The fall of democracy is often done in piecemeal and through a steady process like democratic backsliding. As many observers have pointed out, this slow motion car wreck is unfolding right before us here in America. Luckily, the answer for this worrying trend is simple: The Republican Party.
If the values of free and fair elections, true freedom of expression, and the protection of minority rights are to continue, our nation’s suicidal march towards this anti-democratic future must be halted—and then reversed.
The Republican Party is anti-democratic
Polls of political scientists have pegged the Republican Party as an increasingly significant outlier amongst other developed democracies. In one survey, experts placed the GOP closer to Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice Party and the party of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A comparison to Viktor Orban’s authoritarian Fidesz Party in Hungary appears alarmingly accurate. When you look at the Republican Party of the last 10-15 years, it is quite clear why these political scientists are alarmed.
In state legislatures controlled by the Republican Party they have passed laws making it more difficult to vote through onerous voter ID laws, the closing of polling locations, and other repressive tactics. They have gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts entrenching the already heavy favoritism American institutions have towards the Republican Party and their constituents in predominantly small rural areas. They consistently win less votes yet still gain political power. When they lose elections—like the governor’s races in Wisconsin and North Carolina from the last decade—Republican controlled state legislatures in lame duck sessions strip power from those offices, crippling their political opponents. With the “big lie” as their justification, Republicans have passed numerous bills across the country that directly interfere with and criminalize the work of local and state election officials. A recent report from three voting rights and democracy groups described one Texas bill (S.B. 7) as containing, “the most extensive and vague set of criminal penalties for election administrators and workers pursued by any state thus far.” Some of these bills will also make it easier for partisan Republican state legislatures to interfere with the counting and certification of state-wide elections.
There is no both sides of the argument; no equivalency between left-wing Democrats and the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party. There is only the Right’s continued assault on democratic norms and principles.
Pass voting rights and democracy reforms.
The bulwark to stem these tumultuous tides is clear: pass voting rights and democracy reform legislation at the national level. While the answer seems simple, the strategy to achieve it is anything but. The fate of democracy protections lies with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Without him on board with needed reforms and a recognition that the filibuster must be put aside for these protections, Democrats cannot hope to pass anything.
Which is why I was happy to see Manchin come out with his own acceptable list of voting and democracy reforms. It has great policies like ending partisan gerrymandering and making election day a national holiday. But I’m fearful that even in the face of all the evidence listed above highlighting the growing antipathy the Republican Party has towards democracy, he will hold his belief that any major reforms to voting and democracy must be passed in a bipartisan way, as he has written.
What will he do when, for example, his proposed compromise on these issues garners Republican opposition, as it already has. Thanks to the Senate filibuster, without 10 Republicans the bill is guaranteed to fail. In order to placate the Republican Party will he water down his original proposal so severely rendering it useless but passable to Republicans? Will he abandon democracy reform altogether in order to protect what he deems more essential: the Senate filibuster?
An irreconcilable issue
The American Civil War was fought because of slavery. A nation that was “half slave and half free” eventually was incompatible, substituting compromise and politics with the bloodiest conflict ever waged on American soil. “We were fighting an enemy with whom we could not make a peace,” Ulysses S. Grant once said. “We had to destroy him.”
I don’t think that civil war is upon us. But I do believe that the issue of democracy we’re faced with today is equally irreconcilable, devoid of little room for compromise. The Republican Party has made it clear: they are for less democracy. Democrats are for a free and fair one. If Joe Manchin can find agreement between those fundamental differences that would also protect and expand our democracy, I will cheer his name for the rest of my days.
But when he doesn’t, he will be presented with an opportunity: will he be the one who reformed and protected American democracy or the one who preserved the filibuster?
History—that unrelenting critic—is watching.