Things have been headed in this direction for awhile now, but still, it was somewhat shocking to see a sitting United States senator publicly declare recently: “We are not a democracy.”
To be clear, that declaration, tweeted out by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, during the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate, wasn’t lamenting the notion that we’re not a democracy; he was conveying it with approval. It was a message to those of you who naively think that, gee willikers, when it comes to making public policy, the will of the many should generally outweigh the will of the few.
“We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic!” is a common GOP refrain these days. And it is linguistic gobbledegook. It misunderstands (or pretends to misunderstand) the definitions of both words: Democracy is making decisions based on majority or plurality opinion; federalism is decentralizing national power among regional entities (the states). As has been noted in this space before: Saying, “We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic!” is like saying, “That’s not a car, that’s a Chevy!” They’re not in conflict. We are in fact both.
So why are conservatives suddenly so intent on declaring us not to be a democracy? I’d submit this as a Maya Angelo moment. They’re telling us who they are. It’s important to believe them.
With long-term demographic trends favoring Democrats, Republican leaders are now against the concept of allowing our national decisions to be made by the majority (even within the appropriate constitutional restraints). They believe those decisions should instead be made by the minority. Specifically, them. “We’re not a democracy” isn’t an observation — it’s a goal.
Consider what the GOP has done lately to cement minority rule over America. Yes, some of it is demographic luck with a constitutional assist. Conservative Americans have tended to spread out over a lot of small states while liberals have tended to cluster into a few big ones, giving Republican candidates advantages in both the Senate and the Electoral College. It’s why Republicans currently hold both the White House and the Senate, despite the undisputed fact that significantly more Americans voted “D” than “R” for both institutions in their most recent respective elections.
Our system allows this situation, of course. But leaders who respected the concept of democracy would recognize that their minority status obligates them to work with the pluralities of Americans who have clearly expressed their preference for different leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his minions have instead aggressively leveraged their minority rule to further two goals: tightening a conservative grip over the court system that will ensure it works against the will of America’s increasingly progressive population for years to come; and suppressing votes in an effort to entrench their minority rule.
It shouldn’t be necessary at this point to recount McConnell’s stunt regarding the Supreme Court — denying then-President Barack Obama his nominee for 11 months because there was an election approaching, then ramming through President Donald Trump’s latest nominee in mere weeks because … there’s an election approaching. A Republican president and Senate, having taken power over the opposition of more Americans than supported them, have now installed a high court that’s poised to shoehorn their minority views into national policy regarding abortion, health care and other issues.
As for the unconscionable campaign to suppress voting: This isn’t the work of just one wanna-be autocrat in the White House. Yes, Trump has tried to curtail the vote in unprecedented, ham-handed ways: cutting Postal Service funding, encouraging polling-place intimidation, lying daily about the legitimacy of our system. But the real damage has been done more quietly, in statehouses and courtrooms across the country. In Missouri and elsewhere, Republican politicians for years have passed laws and filed lawsuits aimed at making it harder to vote.
These GOP suppression efforts are based on a myth: that America’s voting system is plagued by widespread in-person fraud. Study after study has found this simply isn’t true. A recent Washington Post review of almost 90 state and federal voting lawsuits — virtually all of them pitting Democrats trying to expand voting access against Republicans trying to restrict it — found not a single case in which a judge backed the GOP’s voter-fraud fantasy.
If widespread voter fraud was real, the GOP would be able to cough up more than a few isolated examples of it. They can’t, because it isn’t. Yet the Republican National Committee, determined to stop this thing that isn’t happening, has launched a $20 million program to challenge ballots in battleground states.
These anti-democracy efforts in the courts and polling places have real-world effects. By clear margins, Americans today favor universal health care, abortion rights, reasonable gun control, environmental responsibility, and a tax system that makes the wealthy pay their fair share. And the party of “we’re not a democracy” has prevented or is threatening every single one of those goals.
America’s Founders were rightly concerned about what has been called “the tyranny of the majority.” Turns out it’s not so great coming from the minority, either.
Kevin McDermott • 314-340-8268 @kevinmcdermott on Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org
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