GOP In Open Revolt Against Democracy
There is no doubt that Donald Trump has, to put it mildly, shown no respect for our democratic norms and the rule of law. But the focus on the President’s violations often obscure similar transgressions by his administration and the Republican party in general around the country. And, more and more, both Trump and the GOP stand in open defiance of the rules of our democracy.
While Democrats have been continually pressed for almost all of this decade to reach out to that supposedly moderate Republican voter, Republicans, with the help of the Supreme Court, have spent the entire decade doing everything in their power to deny people the right to vote, to make it as difficult as possible for those who are allowed to vote to actually do that, and ensuring that the power of those voters who traditionally vote Democratic is sufficiently diluted to allow the GOP to maintain power even when they lose the popular vote by substantial margins.
Nowhere is there a better illustration of this effort to defy democracy than North Carolina. Remarkably, since the GOP legislature’s redistricting efforts in the wake of the 2010 census, every electoral map that has been used in every state or federal election since then has been declared illegal, either as a racial or extreme partisan gerrymander. Some voters in the state have never voted in an electoral district that has not at some point been ruled illegal this entire decade. At present, the challenge to North Carolina’s federal electoral map is being heard by the US Supreme Court and the case against its state map will be heard in State Superior Court in July.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, the Republican North Carolina legislature passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. That law was eventually struck down in 2016 by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals as illegally disenfranchising African American voters, as it “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision”. The GOP legislature then used its supermajority status to introduce a softer version of the 2013 voter ID law as a constitutional amendment which was passed by the voters last year. That has also been struck down by a state district judge on the basis that the amendments were proposed by an illegally racially gerrymandered legislature. That ruling will certainly be appealed by the legislature.
In 2016, when Republican dominance in the state was finally broken with the election of a Democratic governor and a 4-3 Democratic majority on the State Supreme Court, the GOP legislature passed a number of laws in a special session, subsequently ruled unconstitutional, that would strip the governor of certain powers and also reportedly considered the idea of packing the Supreme Court before the newly elected members were sworn in as well. The legislature did subsequently override the Democratic governor’s veto in order to change the rules on how Supreme Court justices would be elected in a failed attempt to win back control of the Court in 2018 and considered once again packing the Supreme Court if a Republican win for a Court seat created a 4-3 split on the Court in their favor. That plan was never tested as the Democratic won the seat creating a 5-2 Democratic advantage.
In North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District in 2016, the winning candidate in the Republican primary may have won by engaging in voter fraud by suppressing absentee ballots for his opponent, Mark Harris, and forging absentee ballots for himself. In 2018, Harris, running against a Democrat to take the seat his GOP primary opponent in 2016 had won, used the exact same fraud to “win” his election. The 905 vote margin of victory was the closest result in that district in over half a century. As the allegations and evidence of the absentee ballot fraud emerged, the election was not certified and a special election to finally fill the seat is scheduled later this year.
As the brouhaha over the GOP voting fraud scandal was raging, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, Robin Hayes, was indicted for bribery and wire fraud as part of an attempt to bribe the state’s insurance commissioner by using campaign contributions provided by a powerful GOP donor and funneled through the party who was attempting to influence the commission to benefit his own business. During the investigation into the bribery charge, Hayes apparently also lied to FBI agents.
Now, as we wait for the aforementioned US Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of North Carolina’s current federal election districts, it appears that the North Carolina legislature lied to federal courts when it received a stay from drawing new maps and holding a special election in 2017 after the 2016 map was ruled an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. In that case, the legislature based their claims for a stay on the fact that they had not even begun the process of attempting to draw new electoral districts that would pass constitutional muster and it would be impossible to do so before the court-ordered special election in 2017.
However, recent documents provided by the daughter of a recently deceased gerrymandering expert who was retained to prepare the electoral maps for the North Carolina legislature shows that he had largely completed the task one month before the legislature claimed that the work had not even begun. In addition, the legislature subsequently claimed in court that race was not even considered as a criterion when those new districts were finally created. The documents provided, however, show that the gerrymandering expert had the racial breakdown of every voting district when he drew the new maps that were subsequently adopted by the legislature and are now awaiting a ruling on their constitutionality from the US Supreme Court.
