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Democracy is trampled to death by an elephant


Perry Bacon Jr. summarizes the reasons for profound pessimism about the potential for democracy in America. The biggest problem is the most obvious:

By far the biggest problem is the Republican Party. Presented with a clear chance to move on from Trumpism after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the GOP has instead continued its drift toward anti-democratic action and white grievance. The future looks scary. A Republican-controlled House could attempt to impeach Biden in 2023 and 2024 on basically any pretext, as payback for Trump’s two impeachments. If Republicans win the governorships of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin next year, taking total control in those key swing states, they could impose all kinds of electoral barriers for the next presidential election. The Republicans are laying the groundwork to refuse to certify a 2024 Democratic presidential victory should the GOP hold a House majority.

“The radicalization of the Republican Party has outpaced what even most critical observers imagined,” Georgetown University historian Thomas Zimmer told me. “We need to grapple with what that should mean for our expectations going forward and start thinking about real worst-case scenarios.”

Further, Republicans are poised to take a lot of undemocratic actions at the state level, where they already have total control in 23 states. Expect to see Republicans elsewhere gerrymander legislative districts the way they have in Wisconsin, where it is now virtually impossible for Democrats to win a majority in either house of the legislature. GOP-controlled state governments are both blocking cities from implementing new policies and reversing old ones, preventing the Democratic-leaning jurisdictions from determining how their communities are run. America won’t be much of a democracy, Zimmer said, if it has a federal system in which more than 20 states “resemble apartheid South Africa more than a functioning multiracial democracy.”

And all indications are that another group of Republicans, the six GOP appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, either embrace the party’s anti-democratic drift or aren’t going to do much to halt it.

And while Democrats should be united in responding to this emergency, well:

And finally, moderate Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans either don’t appreciate the direness of the situation or don’t care. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) seem to value their reputations as being bipartisan more than protecting the voting rights of people who look like me. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s (Utah) response to a law clearly designed to make it harder for liberal-leaning people in Georgia to cast ballots was to criticize … the media for covering the law too harshly.

Of course, this is where American institutions produce an anti-democratic feedback loop; if we had democratic elections for the legislature nobody would have to give a shit if Joe Manchin thinks protecting voting rights is too divisive. And it’s not much of a reach for Republicans who have been told by the Supreme Court that it’s cool if they gerrymander themselves into permanent power to decide that they don’t have to accept losses in presidential elections either.

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