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The crack up

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Movie poster advertises ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ directed by D.W. Griffith and illustrating a Ku Klux Klan member on horseback, 1915. Based on the novel ‘The Clansman’ by Thomas Dixon. (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)

Here’s an interesting and grimly sobering interview with political scientist David Faris, about prospects for democracy in a nation where one of the two major parties has become openly opposed to the concept:

The most destructive thing that Trump did on his way out the door was he took the Republicans’ waning commitment to democracy and he weaponized it, and he made it much worse to the point where I think that a good deal of rank-and-file Republican voters simply don’t believe that Democrats can win a legitimate election. And if Democrats do win an election, it has to be fraudulent.

So 2020 felt like a test run. The plot to overturn the 2020 election never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that, which I never thought was particularly likely. But the institutional path that they pursued to steal the election failed because they didn’t control Congress and they didn’t control the right governorships in the right places.

So I worry complacency has set in on the Democratic side and people are lulled into thinking things are normal and fine just because Biden’s approval ratings are good.

Of course there’s still an opportunity to do something about all this at the federal level, but time is slipping away, and Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema continue to seem somewhere between indifferent and actively hostile to taking any effective action. If both of them can’t be swayed from their current intransigence, the remaining options are . . . not good:


It’s bleak. I don’t know what else to say.

Democrats have to get extremely lucky next year. They either need to luck into the most favorable environment for the president’s party that we haven’t ever had for a midterm election or … I don’t know. There’s not much else they can do. None of these democracy reforms can get through on a reconciliation bill. If Democrats don’t pass nonpartisan redistricting, they’re going to be fighting at a huge disadvantage in the House. That’s the ballgame.

Progressive activists are going to pour a billion dollars into the Florida Senate race, and then [Marco] Rubio is going to win by 10 points. So if they don’t act, it’s very simple. The Democrats will have to fight on this extremely unfair playing field against a newly radicalized Republican Party that is going to pull out all the stops in terms of voter suppression to win these elections, on top of the situation where they’re making other changes to state laws that could allow them to mess around with results in other ways, like what we’re seeing in Georgia now.

There’s a very circular structure to this kind of proto-authoritarianism. You have anti-democratic practices at the state level that produce minority Republican governments that pass anti-democratic laws that end up in front of courts that are appointed by a minoritarian president and approved by a minoritarian Senate that will then rule to uphold these anti-democratic practices at the state level.

And so there is no path to beating some of these laws through the courts. The Supreme Court has already said it’s not going to touch gerrymandering. And so there’s nothing left except Congress using its constitutional authority under the elections clause to do some regulation to the elections. I just don’t see another way. . .

When people think of democracy dying, they think of some very dramatic event like Trump riding down Pennsylvania Avenue in a tank or something. That’s not the reality here.

Take the scenario where Republicans don’t have to steal the 2024 election. They just use their built-in advantages in which Biden wins the popular vote by three points but still loses the Electoral College. Democrats win the House vote but lose the House. Democrats win the Senate vote, but they lose the Senate.

That’s a situation where the citizens of the country fundamentally don’t have control of the agenda and they don’t have the ability to change the leadership. Those are two core features of democracy, and without them, you’re living in competitive authoritarianism. People are going to wake up the next day and go to work, and take care of their kids, and live their lives, and democracy will be gone. There really won’t be very much that we can do about it. Or there’s the worst-case scenario where the election is stolen and then we’re sleepwalking into a potentially catastrophic breakup of the country.

One thing I would ask Republicans: If it goes that way, what is it that you think you will have won? What are we even fighting about at this point? You got your corporate tax cuts. You got the Supreme Court. What is the purpose of this? Why do you want the power if it means alienating half the country and potentially breaking it up? I guess I just hope that there will be some introspection among party leaders when we’re approaching that precipice.

Right now there is what under the circumstances should be understood as a terrifying degree of complacency on the part of many institutionalist types, in and around the Democratic party, who have allowed themselves to be lulled by the fact that American democracy just barely dodged a hail of metaphorical bullets from November through January. The way things are trending, I suspect that next hail won’t be nearly as metaphorical.

The key to understanding what is happening in this country is that the Republican party continues to get nearly 60% of the white vote in presidential elections, and winning three fifths of the white vote means that the party retains its legitimacy in the eyes of even most of its putative enemies, even as it transforms itself into an openly seditious movement. And that is the clearest possible example of white supremacy in action.

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