“There is no sense in avoiding or diluting the magnitude of this turn in our story: One major political party no longer accepts democracy.”
The author of this sentence is the former Obama White House speechwriter Ben Rhodes, writing recently in The Atlantic, but it could have flowed from the keyboard of a hundred different writers in the post-Trump, post-Jan. 6 era. That conservatism and the Republican Party have turned against government by the people, that only the Democratic Party still stands for democratic rule, is an important organizing thought of political commentary these days.
So let’s subject it to some scrutiny — and with it, the current liberal relationship to democracy as well.
First, there’s a sense in which conservatism has always had a fraught relationship to mass democracy. The fear of mob rule, of demagogues rallying the masses to destroy a fragile social order, is a common theme in many different right-wing schools of thought, showing up among traditionalist defenders of aristocracy and libertarians alike.
To these general tendencies, we can add two specifically American forms of conservative anxiety about the franchise: the fear of corrupt urban-machine politics that runs back through the 1960 presidential election to the age of Tammany Hall and the racist fear of African American political power that stamped the segregation-era South.
Because all these influences touch the modern G.O.P., conservative skepticism about mass democracy was a somewhat normal part of American politics long before Donald Trump came along — and some of what’s changed in the Trump era is just an events-driven accentuation of existing tendencies.
Republicans have long feared voter fraud and noncitizen voting, for instance, but the fear — and for liberals, the oft-discussed hope — that demographic change could deliver permanent Democratic power has raised the salience of these anxieties. Likewise, Republicans have long been more likely to portray America as a republic, not a democracy, and to defend our system’s countermajoritarian mechanisms. But today this philosophical tendency is increasingly self-interested, because shifts in party coalitions mean that those mechanisms, the Senate and Electoral College especially, advantage Republicans somewhat more than in the recent past.
But then things get complicated, because the modern Republican Party is also the heir to a strong pro-democracy impulse, forged in the years when Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon won crushing presidential-level majorities but conservatives felt themselves constantly balked by unelected powers, bureaucrats and judges especially.
This experience left the right deeply invested in the idea that it represents the true American majority — moral, silent, what have you — while liberalism stands for elite power, anti-democratic forms of government, the bureaucracy and the juristocracy and the Ivy League.
And that idea and self-image have remained a potent aspect of the right-wing imagination even as the old Nixon and Reagan majorities have diminished and disappeared: With every new age of grass-roots activism, from the Tea Party to the local-education revolts of today, the right reliably casts itself as small-d democrats, standing boldly athwart liberal technocracy singing “Yankee Doodle.”
Against this complicated backdrop, Trump’s stolen-election narratives should be understood as a way to reconcile the two competing tendencies within conservatism, the intellectual right’s skepticism of mass democracy and comfort with countermajoritarian institutions with the populist right’s small-d democratic self-image. In Trump’s toxic dreampolitik there’s actually no tension there: The right-wing coalition is justified in governing from a minoritarian position because it deserves to be a true electoral majority, and would be if only the liberal enemy weren’t so good at cheating.
So seen from within the right, the challenge of getting out from under Trump’s deceptions isn’t just a simple matter of reviving a conservative commitment to democracy. Trump has succeeded precisely because he has exploited the right’s more democratic impulses, speaking to them and co-opting them and claiming them for himself. Which means a conservative rival can’t defeat or replace him by simply accusing him of being anti-democratic. Instead the only plausible pitch would argue that his populism is self-limiting and that a post-Trump G.O.P. could win a more sweeping majority than the one his supporters want to believe he won already — one that would hold up, no matter what the liberal enemy gets up to.
But if that argument is challenging to make amid the smog of Trumpenkampf, so is the anti-Trump argument that casts American liberalism as the force to which anyone who believes in American democracy must rally. Because however much the right’s populists get wrong about their claim to represent a true American majority, they get this much right: Contemporary liberalism is fundamentally miscast as a defender of popular self-rule.
To be clear, the present Democratic Party is absolutely in favor of letting as many people vote as possible. There are no doubts about the mass franchise among liberals, no fears of voter fraud and fewer anxieties than on the right about the pernicious influence of low-information voters.
