The call is coming from within the house (and Senate)
The hits keep on coming. One thing I have to hand to Trump is that even though he went home he’s still going big. The scandals and illegalities from his disastrous tenure in the White House keep leaking out like puss from an infected sore. What’s even better (and really, really scary) is how many people he got to enable him and carry out his foul demands, and who, contrary to public knowledge, abundant evidence that Trump himself is as loyal as Benedict Arnold, and the very real risk to their own freedom, refuse to flip on him. Still, the real immediate problem we face is a Republican Party led by lunatics, fascists, tyrannical egoists and Confederate sympathizers (frankly, I’d say McConnell and McCarthy are a solid combination of all these things). The country, if it is to remain a liberal democracy that abides by the rule of law, has extremely limited time to put up the requisite defenses against the rising minority autocratic rule the Republicans wish to inflict upon us all.
When looking upon the history of our nation it strikes me that what so many have taken for granted, an ever more inclusive society and government, expansion and protection of voting rights, is in fact relatively recent. Casting your vote in a private booth? Not until the 1890’s (link: http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu/node/30). Women allowed to vote? Not until 1920. (We won’t dig into the social and private pressure exerted upon married women to vote the same way as their husbands.) We’re still dealing with the fact that while on the surface America has universal suffrage many of our politicians (and fellow citizens), from small towns on up to State houses, in fact actively discourage non-Whites from voting.
What this all means is that We the People really need to start taking that phrase much more seriously while we still can. As the Federal Government goes so do the States. The Trump years have opened the floodgates of bigotry, hate and autocracy. Just look at the restrictive and targeted voting laws being not just introduced but actually enacted all across the country. The full on assault against a woman’s right to choose. The growing backlash against trans inclusivity by denying trans youth their rightful place on sports teams that match their gender identity (let’s not forget the fight over bathrooms). The horror on the right at exposing in the classroom the reality of our nation’s founding and the ongoing racial and social injustices every generation struggles to heal. The ever widening sphere of influence religion, specifically Christianity, is having in our politics. The same influence the Founders rightfully sought to quash after the horrors and shitshows they and their predecessors experienced in a Europe dominated by religion deeply entwined in politics (hell, even today the Queen of England is the head of the Anglican Church). Sorry, Monty, but I’m pretty sure there were more than a few people who saw the Spanish Inquisition coming.
Let’s be perfectly honest about American democracy and history. It was by today’s standards from the very beginning quite exclusionary (but we also have to acknowledge that by 18th Century standards it was quite inclusive and expansive, specifically when looking through the lens of religious intolerance that pervaded Western societies). Only property-holding white male citizens could vote. Elections were public spectacles (and electioneers could taylor their messages to alter final outcomes as election days progressed; talk about rigging the vote and election insecurity). It wasn’t until the 1828 presidential election that non-property-holding white males could vote in a majority of states (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_rights_in_the_United_States). It has been a struggle spanning hundreds of years to get to the place we are today, a country that ostensibly allows all citizens 18 years and older, regardless of sex, color, heritage, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, sexual preference, gender identity or economic status to vote at the local, state and federal levels. But this right to vote is amorphous, generation after generation it slips through our fingers only to be picked up again. Don’t get me wrong, the circle of who’s enfranchised has unequivocally grown, but it’s a delicate circle, like a soap bubble on a summer breeze, easily disrupted by reality and ephemeral enough to be quickly wiped away. And, at the State level it would all be legal.
This is where we find ourselves today. A democracy battered and bruised, and if you believe the many, many political analysts and historians, which I do, just a few well timed punches away from collapse. But, there is a cure, and like so many other aspects of American life, it rests in Federal Law. I’m, of course, speaking of voting rights legislation. I’m not going to pick one piece of legislation over the other here. That would require that I read the various bills, versions, proposed amendments, etc., something I regretfully don’t have time to pursue. What I have done, like so many of us, is read the highlights and short versions peppered throughout all the breathless reporting on Congressional drama.
What I am going to do, though, is say this unequivocally, without Federal oversight and clarity around voting rights we’re going to find ourselves in a splintered nation. One where some States have expansive, inclusive voting laws that provide the flexibility needed so that all eligible voters have their voice heard. The other States? Well, we’ve heard what that will be from Democratic leaders and the President himself, Jim Crow 2.0. Now, while that may be fine for State and local elections (it’s not), excluding people their right to vote and to have a real say in who represents them for no reason other than where they live, their race and ethnicity, or their financial status, hurts not just them or their home State, but the Nation as a whole. It further divides and separates us as a united people. It further shifts the balance away from what the Founders intended to what they so vigorously fought against, minority rule.
