture.

This is the mindset of a person and, I think, a political movement that fears that their power cannot be maintained in the context of majoritarian democracy. It’s of a piece with voter suppression, voter ID checks, expulsion of undocumented immigrants — the nationalist surge that drove the outcome of this election.

This is precisely why I have been saying for a while now that, if you want to understand the nexus of what Republicans are up to these days, you should read Zachary Roth’s book, The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy. In it he describes what is motivating much of their agenda.

Today’s conservatives have no such confidence that the people are on their side. In fact, they are beginning to perceive that they’re in the minority – perhaps more glaringly than ever before. And yet this realization has brought with it another more hopeful one: being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.

That is the tie that binds everything from voter suppression, to reliance on the filibuster during the Obama years, to gerrymandering, to preemption and judicial engagement. I would add a couple of things to that list, like a reliance on right wing (and now fake) news as well as strategies used by leaders like Paul Ryan to financially undermine Medicare in order to make a case for privatization. If Republicans were convinced that the majority of people were on their side, they wouldn’t have to rely on distortions.

As Roth documents so thoroughly, Barone is right that Republicans are aligning themselves with the Framers of our constitution – before it was amended. Just as Barone fears the idea of “heartland (read: white) Christians” being overrun by “culturally distinct” Californians, our founders feared “mob rule.”

Hamilton said the system should allow the ‘rich and the well born’ to maintain their supremacy, since they would oppose radical change pushed by ‘the many.’ The goal, he said, was to ‘check the imprudence of democracy.’

Much of the work of perfecting our union via amendments to the document they created has been about efforts to undo the supremacy of “the rich and the well born” (read: rich white men).

Marshall ends his comments on Barone’s article with this:

This does not mean that 2016 was a hiatus on the way to the Democratic millennium and that Democrats just need to hold on until the Trump coalition shuffles off the stage. That is definitely not what I mean. What I think it does mean is that the kind of ‘last election’ apocalyptic speechifying we saw this fall from Trump and others did not and will not end with Trump’s unexpected victory. We are still in that moment. It continues to permeate everything in our politics.

I concur. These days our politics are permeated by the attempt of a minority party to hold on to power. They may be outnumbered, but Republicans are determined to use every trick in the book to keep from losing.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.