But when it comes to the work of government, the actual decisions that determine law and policy, liberalism is the heir to its own not exactly democratic tradition — the progressive vision of disinterested experts claiming large swaths of policymaking for their own and walling them off from the vagaries of public opinion, the whims of mere majorities.
This vision — what my colleague Nate Cohn recently called “undemocratic liberalism” — is a pervasive aspect of establishment politics not only in the United States but across the Western world. On question after controverted question, its answer to “Who votes?” is different from its answer to “Who decides?” In one case, the people; in the other, the credentialed experts, the high-level stakeholders and activist groups, the bureaucratic process.
Who should lead pandemic decision making? Obviously Anthony Fauci and the relevant public-health bureaucracies; we can’t have people playing politics with complex scientific matters. Who decides what your local school teaches your kids? Obviously teachers and administrators and education schools; we don’t want parents demanding some sort of veto power over syllabuses. Who decides the future of the European Union? The important stakeholders in Brussels and Berlin, the people who know what they’re doing, not the shortsighted voters in France or Ireland or wherever. Who makes important U.S. foreign policy decisions? Well, you have the interagency process, the permanent regional specialists and the military experts, not the mere whims of the elected president.
Or to pick a small but telling example recently featured in this newspaper, who decides whether an upstate New York school district gets to retain the Indian as its high school mascot? The state’s education commissioner, apparently, who’s currently threatening to cut funds to the school board that voted to keep it unless they reverse course.
Whereas the recent wave of right-wing populism, even when it doesn’t command governing majorities, still tends to champion the basic idea of popular power — the belief that more areas of Western life should be subject to popular control and fewer removed into the purview of unelected mandarins. And even if this is not a wise idea in every case, it is a democratic idea, whose widespread appeal reflects the fact that modern liberalism really does suffer from a democratic deficit.
Which is a serious problem, to put it mildly, for a movement that aspires to fight and win a struggle on behalf of democratic values. So just as a conservative alternative to Trump would need to somehow out-populist him, to overcome the dark side of right-wing populism, American liberalism would need to first democratize itself.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, bruised by scandal and faced with an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, is refusing to change course. “We have a chance,” he bullishly proclaimed on Jan. 4, “to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.”
Public health experts may disagree. Yet Mr. Johnson is at least being consistent — not only with his conduct throughout the pandemic, where lockdowns were a last resort and restrictions were to be shelved as soon as possible, but also with the political platform that elevated him to the highest office. After all, this is the man who rose to power — bringing about Brexit in the process — on the promise to restore “freedom” and “take back control.”
Undeterred by the pandemic, Mr. Johnson has been quietly pursuing that agenda. But instead of reforming the country’s creaking democracy and shoring up Britons’ rights, he and his lieutenants are doing the opposite: seizing control for themselves and stripping away the freedoms of others. A raft of bills likely to pass this year will set Britain, self-professed beacon of democracy, on the road to autocracy. Once in place, the legislation will be very hard to shift. For Mr. Johnson, it amounts to a concerted power grab.
It’s also an answer. Mr. Johnson is a political chameleon, and his true ideological bent — liberal? one-nation Tory? English nationalist? — has long been a subject of speculation. Now he has, beyond any doubt, revealed who he really is: a brattish authoritarian who puts his personal whims above anything else. And whatever his future, Britain will be remade in his image.
Amid the chaos wrought by the pandemic, Brexit tumult and increasing questions about the stability of Mr. Johnson’s individual position, the full scale of the impending assault on civil liberties has — understandably — not yet come into focus for much of the British public. The list of legislation is long and deliberately overwhelming. But pieced together, the picture is bleakly repressive.
First, there’s the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, a draconian and broad piece of legislation that effectively bans protest in England and Wales. The police would be equipped to shut down demonstrations that create “serious disruption.” Those who break this condition, which could be done just by making noise, would face prison sentences or hefty fines. Combined with other measures, such as outlawing traditional direct-action tactics like “locking on,” the bill could eventually make it almost impossible to attend a demonstration without committing an offense.
