You might have heard that Republicans voted to break 200 years of Senate tradition a couple of weeks ago and changed the rules that uphold our democratic process—simply because Trump’s right-wing Supreme Court Nomination Neil Gorsuch was unable to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to confirm him. That same Neil Gorsuch, a friend of business and enemy of the vast majority of Americans, used his first act in his new position to allow Arkansas to go forward with an 11-day killing spree in a state that hasn’t executed anyone since 2005; against the advice of advocates across the political spectrum.
It was just the latest example of Republicans placing party over country and Trump over the American people. Apparently, Trump and the GOP are unmoved by the 7 in 10 Americans who opposed a rule change, the over one million citizens who signed petitions to block Gorsuch and the thousands of letters and calls poured into Republican offices (Vox). It didn't matter to them that their constituents took to the streets and passionately rallied in opposition to a Supreme Court nominee that is a threat to our rights.
The most damning example of the GOP’s aversion to the central tenets of democracy is a strategy they have employed since the 1990s, blocking as much of the Democratic agenda as possible when they are out of power, using that gridlock to then win midterm elections (where the GOP generally outperforms its returns in presidential-year elections) and then pushes through their agenda whenever they have the majority. This was true with much of what George Bush did after “winning” the 2000 election, aided by 9/11, and is starting to happen with Trump, though his general
Equally troubling to the future of the country is the advanced gerrymandering the GOP has engaged in for the past couple of decades, seeking to gain dramatic advantages in the electoral map while undermining the minority vote and, by extension, the general will of the people. This effort has only accelerated in recent years and even with some judicial setbacks, they continue to dominate state government and will use that power to skew the political map as much as possible. The simple reality is that Republicans can’t win in a lot of places unless they stack the decks to help them do so, and they are increasingly good at stacking those decks.
A third major area where our democracy is being challenged relates back to Thomas Jefferson and his contention that democracy fails if the populace is not both educated and informed. The “fake news” trend, while not new, has accelerated to the point that the entire Trump administration feels little compunction about lying as the major mode of communication. A new Salon article, in fact, argues they take great pleasure in their constant stream of lies to the media and have no plans to slow down. In an interview just last week, Trump again felt the inconvenient truths are best combatted with outright lies, delivered without even a scintilla of compunction. Of course, most troubling of all is the Russian story that just won’t go away, as hard as some conservative representatives try to quash it.
Fourth is the continued efforts to undermine the minority vote, with Trump’s fallacious claims of millions of illegal votes tallied in the election emboldening Republicans across the country to institute new voter ID and other requirements that will suppress the democratic vote (as with Iowa just last week). Republicans have known for some time that they can only win elections if they stop enough people from voting and that was again true this year, when the Democrats won more votes in the Senate, House of Representatives and, of course, Presidential races only to lose all three. Beyond the growing critiques of the Electoral College, which has allowed Republicans to win two races where they lost the popular vote in the past 16 years (and win the popular vote only once since 1988), and the gerrymandering discussed above, is the ways the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been undermined by recent Supreme Court decisions that appear to have < suppressed minority votes > beyond what the popular press reports. As to those claims of illegal voting, North Carolina might serve as a great example of how absurd the charges are, as the State Board of Elections did an extensive, objective audit of the 2016 Election. What did they find? Of the 4.8 million votes counted, exactly one would have been dismissed with the voter ID law State Republicans have been pushing for years (and only failed because it was overturned by a federal appeals court, who said it targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision.”).
And this leads to the final major way that Republicans have undermined popular sovereignty and the will of the people, very effectively utilizing the judiciary to push and solidify their agenda. The seeds of this strategy go back over a century, when the corporation first gained citizen rights. Yet is the 2010 Citizen United decision that has served them so well, their only loss since its inception being the 2012 victory for Obama. In every other election at the local, state and national level, they have made gains, including the victory of a jackass over a flawed, but much more capable alternative. Spending on elections has skyrocketed in the wake of that absurd decision and the super rich like the Koch brothers are not only starting grassroots movements like the Tea Party, but spending big in local races that all but guarantee victory. The record of the two Supreme Court Justices of George Bush and of Gorsuch indicate a turn toward corporate interests that is terrifying to the general public and includes consummate efforts to undermine democracy and labor power at every turn.
As Masha Green warned before Trump even took office, the seeds of autocracy are already present in the U.S. and, most clearly, in the movement Trump leads. The playbook we have seen in the past includes the following elements, which we see beginning to take shape in just the first 100 or so days of the Trump Administration: 1. Use racial/religious animus to cultivate a scapegoat mentality that defers responsibility from those causing economic decline (namely corporations and the one percent our president is an ardent member of), 2. Create a corporate state where the differentiation between government and corporate interests become almost indiscernible (see his cabinet selections so far), 3. Discredit the mainstream media, allowing propaganda to build a mythological reality that serves the leadership and that same corporate state (just check out Trump’s twitter account, or read the news on any given day), 4. Cultivate militarism as ideology, picking fights everywhere to build up a massive military and then use it whenever possible (see the hotspots that could very well lead to World War III under Trump’s watch), and 5. Build a government that serves your interests more than those of the people (too many to mention here, but here are two examples from just today: Emoluments and Gift to Kids).
The Trump presidency has been a disaster and sideshow of missteps and failures so far, but that neither means that he has not had some success in pushing his radical agenda or that more will not follow. Dramatic tax reform could be on the way, Obamacare is still not safe, the environment is in real trouble at a time when we might be approaching the tipping point to global destruction, war seems more likely with each passing day, corporate interests are trumping the publics in multivariate ways and Trump and his family appear to be enriching themselves on our tab while doing little to keep the promises they made during the campaign (thank god, with many).
In considering the future of our democracy and the long, arduous task to save it from the iniquitous grasp of the GOP and corporate forces that would like to replace it, Green’s six points seem particularly important. To reiterate them here: 1. Believe the autocrat (a point the mainstream media has failed to do from the beginning of his political ascendancy), 2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality (again, the mainstream media is guilty of this on several occasions since November already), 3. Institutions will not save you (see #1 and #2 above), 4. Be outraged (the good news in this story so far, as the people are making sure their voices are being heard and it’s having an effect), 5. Don’t make compromises (so far the rather craven Democratic Party has largely followed this advice, even as they fail to acknowledge the failings of their leadership and the DLC/Neoliberal model), and 6. Remember the future. We should be emboldened by the resistance so far, but must be vigilant for the entire four years of what one hopes is a one-term president. But we must be equally vigilant against a party who has abandoned any real dedication to the central tenets of democracy and their role in preserving both it and the will of the people. Democracy only works when people fight for it and the threat of its demise is currently staring us in the face.