Sunday, March 26, 2023

Why Republicans No Longer Believe in Democracy

Seven years ago I was asked to write a review of Zachary Roth's book, "The Great Suppression." More than anything I'd read up until then, it helped me connect the dots about what was going on with the Republican Party. 

Roth documented how the race/class/gender exclusions that were originally built in to our founding were never completely abandoned by conservatives. He went on to discuss how those attachments 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.”

Back in 2016, the examples Roth used to describe the Republican strategy of suppression included the normalization of the filibuster to block progress in the Senate, voter suppression, gerrymandering, judicial engagement, and preemption. 

In case you haven't heard of that last one, it is "a legal doctrine that allows a higher level of government to limit or even eliminate the power of a lower level of government to regulate a specific issue." At the time that Roth was writing his book, examples of how Republicans were using preemption included North Carolina's infamous HB2 bill against the city of Charlotte’s ordinance affirming the rights of LGBT people and efforts to overrule minimum wage increases and paid sick leave in states like Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Michigan.

The problem for Republicans is that - even in deeply red states - urban areas are still strongly Democratic. For example, as of March 2023, 62% of the mayors of the 100 largest cities are Democrats. That includes cities like Houston, Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Kansas City, Atlanta, Raleigh, New Orleans, and Norfolk. 

What's even more pronounced is that - especially in the former confederate states - many of those Democratic mayors are African American. For example, in Georgia, there are currently 19 African American mayors in cities ranging from Atlanta (population 506,000) to Keysville (population 300). 

The same thing is true for district attorneys. Notice anything in particular about the prosecutors in the picture above - Bragg, Willis, and James - who are conducting investigations of Trump?

All of this is why Sherrilyn Ifill has written an important piece titled, "The Republican Plan to Make Voting Irrelevant."

This effort—to remove powers from elected representatives who are Democrats—has become the new method of disenfranchising voters and maintaining perpetual Republican political power. And it is being undertaken with alarming frequency and speed across the country. This may be the most dangerous and efficient structural attack on our democracy. Its threat, and pernicious ingenuity, lies in its ability to make voting itself irrelevant. Voters may turn out in high numbers and elect their candidates of choice, but if the official is not one whose views align with those of the Republican Party, they may find that their powers of office are removed by antagonistic GOP-controlled legislatures.

We have seen this phenomenon most readily applied to so-called progressive prosecutors who have run successfully on platforms of criminal justice reform across the country...Indeed, bills have been filed in more than a dozen states to remove power from reform-minded prosecutors from Polk County, Iowa, to Mississippi...

Now this practice of power reallocation, as with all voter-suppression techniques first workshopped on Black communities in the South, has metastasized into a national phenomenon. Unchecked, it will make the act of voting a Potemkin exercise and upend the very concept of representative government.

What she's describing is an even more muscular form of preemption - something we haven't seen in this country since the confederate states went after the reforms of the Reconstruction era.

Similarly, Will Bunch has written that "Republicans are taking over stuff run by Black people because the GOP hates democracy." He notes that Texas Gov. Abbott is taking over Houston schools and the Mississippi legislature in considering a bill that "would take at least some of the judicial system in the Black-majority capital city, and control of the police, away from elected officials and put it into the hands of the heavily GOP statehouse." He adds that:

Increasingly, Republicans are using their control of statehouses in red America to simply override election results in blue-dot localities that they don’t like, but especially when the ballot box winners are the choice of Black and brown voters...In 2023, there is nothing subtle about the antidemocratic and arguably fascist bent of this effort

What is becoming increasingly clear is that Republicans only tolerated democracy as long as white men were the voting majority. When that is no longer the case, they move to "make the act of voting a Potemkin exercise and upend the very concept of representative government."


  1. I've always said that the U.S. is on the right track if the white patriarchy feels threatened and is trying everything and anything to maintain its status quo. We saw this after Reconstruction, as Nancy notes, and we're seeing it again. The problem is, of course, the political ignorance of the average American who really has no clue as to what is going on until it's too late. The gerrymandering of Nashville's U.S. House districts is a good example of this. Many people thought that there was no way that Tennessee's legislature would go to such lengths (i.e. the "It can't happen to me" fallacy). Yet, here we are and I'm truly surprised that Tennessee's legislature hasn't gone after Memphis too, which would fit in with Nancy's narrative in this post; Potemkin voting indeed.

  2. This is a thorough article in the R's present-day attempts to dominate the outcomes of our elections. Nancy's detailed writing on this topic is worth reading carefully and sharing with friends.

    1. Agreed. Kevin Drum today compares it to Calvinball.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Two articles in the Wednesday NY Times bear on and strongly confirm Nancy's post. One says that, despite a right-wing move in Idaho, efforts to restrict voting rights are unpopular, especially with younger voters, and in fact losing. However, it continues, the GOP truly is committed to those efforts, and that commitment can help them.

    “ 'When these ideas are first floated, people are aghast,' said Chad Dunn, the co-founder and legal director of the UCLA Voting Rights Project. But he cautioned that the lawmakers who sponsor such bills tend to bring them back over and over again.

    “ 'Then, six, eight, 10 years later, these terrible ideas become law,' he said."

  5. The second is an op-ed piece by Thomas Edsell. His opinion with an air of scholarship, running on at enormous lengths, drives me crazy, but here it's interest. He contrasts two ideologies, calling the right tightness and the left looseness (which to me betrays a tin ear, but never mind). The right, he argues centers on fear -- a fear of loss of existing hierarchies. Yet it means this sincerely as a moral position, one that condemns liberals for upholding inclusivity and inquiry, which it equates with a belief that anything goes. It is also willing to live with authority, injustice, and inequality in order to maintain hierarchies; indeed they go naturally together.

    Now, this rings true to me on a few grounds. First, it gets at our criticism of the idea that conservatives just feel economic anxiety, which can be addressed by caring about economy and not just the culture wars. Rather, the Democrats really have an economic plank, intolerance really is a factor, and anyway Trump voters are not those most in economic straits. Rather, we're talking anxiety only to the extent that it's fear of a loss of privilege. Second, a close right-wing friend asked how I could possibly take a stance since I must believe that all views are equally valid and worth respecting.

    But it's also interesting in its insight into how right vs wrong has transformed into us vs them. And, it seems to me, once you reach that point, its only a small step further to the idea that the only thing that matters is winning.


Durham to Right Wingers: "Blame Hillary"

Just before Bill Barr resigned as Trump's attorney general, he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassell and...