Yet it goes beyond protest, putting minority groups in the cross hairs. New trespass provisions, which make “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle” a criminal offense, would essentially erase nomadic Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities from public life. And the expansion of police powers would not only allow officers widespread access to private education and health care records, but also pave the way for suspicionless stop and search. Ethnic minority communities, disproportionately singled out for police attention, are likely to bear the brunt of such overreach.
Similarly punitive is the Nationality and Borders Bill. Stiffening Britain’s already hawkish immigration policy, it seeks to criminalize asylum seekers who take unsanctioned routes: Refugees who arrive by boat, for example, could face up to four years in prison, regardless of the validity of their claim for safe haven. And if claimants escape traditional jail, they would be kept in concentration camp-style housing and offshore processing centers, sites long denounced by human rights activists.
Not even British citizens are safe from the dragnet. A provision slipped into the bill in November by its architect, the home secretary, Priti Patel, would endow the government with the power to remove British citizenship from dual nationals without notice. Those singled out might not even have recourse to the law: Proposed reform of the Human Rights Act would make it easier for the government to deport foreign nationals and deny them claims of mistreatment.
Such draconian measures, in time, are sure to be contested. But the government has a plan for that: draining the life blood from democracy. There’s the Elections Bill, which — alongside potentially disenfranchising millions through the introduction of mandatory voter ID — aims to furnish the government with new powers over the independent elections regulator, sealing up the political process. Unless substantially amended, the bill’s consequences could be constitutionally far-reaching.
The urge to centralize power also underlies the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which would enable Mr. Johnson and his ministers to overrule judicial review findings that challenge their agenda. The Online Safety Bill, ostensibly designed to regulate Big Tech, is yet to be introduced to Parliament. But many free-speech advocates fear that it could be used to silence critics on social media, censoring those reporting details Mr. Johnson’s government would rather keep from public view. No more pesky judges or overly inquisitive journalists interfering with government business.
It’s a truism that nations sleepwalk into tyranny, and England — the most politically powerful of the nations comprising Britain — is no exception. For decades it has possessed all the necessary ingredients: ever more spiteful nationalism, press fealty sold to the highest bidder and a fervent, misplaced belief that authoritarianism could never set up shop here, because we simply wouldn’t let it.
In this event, though, concerted opposition to Mr. Johnson’s plans has not materialized. Establishment politics have been no match for the determination of Mr. Johnson and his allies: A hefty and largely supportive Conservative majority means that even when the Labour Party has decided to oppose legislation, its votes have barely counted. And despite valiant efforts by a coalition of grass-roots groups and the initial groundswell of the “Kill the Bill” protests, a mass movement opposing these bills has failed to come together. Instead, a miasma of grim inevitability has settled in.
That’s dangerous, not least because this authoritarian assault is so comprehensive that once settled as law, it will prove very tricky to unpick. Like many leaders who seek to transcend the constraints of democracy, Mr. Johnson may not foresee a future where he isn’t the one calling the shots. But the miserable shadow his power grab will cast over Britain is likely to last far longer than the tenure of the would-be “world king” himself.
His place in the history books, however, is secured. He will forever be the libertine whose pursuit of personal freedom and “control” saw his countrymen robbed of theirs.
Lee Camp talks to Greg Palast, New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist, about how he knows the 2016 election will be stolen and by whom.
A discussion on the General Agreement on Trade with Sir James Goldsmith and Laura D’Andrea Tyson.
- Charlie Rose’s dismissive attitude towards Mr Goldsmith seems to reflect the establishment view.
- Laura D’Andrea Tyson concedes his point about outsourcing, but says the horse is out of the barn and it won’t get worse. She argues the Uruguay round will help American firms export more, while Goldsmith says instead that firms will setup factories in the lowest-cost developing world and ship to the developed world.
Mehdi poses a hypothetical about a 2024 Republican-controlled Congress certifying a Democratic elected president, and, well, @ruthbenghiat and @NormOrnstein’s answers speak for themselves… pic.twitter.com/GXAE7wXt1L
— The Mehdi Hasan Show (@MehdiHasanShow) May 19, 2021
It is unusual for Stephen Miller to say a true thing in public. But he does have a point.
