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.
Beware of busloads of voters with phony mustaches.
Midterm election update from the Department of Irony:
Republicans have been warning us about the danger of voter fraud for ages. And now it does appear that a major congressional race was impacted by that very type of evil-doing.
The fictional version of voter fraud involves sinister characters — possibly illegal immigrants! — showing up at the polls repeatedly, perhaps disguising their nefarious intent by wearing different hats or an occasional false mustache.
“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times … Millions and millions of people,” said Donald Trump. He’s been running on this theme since he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. We will not even bother to envision what Election Day would look like if millions and millions of extra voters were standing in line.
There’s also Trump’s more recent argument that voters should have to have special IDs because “if you go out and you want to buy groceries you need a picture on a card. You need an ID.”
.. “We don’t see voter impersonation fraud anywhere in the country because it would be such a dumb way to steal an election,” said Richard Hasen, the author of “The Voting Wars.” When he was researching his book, Hasen said, he looked for a good example of multiple-voting and never found one.
.. Really, candidates of the future, if you want to steal an election just find ways to keep the other side from participating. You could try tweeting threats. (“Cheat at your own peril.”) Or simply using the whole voter fraud issue to make it more difficult for people to register, and more self-conscious about how they’ll be treated if they show up at the polls... It involved a couple of counties with large African-American and rural populations, and the victim was the Democrat. Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, is the party’s new dream red-district combo: Ivy League college graduate/Marine, who found faith while fighting in Iraq and was baptized in water from the Euphrates River. People thought he had a chance, and on election night things were close, very close. But the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, a conservative former pastor, seemed to be about 900 votes ahead. McCready conceded... Then — whoops — it appeared those counties had been the site of some extensive “ballot harvesting.” This happens when supporters of one candidate go out and encourage people to request absentee ballots, which they then reap like so many rows of soybeans. Sometimes they help a voter fill out a ballot. Sometimes, if a voter doesn’t seem to be following the preferred line, they lose said ballot on the way to the mailbox.
.. free to notice that Trump has never bothered to mention any concern about absentee ballots. “It’s the absentee ballots that are most ripe for fraud,” said Roberts. “People have been saying that for years.”
Meanwhile in North Carolina, the Republican State Legislature is hard at work on a constitutional amendment to require voter IDs.