Sunday, September 22, 2019


In a New York Times op-ed on Friday, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of How Democracies Die, listed many of the ways that Republicans have tried to thwart democracy in America:
Since 2010, a dozen Republican-led states have adopted new laws making it more difficult to register or vote. Republican state and local governments have closed polling places in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, purged voter rolls and created new obstacles to registration and voting.

In Georgia, a 2017 “exact match law” allowed authorities to throw out voter registration forms whose information did not “exactly match” existing records. Brian Kemp, who was simultaneously Georgia’s secretary of state and the 2018 Republican candidate for governor, tried to use the law to invalidate tens of thousands of registration forms, many of which were from African-Americans. In Tennessee, Republicans recently passed chilling legislation allowing criminal charges to be levied against voter registration groups that submit incomplete forms or miss deadlines. And in Texas this year, Republicans attempted to purge the voter rolls of nearly 100,000 Latinos.
Levitsky and Ziblatt believe that Republicans do all this because they know their party has a narrow and shrinking base. They say that the only solution is for Democrats to administer a serious drubbing in 2020, at which point Republicans will reassess their anti-democratic ways.

The Week's David Faris doesn't believe that will work. Republicans won't change, he says -- they'll say that their problem was the uniquely off-putting personality of Donald Trump; they'll argue that Trump was too liberal ("had he only built the wall and closed the border and bombed Iran and thrown Hillary Clinton in jail, Republicans would have shown up in greater numbers to save him," Faris imagines them thinking); they'll revert to their old behavior even if party elders conclude that change is necessary, as happened after the 2012 election, when a GOP "autopsy" concluded that Republicans needed to broaden their base, but the Tea Party pushed the party further into the embrace of angry old rural and exurban whites.

Faris concludes that Democrats not only need to win in 2020, they need to take concrete steps to fight the Republican attack on democracy:
... the most important task of the next unified Democratic government isn't policy but rather using perfectly constitutional maneuvers to level the electoral playing field which has so often this century resulted in Republicans gaining power despite winning fewer votes.

Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico to rectify their structural deficit in the Senate. Ranked Choice Voting in an expanded House to eliminate the threat of gerrymandering. A massive new voting rights act to crush voter suppression in federal elections and ensure that every American who wants to cast a ballot can do so. Expanding the Supreme Court to restore the balance of power that was altered by the Garland heist.
I think we really do have a crisis of democracy. I think it might require remedies along these lines. But that means that another Democratic president, just like Barack Obama, will have to clean up a mess of Republicans' making before dealing with the problems he or she was elected to deal with.

Obama had the financial crisis, which was the result of Republican aversion to regulation and oversight of the financial industry. He didn't stimulate the economy enough, he didn't provide real mortgage relief, and he didn't send the people who deserved it to prison -- but he pushed through enough stimulus to prevent a new Great Depression, and he saved the auto industry.

All that took a lot of political capital; with what he had left, he passed healthcare reform. For a while there was talk of a second economic stimulus, but that was never going to happen. Republicans wouldn't allow it, and Obama's political standing took a hit with every move he made in his first two years in office.

The next president will have to deal with ongoing healthcare issues, a climate crisis, economic inequality, a student debt crisis, endless wars, opioids ... and maybe a recession. All that and the threat to democracy created by Republicans? That's a lot to deal with. Did even FDR in 1932 have enough goodwill and political capital to take all that on?

A restoration of voting rights and efforts to curb gerrymandering will face resistance primarily from GOP partisans. But expansion of the Supreme Court or the House will also be denounced as radical attempts to rewrite the rules even by many centrists and left-centrists. That's not a reason to reject bold moves, but Democrats -- assuming they win the presidency and the Senate next year, which is far from a safe assumption -- will have to pick their battles. There's a lot that needs to be done.

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