The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian

Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab.

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

.. If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.

.. What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form:

  • takeovers or intimidation of the news media,
  • rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters,
  • new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote,
  • corrupted courts.

.. The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively

  • taken over the bulk of the media;
  • destroyed the independence of the judiciary;
  • rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents; 
  • gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and
  • altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.

Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control.

.. the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, “are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose.”

.. Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.

.. you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren’t reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Wisconsin.

.. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices’ power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.

.. What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.

.. In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don’t matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.

.. As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned

  • the power grab in Wisconsin,
  • the similar grab in Michigan, or even
  • what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina.

.. Elected Republicans don’t just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice; they also share those parties’ contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.

.. Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren’t so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points.

.. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we’d be well along the path to permanent one-party rule.

Instead, we’re heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.

.. But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.

.. The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.

People vs. Money in America’s Midterm Elections

They seek to restore access to a middle-class life by providing decent, well-paying jobs, reestablishing a sense of financial security, and ensuring access to quality education – without the chokehold of student debt that so many graduates currently face – and decent health care, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. They call for affordable housing and a secure retirement in which the elderly are not preyed on by an avaricious financial sector. And they seek a more dynamic, competitive, and fair-market economy by curbing the excesses of market power, financialization, and globalization, and by strengthening workers’ bargaining power.

These perquisites of a middle-class life are attainable. They were affordable a half-century ago, when the country was substantially poorer than it is today; and they are affordable now. In fact, neither America’s economy nor its democracy can afford not to bolster the middle class. Government policies and programs – including public options for health insurance, supplementary retirement benefits, or mortgages – are crucial to realizing this vision.

.. In a normal democracy, these ideas would, I am confident, prevail. But US politics has been corrupted by money, gerrymandering and massive attempts at disenfranchisement. The 2017 tax bill was nothing short of a bribe to corporations and the wealthy to pour their financial resources into the 2018 election. Statistics show that money matters enormously in American politics.

For Hope in Trump’s America, I Read Sojourner Truth

I’ve been reading Sojourner Truth’s famous 1851 speech, “Ain’t I a Woman.”

“I could work as much and eat as much as a man, when I could get it, and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne 13 children and seen most of them sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

.. When Truth asked the group of mostly white women in her audience whether she was a woman, she was not simply pointing to the hypocrisy of Western thought in which nations and “civilized” societies were built on the enslavement, murder and exploitation of women and children. Truth’s question was a provocation, a challenge to a racial structure built on the dehumanization of an entire group of human beings.

.. The barbarity of American slavery should be recalled more often, if only to truly understand the significance of its demise. It was

  • the grief of losing one’s child,
  • being raped,
  • beaten,
  • tortured and
  • separated from your own
  • language,
  • family and friends at a whim.

.. It was a system that normalized and codified its everyday brutality. It was life in constant fear and punishing, exacting labor. And it was completely legal.

.. Who successfully sued a white man to get back her son.

.. For example, Truth, in fact, had only five children, not 13 — an embellishment attributed to those who later transcribed the speech for the illiterate former slave.

.. I think of her standing in a courtroom to claim her child and I remind myself that this is what freedom means.

.. I participated in the Occupy movement, during which a crossracial coalition of people from New York to Honolulu protested income inequality, gentrification, police brutality and unjust incarceration. The movement had many successes, but in its immediate aftermath we saw widespread crackdowns in cities around the country on people’s ability to interact and exist in urban outdoor spaces — policies that have aided efforts to criminalize the nation’s homeless and pre-emptively arrest other vulnerable populations.

.. In order to have hope, I have to believe that, after the backlash, things — for black Americans and other oppressed people here and around the world — will change again.

.. For black Americans, the struggle of emancipation is riddled with its failures: sharecropping, lynching, segregation, disenfranchisement and brutal, unfair treatment by the criminal justice system.

.. John Lewis said in a recent tweet, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair.

Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.”

 

What Government Interest Is Served by Disenfranchising Felons?

The bumpy path of Desmond Meade’s life meandered to its current interesting point. He is a graduate of Florida International University law school but cannot vote in his home state because his path went through prison: He committed non-violent felonies concerning drugs and other matters during the ten years when he was essentially homeless. And Florida is one of eleven states that effectively disqualify felons permanently.

Meade is one of 1.6 million disenfranchised Florida felons — more people than voted in 22 states in 2016. He is one of the 20 percent of African-American Floridians disenfranchised. The state has a low threshold for felonious acts: Someone who gets into a bar fight, or steals property worth $300 — approximately two pairs of Air Jordans — or even drives without a license for a third time can be disenfranchised for life.

.. What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety? How? Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate? This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons, who really do not require reminding, of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully re-entering the community.

Racism: Avoiding Explanations that Suggest No Remedy

I think, a political and moral error to content oneself with explanations that suggest no remedy at all, or that suggest prima facie problematic responses like ridiculing, ignoring, disenfranchising, or going to war with large groups of fellow citizens, unless no other explanations are colorable. It turns out that there are lots of explanations consistent with increased susceptibility to racist appeals that also suggest remedies less vague and more constructive than, say, “fighting racism” or censoring the right-wing press.