But before we get to that, let’s stand back and take it all in. Whether you think of Miller as Trump’s Joseph Goebbels or Trump’s Grima Wormtongue, it is unusual for a Republican who’s worked at that level to say the quiet part out loud. Or at least it used to be. But he’s saying that: Republicans can’t win without cheating. Republicans can’t win in a real democracy.
So okay, he didn’t literally say that, though the meaning was pretty clear. He was a little more subtle. Just a little.
That’s a very scary thing. And so if you care about democracy, you should all say with one voice, no, it is the right of every state in this union to set their own election rules as desired by their own citizens to protect the security and integrity of their own elections. That’s fundamental!
He’s claiming that we can’t have democracy unless every state gets to “set their own election rules”, eg, rig the election as they see fit. No standards. No guarantees of democracy. But even Miller can’t exactly say that. Because no one needs to say that. If you really believe in democracy, all you need to say is that, first, laws must guarantee that every voter gets to vote, in a reasonable, safe way, with no need to wait in long lines, no need to skip a day’s wages or pay any other structural poll tax. That voting should be encouraged and easy. Take Delaware… I voted online in 2020!
Now, let’s assume we finally have truly fair elections, and everyone who choses to vote gets to vote. Can the Republicans win? Yes! Of course the Republicans can win. Just not these Republicans! A party that’s only able to claim 30–40% of the country’s vote, a party that’s only able to win by cheating — and don’t forget about the gerrymandering that’s given the Republicans a huge structural advantage — that party can’t win.
But a party is the sum of its policies and leaders. And the mathematics of our voting system ensure that there can be up to two strong political parties long term. And funny thing — we’ve had the Democrats and Republicans since 1860. Talk about stability. So what Republicans who oppose voting rights, who oppose democracy, are telling you is not that the Republican Party can’t survive, and we’ll have Democrats forever. What they’re really telling you is that some of today’s Republicans are incompatible with democratic elections, and would not be elected in a true democracy. Which means that, next election, the Republican Party would nominate someone else. And if that candidate lost, someone after that. Eventually they’d figure out how to actually appeal to constituents again, rather than stealing elected office. Which is precisely what they have been doing across the country.
So yeah, Miller would be out of politics. The Republican Party? They’d be just dandy. Any who knows, maybe even “Grand” again at some point, if they could see a return to democratic principles, honesty, and reality.Daniel Wong: I do not understand this and Stephen Miller is not the only one who says this. I thought people voted a particular way because they favored the policies of one side over the other. So people vote for Democrats because they favor Democrat policies. Similarly, people will not vote for Democrats if they do not favor Democrat policies.
According to what Stephen Miller is saying, that means that the Republican party MUST be voted in whether their potential voters favor their policies or not! That doesn’t sound like a Democracy to me. Democracy, means rule by the people. The people “rule” by every 4 or 6 years, picking the leaders who would represent them. Instead of forcing people to vote for Republicans, why don’t Republicans change their policies so that people will vote for those policies?
As most people already know or suspect, centrist Democrats are not far away from Republicans. The Trump supporters are way out in right field. Sanders, AOC et al left field. It would not be that difficult to work on a set of policies that are desirable to BOTH centrist Democrats and Republicans. Why does Stephen Miller think that the voters must change before even considering that the Republican party change its policies?
Look at it from another direction. Why did all the GOP presidential candidates lose to Trump in the 2016 primaries? Why was the Republican platform so weak that an outsider could take out their leading candidates? Could it be that the Republican party is just a little out of its time? Shouldn’t it look towards renewing itself instead of forcing its supporters to vote for it no matter what they put up? Stephen Miller doesn’t really care about policies helping Republican voters. He wants the voters to vote for Republicans first. What they do latter is not an issue.
- The Democrats bungle up something so badly that people are going to the vote for the Republicans just because they are not the Democrats
- The Republicans go shift their policies so they appeal to a larger part of the population
- The Democrats go shift their policies to something more extreme, making more moderate Democrats consider the Republicans a valid, or even the preferred option
- Another party rises as a third party, then takes over from the Republicans a
Based on current voting patterns and some analysis I’ve seen from people I trust to be objective, I’d say that the Republican party, as it currently stands, is in trouble.