So, yes, North Carolina under Republican leadership has it all – the voter suppression, the corruption, the extreme partisan gerrymandering, the refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of elected Democrats, the effort to control the Supreme Court, the willingness to lie to authorities and courts, and even a little actual voter fraud to boot. But the state is really just illustrative of how deep the rot extends into the entire Republican party and not just its titular head, President Trump. Trump has, of course, engaged in similar activity. He created the aborted voter fraud commission to target Democratic voters. Corruption is rampant within his administration. He refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Democratic House, denying them documents and testimony they are entitled to and defying legally authorized subpoenas. His campaign and administration has been filled with people who lied under oath, to Congress, to the FBI, and in court. Trump is just the culmination of corruption and anti-democratic behavior in the Republican party that has been going on for years.
Virtually all of the shenanigans in North Carolina have been replicated in other Republican controlled legislatures as well. Voter suppression and extreme gerrymandering have been implemented in Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, to name a few. Just recently, the Texas governor was caught demanding the removal of tens of thousands of primarily Democratic voters from the rolls based on a totally flawed methodology for checking whether they were citizens. Similarly, efforts to strip powers away from incoming Democratic governors were made by Republican legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan. In West Virginia and Pennsylvania there have been efforts to pack the Supreme Court. And, of course, Mitch McConnell himself denied the legitimacy of the Obama presidency by refusing to give Merrick Garland a hearing. Republican controlled legislatures in other states, such as Idaho, Missouri, and Florida, have used their power to overturn democratically passed ballot initiatives and restrict the ability of voters to bring future initiatives. Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t been replicated in other GOP states and legislatures is outright voter fraud, but one could persuasively argue that fraudulently denying people of their right to vote is essentially the same thing.
Now, the Republican intelligentsia, if you can call it that, is openly debating whether classical liberal democracy and adherence to the rule of law is really worth it anymore. For them, the expansion of rights for blacks, for women, for homosexuals and the LBGTQ community is simply a bridge too far. A manifesto from various pro-Trump conservatives declares “the old conservative consensus paid lip service to traditional values. But it failed to retard, much less reverse, the eclipse of permanent truths, family stability, communal solidarity, and much else. It surrendered to the pornographization of daily life, to the culture of death, to the cult of competitiveness. It too often bowed to a poisonous and censorious multiculturalism…We seek to revive the virtues of liberality and neighborliness that many people describe as ‘liberalism’. But we oppose any attempt to conflate American interests with liberal ideology. When an ideological liberalism seeks to dictate our foreign policy and dominate our religious and charitable institutions, tyranny is the result, at home and abroad”.
One of the manifesto’s authors continued in a separate piece attacking a never-Trump conservative, “that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good…Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty”. Ross Douthat, while minimizing the crisis that the manifesto’s authors invoke, equates the Democrats’ flirtation with socialism, which he, to his credit, argues is just balancing libertarianism with economic populism, as a similar potential harbinger of questioning of liberal democracy, writing, “All of which hints that a genuinely post-liberal politics might, indeed, someday be required — to save liberal civilization from dystopia or disaster”.
Douthat and the writers of the manifesto represent the conservative Catholic wing of conservativism which believes itself under relentless assault from the liberal order, despite having Catholics as a majority on the Supreme Court and a President and a Senate leader who have transformed the federal court system with an infusion of religious conservatives. This Catholic wing is largely aligned with the Protestant evangelical wing of conservatism that makes no bones about their desire to impose a Christian theocracy. These strains then readily intermingle with the racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic white nationalists who believe that white culture is endangered by the “Great Replacement” as minority populations grow. These groups have little belief that the current liberal order and the rule of law are working in their interests and have strong belief that it actually works against them.
Put all that together with a structural Republican party that is facing a similar demographic assault but has become so reliant on grift and addicted to its own power and you end up with the assault on our electoral and democratic institutions that we have seen not only in Republican states like North Carolina but also in the Trump presidency. And that makes it no coincidence that the 2020 Republican convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.