As we approach the anniversary of the violent attack on the Capitol, the prevailing argument on the left and much of the center is that the Republican Party is a new threat to American democracy. This is a misjudgment that exaggerates and underestimates the danger we face.
In the past year, Republicans have used their grip on state governments to Jerrimander constituencies in their favor, except securing a GOP majority in the House in 2022. They have made it harder for citizens disproportionately colored to vote. They have made it easier for Republican officials to sabotage the conduct and outcome of elections. Many fear that Donald Trump and his thugs could reverse the results of a free and fair election in 2024, which they failed to do in 2020.
Meanwhile, despite control over all the elected branches of the federal government, the Democrats did not pass Freedom to vote lawthat will lift Republican restrictions on voting rights, establish national rules and standards for access to ballots, prevent biased congressional divisions of constituencies, and ensure that government officials cannot undermine elections.
In other words, we have one party currently stripped of power in the national government, trying to establish a future in which it can lose an election but legally gain or retain power. We have a second party that is currently in power and is doing little to stop the first.
While scholars warn about fascism on the one hand, and pundits argue about the awakening, on the other, a broader and more detailed view shows how blind both of these assessments are. The path of the right to power does not go through street violence, mass rallies, fake news, or lawless coups. The weakness of the left has nothing to do with critical racial theory and the abolition of culture. Both statements suffer from the same flaw: they focus on the fields, not the matrix.
Two forces are driving Republican initiative and Democratic momentum. The first is a decades-long project by the right to legally restrict the scope and reach of democracy. Secondly, it is the Constitution, which makes it difficult for the national majority and simplifies the management of local minorities. What happened on January 6 is much less significant than what happened before January 6, and what has happened and has not happened since then.
The widespread opinion among journalists and scientists, lately expressed by Thomas Edsall v The newspaper “New York Times, is that “democracy – meaning equal representation of all citizens and, most importantly, majority rule – has effectively become the enemy of the modern Republican Party.”
Equal representation of citizens has not become the enemy of the modern Republican Party. He has been an enemy for over half a century. Ronald Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 from the start, explaining later that he considered it “humiliating to the South.” When the law was renewed for the third time in 1982, Reagan’s attorneys at the Justice Department, led by John Roberts, strongly resisted him and really needed amendments to him. When renewals were called for again in 2006, the act nearly split the Republican faction in the House of Representatives in two.
At the center of Republican opposition to the Voting Rights Act is Section 5, described by the historian J. Morgan Kusser as “one of the most innovative government mechanisms since the New Deal.” Section 5 provides that states, counties, and localities with a history of discriminatory voting rules and practices must obtain permission or “prior authorization” from the federal government to make any changes to an electoral “standard, practice, or procedure.” As the burden of proof falls on these jurisdictions, they must demonstrate that the intent or effect of changing them is not racial discrimination.
Well-versed in the ingenuity and initiative of white supremacy, the authors of Section 5 understood that equal representation for all citizens requires nationalizing voting standards and proactive action by the federal government to protect those standards. If local white officials had not been prevented from “stacking” or “hacking” black votes in advance – concentrating black voters in one constituency and weakening their power elsewhere, or weakening their power by distributing their votes among constituencies – African Americans would not be guaranteed equal representation in the state.
When the first updated Voting Rights Act was introduced in 1970, Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell immediately targeted Section 5. A proposal to abolish Section 5 was included in the bill in the House of Representatives. Led by minority leader Gerald Ford, 129 Republicans (nearly three-quarters of the GOP faction) joined 79 Democrats, overwhelmingly from the South, to pass the bill. Although the bill ultimately failed in the Senate, the campaign to repeal Section 5 was again unsuccessfully pursued by the Ford and Reagan administrations. When Reagan’s lawyers faced opposition in Congress, they did what Nixon’s lawyers did, narrowing section 5 down to internal memoranda and summaries.