Biden has proposed a number of new bills such as the infrastructure bill and the Coronavirus relief bill since assuming the presidency. These bills have all been hotly opposed by the Republican lawmakers but are reported to have high popularity among the voting public at large. The Coronavirus bill, for example, I saw had 70% support among the general public. This suggests that even many
Republican voters support at least some of the current Democrat policies.
And the lawmakers know this. This is why they’ve gone all out on the voting fraud platform as what seems to be their only current policy – introducing legislation to try to limit voting rights (though they don’t call it that…) so that less demographics that routinely vote Democrat can do so easily.
What they need to do, what a mature and grown up political party would do, is assess the reasons why those demographics don’t vote for them and rebrand. Reinvent themselves to better represent what modern Republicanism means. Then, there may be a way for them to actually gain the presidency without the need to cheat or suppress the vote.
Of course not. But what it does mean is something even scarier for Miller – his beloved party would need to change to attract more members to make it relevant.
We have two parties because all our elections are “first past the post” – so coalitions do their best to get 51% of the voters. Well, in a system that has democratic underpinnings.
And this is why so many members of the GOP want things to remain lopsided as they are – because it means that it’s quite likely that as the party shifts, they might lose their primaries. It’s similar to the reason why the GOP has been emasculated by Donald Trump, in that respect. But if they keep losing elections, then a coalition of people will gather that can present a platform that suits them better than either the current GOP platform (which is, literally, “Whatever Donald Trump thinks we should believe”), and the current Democratic Party platform.
This is why parties shift positions around all the time – it’s to try and win over a majority electorate.
And here’s why:
Miller’s statement assumes that the GOP will never adapt. I know, the very notion of republicans engaging in the meaningful self reflection necessary to change the party and platform does seem silly, but this is what political parties *do*. The Democrats were the right-wing conservative part in 1870 – one hundred years, it was the Republicans. Parties change.
In addition, if the Democrats suddenly had unfettered power, it would splinter since democrats are far from monolithic There are many in the party who are fairly fiscally conservative but very socially liberal, while there are many who are are very fiscally liberal and some who are more socially conservative. The party would fracture over time. It’s just natural.
The key thing about Miller is that he’s like a nazi chicken-little and should just be ignored. Period. Forever.
The Democrats are not saints, nor are they very good politicians – they drop their winning hands constantly. If voting rights are protected and citizens are allowed to vote, both political parties in the United States will cease to exist. The Democrats are merely the anti-Republicans and are in fact terrible politicians – which I blame 100% on the party leadership that tries to walk the Republican-lite NEOCON tightrope while pandering to human rights and ethics they rarely if ever deliver.
I expect if the United States ever manages to achieve fair and just elections, both political parties are dead as toast and a multiple new parties will emerge in a political mayhem for a generation while politically naive people figure out how their true political beliefs are composed and supported and not the spoon-fed capitalist propaganda that has been the baby formula fed to the nation since forever.
The Democrats can, and should, be in power exactly as long as their ideas appeal to the majority of the populace. The exact same thing is true of the Republicans. And *that* is the way it ought to be. If the Republicans feel they are losing ground, then instead of trying to rig the game, or take advantage of existing rigging of the game such as the Electoral College, they should give a good hard think as to *why* they are losing ground and figuring out how to rebuild their shrinking appeal. This is a (small-d) democratic (small-r) republic, after all.
Trump and many of the G.O.P.’s leaders seem to think so, with ominous consequences for the future.
Of the many stories to tell about American politics since the end of the Cold War, one of growing significance is how the Republican Party came to believe in its singular legitimacy as a political actor. Whether it’s a hangover from the heady days of the Reagan revolution (when conservatives could claim ideological hegemony) or something downstream of America’s reactionary traditions, it’s a belief that now dominates conservative politics and has placed much of the Republican Party in opposition to republican government itself.