Now, I know that many on the Right will counter that the Founders abhorred a strong federal government, that they fought for local control of government and affairs. And, to that I say I agree, to a degree. The original governmental framework of the United States was a loose confederation with an excessively weak federal government. It didn’t last. It was unworkable and had so little authority to do much of anything that the fledgling nation wasn’t long for this world. What we as a Nation have found over the ensuing years is that a relatively strong federal government is necessary for a cohesive country (need I remind you of the Whiskey Rebellion?).
Now, one thing the Founders understood is that times change, the will of the people changes, life and society and economics and demographics change. It’s this understanding that led to the Founders weaving in the ability to adapt, change, alter and, well, amend the Constitution. They made sure that life and law under the Constitution could adapt with time. This is something that Republicans seem to either have forgotten or have willfully dismissed (it’s almost as though they have the same reverential view of the tale of the nation’s founding, that it sprang forth from the earth whole and perfect, as so many seem to have of the story of Genesis, that the Earth and Heavens were created as whole and perfect). The Republican Party of today wants more than anything to reverse the arrow of time and bring our nation back to a romanticized version of our earliest days. A tranquil valley full of farms worked by happy, satisfied white men and their dutiful wives and children. A time when men were heterosexual and very masculine, women knew their place and children were seen, not heard. A time when pretty young boys could befriend an older, wiser man and spend much time in their company because the young boy was, wink wink, looking for a mentor or father figure. Who here wouldn’t be flattered by a pretty young thing looking up to you and begging to be, um, tutored and shown the ways of the big, wide world?
Anyway, I digress. What this comes down to is what so many have been saying, but so many more need to hear and understand. Our very nation, the very fabric of our democracy, is at existential risk. Trump and his Republican cohorts have ravaged the very foundations and bulwarks that we have for far too long taken for granted. His allies in Congress, Trumpists and talking heads, continue to do his dirty work. Not because he put them under some sort of spell. Not because he’s such a charismatic guy there was nothing for the McConnell’s and McCarthy’s to do but abandon their long held beliefs, morals and principles and follow along to the wannabe Pied Piper’s tune. It wasn’t any of that, but simply because the underlying ethos of the Republican Party has been, for quite sometime, to bring the nation back to the days when white men held all the power, unquestioned, and the village church (emphasis on village) was the center of people’s lives. Trump symbolizes that world, Trump speaks to that vision, and Trump spews forth lies as promises to bring that world into reality. And, if we have to destroy our democratic institutions and endure authoritarianism to bring that vision to reality, well so be it, the Republican thinks, no one I know (white and monied) will be hurt.
I know that some on the Democratic side see all this and recognize the immediate danger the Republican Party represents to democracy. Others still seem to believe that the disagreements over voting rights and whether or not the Federal Government should be involved is merely nothing more than a policy disagreement. It’s time for everyone to put away the spin and rhetoric and take a long hard look at what’s staring at us from just below the surface. It’s not hard to see. The Republican Party has been and is today a political party that wants to homogenize America, whitewash everyone and everything. They have found themselves in an increasingly diverse nation, not of religion, but of culture, ethnicity and skin color, and that scares them. It scares them because they see their white bigotry, racism and sexism being pushed to where it belongs, the dustbin of history. They still see America as a primarily agrarian society headed by Protestant men. While this is in direct contradiction to reality, they fight hard and dirty to keep that vision alive.
A fundamental principle of our Nation is contradiction, but it’s always been carried atop the tectonic plates of progressivism and a desire to do the right thing, to make life better for all Americans, to create a nation where all are truly equal and equitable, not just under the law, but in everyday life. We now stand at a decisive fork in the road. Do we, as a Nation from the Federal Government on down declare that all citizens should have their voice heard at the ballot box? Do we stand up and say that while the States have the Constitutional authority to run their elections they do not have the Constitutional authority to either implicitly or explicitly deny a citizen their right to voice their political desires? That the final arbiter of equality under the law is the Federal Government, that this is enshrined in the Constitution and that this responsibility outweighs the right of the several States to have free reign in legislating who can and can not vote? If we do not, if Congress fails to pass voting rights legislation then we shall be reduced to that which the Founders so feared, a nation run by the minority, power resting in the hands of the few, and the Voice of the People reduced to nothing but unimportant background noise.