A little over two years ago, I reviewed Zachary Roth’s book, The Great Suppression. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, I suggest that you read my summary, because his thesis is proving to be more prescient every day.
Roth lays out how this country’s founding fathers expressed concern for “mob rule,” similar to what we’ve heard from Republicans lately. That explains the anti-democratic items that were included in our constitution, which not only validated enslaving African Americans, but also restricted the vote to white male landowners, allowed state legislatures to select members of the senate, and instituted the electoral college.
Here is how that’s relevant to events we are witnessing today:
The reason that Roth reminds us of this history is because, as he documents, those race/class/gender exclusions that were originally built in to our founding were never completely abandoned by conservatives in this country…
Roth points out that these arguments from conservatives have gained currency during the Obama years. It’s not simply because the country elected its first African American president – it’s how he won. Beginning in the 1970’s, Richard Nixon referred to the “silent majority.” Through the Reagan years we heard a lot about the “permanent Republican majority.” As Roth says, “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 context in which we should put the efforts by Republicans North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan today. As Kevin Drum points out, it all began when a Democrat was elected governor in North Carolina back in 2016.
But that didn’t mean everything was over. After all, there was another month left in which lame duck Republican Pat McRory was still governor and the Republican legislature was still running things. So they did something unique: they passed a series of bills that stripped the governor of some of his powers.
Paul Waldman provides a good summary of how Republicans are duplicating that strategy in both Wisconsin and Michigan after the recent midterm elections.
In Wisconsin, Republicans used an extraordinary gerrymander to hold on to 64 percent of seats in the state assembly despite the fact that Democrats won 53 percent of the popular vote. They are now using that majority to attack the authority of the newly elected governor and attorney general, both of whom are Democrats. Their legislative measure would scale back the governor’s power in multiple ways, and would allow lawmakers to replace the attorney general with taxpayer-funded private attorneys. The latter is an obvious attempt to prevent the state from withdrawing from a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act. They are also seeking to drastically cut back early voting, which will likely hurt Democrats.
In Michigan — where Republicans also used their gerrymander to retain control of the state legislature despite winning fewer votes than Democrats — Republicans are responding to a Democratic sweep of statewide offices by giving the legislature the ability to overrule the attorney general on state lawsuits and take authority over campaign finance regulation away from the secretary of state. They are also considering a bill to cut off voter registration 14 days before every election, in effect overruling a same-day registration initiative voters just passed.
The reason all of that is necessary is because Republicans are increasingly finding themselves in the minority. Waldman writes this in conclusion:
There is no greater threat to Republican power than full, free and fair elections, where it’s easy to register, everyone’s allowed to vote, everyone’s vote counts and both parties have an equal chance to win. If that were actually how things worked, the GOP would be routed, as the party understands well.
In fighting to keep that from ever happening, there’s almost nothing Republicans won’t do, and they’re pretty sure they can get away with it.
Wisconsin’s GOP Senate Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, attempted to justify their actions in that state.
“The manufactured outrage by the Democrats right now is hilarious,” Fitzgerald told WISN’s conservative radio host Jay Weber on Monday. “I mean, most of these items are things (that) we never really had to kind of address because guess what — we trusted Scott Walker and the administration to be able to manage the back and forth with the Legislature. We don’t trust Tony Evers right now in a lot of these areas.”
Note how that tactic is a subversion of the democratic process. It is not for Fitzgerald and his Republican friends to decide who can be trusted. The voters made that choice on November 6. But his statement reminded me of something Doug Muder wrote back in 2014. His article was titled “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party.” Four years later, there is no such thing as the Tea Party because it has become indistinguishable from the GOP. So we could update Muder’s title to: “Not a Republican Party, a Confederate Party.” Here is how they’re one in the same:
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.
For Fitzgerald and other Republicans in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan, elections can come and go. But in their view, “the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order.” They are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the “divinely ordained way things are supposed to be.”
Underneath everything else that is happening with our politics these days, that is the fundamental struggle we face today. Just as Zachary Roth traced it all back to our founding fathers, Rebecca Traister—writing the day after the midterms—reminded us that it is the same struggle that has defined us all along.
Tuesday’s results were in fact perfectly coherent, very much in line with the fight we have long been immersed in. That fight is — as it has been since this nation’s founding — a fight over two concepts central to our nation’s origins, its progress, and its future: the promises of and restrictions on political representation and political enfranchisement.
Progressives yearned for a clean wave last night, the swift correction of what many liked to imagine as a fluky clerical error two years ago…The harder thing to absorb has been the fact that Donald Trump, and the party that created and sticks with him, is not a fluke. He and they are the living, powerful embodiment of an old American theory about who should get to participate, who should get to have power, whose voices should be heard, whose votes count.
As we watch Republicans do everything they can to avoid losing, even when they’re outnumbered, it is important to keep that historical context in mind. It helps us remember what we are fighting for and what is at stake: our democracy.