Republicans Have Reason to Fear ‘Mob Rule’

It’s clear that the Republican talking points about how to characterize the resistance to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been distributed. Here is Trump repeating on Twitter what he said during a rally in Kansas:

Mitch McConnell told the Washington Post, “I want to thank the mob, because they’ve done the one thing we were having trouble doing, which was energizing our base.” During a press conference following the vote to confirm Kavanaugh he said, “We refuse to be intimidated by the mob of people that were coming after Republican members.”

Prior to the vote, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said “This should have been a respectable and dignified confirmation process. My colleagues should say no to mob rule.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically according to mob rule.”

Conservative writers and talkers have picked up the theme. Shari Goodman wrote that “mob rule has come to America,” while Scott Jennings concluded his column in USA Today by writing, “Rejuvenated conservatives have been reminded about what’s at stake, and to what depraved depths the liberal mob will sink to win.” But on Fox News, Greg Gutfeld wins the prize for the most bizarre “mob rule” reference.

As someone who is fairly steeped in knowledge about Christian theology, I have to say that I have never heard that “Christ died so that the mob wouldn’t survive.” That is the most grotesque twisting of Christian theology I have ever heard.

It is obvious that these attempts to characterize opponents who protest as a “mob” is one more attempt by Republicans to gin up fear and outrage among their base. It is also worth noting that we didn’t see any reference to a mob when white supremacists and neo-Nazis took to the streets in Charlottesville. Instead, the Republican leader referred to them as “very fine people.”

As we watch all of this unfold, keep in mind that it is the Republican Party who often refer to themselves as “strict constructionists” when it comes to the Constitution. The truth is that our Founding Fathers were also worried about mob rule, even as they espoused that “all men are created equal.” In his book, The Great Suppression, Zachary Roth documents how they finally settled on letting states decide which white males would be allowed to vote. Here are some quotes from that era:

“Mobs will never do to govern states or command armies.” John Adams

In his only major speech at the Constitutional Convention, [Alexander] Hamilton said the system should allow the “rich and well born” to maintain their supremacy, since they would pose radical change pushed by “the many.” The goal, he said, was to “check the imprudence of democracy.”

[Roger Sherman] thought state legislatures should elect members of the House and Senate, too. The people, he said, “should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want [ie, lack] information, and are constantly liable to be misled.”

It is very clear that, for our Founding Fathers, the idea that democracy would give equal rights to all men and women was viewed as providing an opening for mob rule. It was also clear that the mob they feared consisted of women, people of color, and the poor who didn’t own property. In other words, it was the triumvirate of sexism, racism, and classism. In their minds, it was the minority of white male landowners who were equipped to vote and govern.

Over time, our country has struggled with the dissonance of calling itself a democracy while originally limiting the vote to the minority of white men. Republicans are still working on those limits with their attempts to suppress the vote. But men like Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Brett Kavanaugh have reason to fear the empowerment of what they so casually call “the mob.” Rebecca Traister documented what is at stake:

White men are at the center, our normative citizen, despite being only around a third of the nation’s population. Their outsize power is measurable by the fact that they still — nearly 140 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment, not quite 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, and more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — hold roughly two-thirds of elected offices in federal, state, and local legislatures. We have had 92 presidents and vice-presidents. One-hundred percent of them have been men, and more than 99 percent white men.

But it’s not just in the numbers; it’s also in the quotidian realities of living in this country. The suffocating power of our minority rule is evidenced by the fact that we’re always busy worrying about the humanity — the comfort and the dignity — of white men, at the same time discouraging disruptive challenge to their authority.

What we are witnessing when Republicans fear-monger about “mob rule” is actually the same threat our Founding Fathers worried would be posed to minority rule by rich, white men. In any way that is meaningful, we’re still in the process of fighting a battle to live out the ideal of a democracy that empowers “we the people.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.