In 2013, when Roberts took over the Supreme Court, Republicans finally got their way, effectively killing Section 5 in court. Shelby County vs. Holder… Although Cornell University political scientist Suzanne Metler tells Edsall that the GOP is “a long-standing party that until recently helped defend democracy,” the racial machinations and the restrictions on voting rights that we see today were put in place by leading party members over fifty years ago.
Democracy is not only the enemy of the Republican Party. It is also the enemy of the Constitution. Americans associate the Constitution with popular freedoms such as due process of law and free speech. They overlook the architecture of government that poses huge barriers to equal representation and majority rule in all three branches of government. Republicans are not trying to reverse the long and storied history of democratic rules and regulations. They walk through the open door.
The 20th century lulled many Americans into thinking that the Electoral College was a vestigial appendix-like organ. 21st century citizens know better. Having witnessed two presidential elections in which the candidate with the most votes lost, they know that majority or majority rule is not a necessary characteristic of the presidency. There is no equal representation: on the Electoral College, a Wyoming citizen’s vote is worth three to four times as much as a California citizen’s.
The division of Congress into two chambers also reflects the Constitution’s antipathy to equal representation and majority rule. Too many states Alexander Hamilton complained, “Is governed by a single democratic assembly or has a senate entirely based on democratic principles.” In unicameral legislatures, a democratic majority is described by James Madison as those who “work in spite of all the hardships of life and secretly sigh for a more even distribution of its benefits” – have too much power to pursue their “equalizing” plans. However, if the legislature is divided into two parts, and the upper house reflects the interests of the wealthy minority, “which is placed above the feeling of poverty”, the plans of the majority will be thwarted.
Although the founders rejected the idea of a hereditary body such as the House of Lords, they still agreed to a compromise whereby the Senate would represent states rather than individuals. Contrary to popular belief, Madison thought the main concern of these states was not so much with the size of their population as with the source of their labor force, whether enslaved or free. The consequences of this split are still present in the Senate, which Jonathan Chait accurately described as “the most powerful source of institutional racism in American life.”
While some long-standing wealthy democracies have upper chambers, the United States one of the very few give its upper house equal power with the lower house. Extreme inequality in Senate representation with one Wyoming vote equal to that The 67 residents of California are even more unique. The combined effect of these two features of Congress, – wrote the prominent Yale political scientist Robert Dahl., is to “preserve and protect unequal representation ”and“ build a barrier to majority rule ”.
American racial politics, past and present, demonstrate the power of this observation. Between 1800 and 1860, the will of the majority with the right to vote was repeatedly expressed in the House of Representatives, which passed eight bills to combat slavery. The will of the slave-owning minority was repeatedly enforced in the Senate, which terminated these measures. In the first half of the 20th century, the majority chamber adopted a variety of civil rights protections, from anti-lynching bills to the abolition of the poll tax. Each time, these bills were rejected in the Senate.
Now the popular majority has elected a party to Congress and the White House that seeks to pass legislation protecting the right to vote, especially among the descendants of the enslaved, and the integrity of democratic elections. This democracy-promoting law is designed to counter the anti-democratic actions of Republican politicians who are 12 states, control one or both branches of the state legislature despite winning only a minority of the votes cast or wielding power with a disproportionate majority of votes far exceeding the number of votes cast for them. Though The house has passed One iteration of this law seems likely the Senate will kill any version of it – with a coalition of senators representing millions fewer citizens than the coalition that supports the bill.
If passed into law, the bill would have to pass a final constitutional counter-majority trial in the Supreme Court, where it could easily be rejected by five or six conservative justices of the court. All of these judges were appointed to the Court in accordance with constitutional procedures, which is fully consistent with the fact that three of these judges were appointed by the president, elected with fewer votes than his opponent, and five of these judges were approved by a group of senators representing fewer voters than the senators who voted against their approval.
If there is any consolation in this sad story, it is that this is a typical American story. We are not faced with imports or the imposition of a new regime of government. We don’t need tortured analogies or spectacular theories to understand this. We are in the same constitutional hurdle race that past generations had to overcome or throw themselves through. Whether we are at the beginning, middle or end of this path, as always, remains an open question.