It’s a story of escalation, from the relentless obstruction of the Gingrich era to the effort to impeach Bill Clinton to the attempt to nullify the presidency of Barack Obama and on to the struggle, however doomed, to keep Joe Biden from ever sitting in the White House as president. It also goes beyond national politics. In 2016, after a Democrat, Roy Cooper, defeated the Republican incumbent Pat McCrory for the governorship of North Carolina, the state’s Republican legislature promptly stripped the office of power and authority. Wisconsin Republicans did the same in 2018 after Tony Evers unseated Scott Walker in his bid for a third term. And Michigan Republicans took similar steps against another Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, after her successful race for the governor’s mansion.
Considered in the context of a 30-year assault on the legitimacy of Democratic leaders and Democratic constituencies (of which Republican-led voter suppression is an important part), the present attempt to disrupt and derail the certification of electoral votes is but the next step, in which Republicans say, outright, that a Democrat has no right to hold power and try to make that reality. The next Democrat to win the White House — whether it’s Biden getting re-elected or someone else winning for the first time — will almost certainly face the same flood of accusations, challenges and lawsuits, on the same false grounds of “fraud.”
It’s worth emphasizing the bad faith and dishonesty on display here. At least 140 House Republicans say that they will vote against counting certain electoral votes on Wednesday. Among them are newly seated lawmakers in Georgia and Pennsylvania, two states whose votes are in contention. But the logic of their objection applies to them as well as Biden. If his state victories are potentially illegitimate, then so are theirs. Or take the charge, from Ted Cruz and 10 other Senate Republicans, that multiple key swing states changed (or even violated) their election laws in contravention of the Constitution. If it’s true for those cases, then it’s also true of Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, unilaterally expanded voting, however meagerly. And yet there’s no drive to cancel those results.
The issue for Republicans is not election integrity, it’s the fact that Democratic votes count at all.
That said, not every Republican has joined the president’s crusade against self-government. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas shares the presidential ambitions of Cruz and Josh Hawley and others who want to disrupt the electoral vote count. But where they see opportunity, he sees blowback. Here he is in a statement released by his office:
If Congress purported to overturn the results of the Electoral College, it would not only exceed that power, but also establish unwise precedents. First, Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people, which would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress. Second, Congress would imperil the Electoral College, which gives small states like Arkansas a voice in presidential elections. Democrats could achieve their longstanding goal of eliminating the Electoral College in effect by refusing to count electoral votes in the future for a Republican president-elect.
So do seven of his Republican colleagues in the House, who similarly argue that this stunt will undermine the Republican Party’s ability to win presidential elections:
From a purely partisan perspective, Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the last 32 years. They have therefore depended on the Electoral College for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation. If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes — based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election — we will be delegitimizing the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024.
But even as they stand against the effort to challenge the results, these Republicans affirm the baseless idea that there was fraud and abuse in the election. Cotton says he “shares the concerns of many Arkansans about irregularities in the presidential election,” while the House lawmakers say that they “are outraged at the significant abuses in our election system resulting from the reckless adoption of mail-in ballots and the lack of safeguards maintained to guarantee that only legitimate votes are cast and counted.” Even as they criticize an attempted power grab, they echo the idea that one side has legitimate voters and the other does not.
It’s hard to say how anyone can shatter this belief in the Republican Party’s singular right to govern. The most we can do, in this moment, is rebuke the attempt to overturn the election in as strong a manner as possible. If President Trump broke the law with his phone call to Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia — in which he pressured Raffensperger to “find” votes on his behalf — then Trump should be pursued like any other citizen who attempted to subvert an election. He should be impeached as well, even if there’s only two weeks left in his term, and the lawmakers who support him should be censured and condemned.
There’s no guarantee that all this will hurt the Republican Party at the ballot box. But I think we’re past that. The question now is whether the events of the past two months will stand as precedent, a guide for those who might emulate Trump.
The door to overturning a presidential election is open. The rules — or at least a tortured, politically motivated reading of the rules — make it possible. Moreover, it is a simple reality of political systems that what can happen eventually will happen. It may not be in four years, it may not be in eight, but if the Republican Party continues along this path, it will run this play again. And there’s nothing to say it can’t work.