Democracy Was On the Ballot

Way back in 2003, Deval Patrick recounted a statement by Grover Norquist that captures a lot of what we’ve seen from Republicans over the last eight years.

At our 25th college reunion in 2003, Grover Norquist — the brain and able spokesman for the radical right — and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.

One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”

Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.

I thought of that while reading accounts of how North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and the Republican legislature are rushing to put restraints on the governor’s power now that Democrat Roy Cooper has been elected to the office.

Legislation introduced in the state House on Wednesday would mandate that the governor’s cabinet appointees be approved by the state Senate and would cut the number of political appointees that serve under the governor from 1,500 to 300. This comes after the legislature drastically expanded the number of “exempt positions,” which are often political in nature, under McCrory in 2013.

The bill would also eliminate the governor’s ability to appoint members to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina System and to the state education board.

Republican legislators are also pushing for changes to the state elections board. Legislation in the state Senate would merge the State Board of Elections with the ethics commission, giving the new board subpoena power. It would also expand the board from five to eight members, with four members from each party.

This will eliminate Democrats’ control over the state election board.

This is the kind of thing Zachary Roth was referring to when he wrote:

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.

Roth goes on to describe the various assaults on democracy that are being embraced by Republicans in order to avoid losing, even in the minority. Doug Muder wrote about about how these attacks on our democratic institutions are fueled by igniting a confederate insurgency:

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

Donald Trump’s behavior during the campaign and the willingness of so many Republicans to stay silent about it, have provoked a lot of discussion about the erosion of democratic norms that could pose a serious threat to this country. This is why, just prior to the election, President Obama said that democracy was on the ballot. We are now in the midst of watching that play out at both the national and state level.

There are going to be a lot of provocations from Republicans over the next few years that will ignite resistance from liberals. It will be important to keep this particular threat in mind when identifying both priorities and strategies.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.