Lazy Caturday Reads: Democracy in PerilPosted: June 5, 2021
I admit I thought once Trump was out of the White House, we’d be able to move on from our 4-year long nightmare. But it appears that elected Republicans are not going to let that happen. They are doing everything they can to prevent people from voting and they are supporting Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. It’s still not clear that the U.S. can remain a democratic country. Here’s the latest commentary on our current situation.
David Smith at The Guardian: Is America heading to a place where it can no longer call itself a democracy?
If Donald Trump’s inaugural address can be summed up in two words – “American carnage” – Joe Biden’s might be remembered for three: “Democracy has prevailed.”
The new president, speaking from the spot where just two weeks earlier a pro-Trump mob had stormed the US Capitol, promised that the worst was over in a battered, bruised yet resilient Washington.
But now, four and a half months later the alarm bells are sounding on American democracy again. Even as the coronavirus retreats, the pandemic of Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election spreads, manifest in Republicans’ blocking of a commission to investigate the insurrection. And state after state is imposing new voting restrictions and Trump allies are now vying to run future election themselves.
With Republicans still in thrall to Trump and odds-on to win control of the House of Representatives next year, there are growing fears that his presidency was less a historical blip than a harbinger of systemic decline.
“There was a momentary sigh of relief but the level of anxiety is actually strangely higher now than in 2016 in the sense that it’s not just about one person but there are broader structural issues,” said Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die. “The weird emails that I get are more ominous now than they were in 2016: there seems to be a much deeper level of misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
A timeline of the GOP rejection of democracy:
Just hours after the terror of 6 January, 147 Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election despite no evidence of irregularities. Trump was impeached for inciting the violence but Senate Republicans ensured his acquittal – a fork in the road where the party could have chosen another destiny.
As Trump continued to push his false claims of election fraud, rightwing media and Republican state parties fell into line. A farcical “audit” of votes is under way in Arizona with more states threatening to follow suit. Trump is reportedly so fixated on the audits that he has even suggested – wrongly – he could be reinstated as president later this year.
Perhaps more insidiously, Trump supporters who tried to overturn the 2020 election are maneuvering to serve as election officials in swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada. If they succeed in becoming secretaries of state, they would exercise huge influence over the conduct of future elections and certifying their results. Some moderate Republican secretaries of state were crucial bulwarks against Trump’s toxic conspiracy theories last year.
The offensive is coupled with a dramatic and sweeping assault on voting rights. Republican-controlled state legislatures have rammed through bills that make it harder to vote in states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Montana. Their all-out effort in Texas was temporarily derailed when Democrats walked out of the chamber, denying them a quorum.
Nicole Hemmer at CNN: The survival of democracy is not a given, America.
President Joe Biden’s inaugural address last January, set against the backdrop of a pandemic-gripped capital wrapped in barricades and barbed wire after an attempted insurrection, stood out for more than just its unusual setting. In the speech, he invoked the word “democracy” more than any other president in US history — at 11 times, twice more than either the runners-up Harry Truman or Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in the 1940s.
That has set the tone for his presidency, an administration that has determined to be about first-order things, shoring up the foundation of the nation’s principles and ideals.
Biden’s Memorial Day address on Monday returned to those themes. In a day set aside to remember those who have served and died in the nation’s wars, Biden pivoted to what he saw as their fight: safeguarding democracy. Again and again in the speech, he invoked democracy as “the soul of America.” And while he got a lot right about US democracy in his speech — most importantly, that it is imperfectly practiced and imminently imperiled — he got one essential thing wrong….Democracy has been overthrown in America before. That’s our best evidence and soberest warning that it can happen again.
It’s critical that Biden and others in government understand this point and get it right, because that history — the sometimes-successful fight for democracy and the sometimes-successful fight to thwart it — is exactly the battle that the US is facing today, and there is nothing inevitable about democracy’s success.
The day after his speech, 100 scholars of democracy underscored his point. They warned that Republicans’ efforts to radically reorganize elections at the state level “call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy.” They urged Congress to pass new voting rights legislation but emphasized that would not be enough — minoritarian obstacles from gerrymandering to the filibuster would have to go as well.
Which is why Biden’s speech was so important. With his words, Biden did more than defend democracy — he defined it. That matters, because for much of the past century, presidential invocations of democracy have often amounted to little more than sloganeering (especially when attempting to export democracy abroad). But Biden laid out a theory of democracy, calling it “more than a form of government” but “a way of seeing the world.”
Please read the rest at CNN.
David A. Graham at The Atlantic: This Isn’t Normal, Either. Just beneath a thin veneer of orderliness, the United States faces a set of perilous, unresolved threats.
Squint the right way and things look almost normal. The barriers around the Capitol are gone. People are taking off their masks and going out. The Nats and Orioles are in the basement. Most of all, politics is boring again….
But this appearance of normalcy is a thin veneer. Just beneath the surface, the United States faces a set of perilous, unresolved threats. The former president refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the election he lost. His party’s leaders are abandoning their commitment to democratic majority governance, and its voters insist that he won. Domestic terrorism threatens the nation’s tranquility, and ordinary violent crime is on the rise too. Relaxing about the state of the country feels irresistible, but doing so would be unwise.
A series of reports has shed light on the bizarre situation of the Old Pretender as he continues to stew over the election. The journalists Maggie Haberman and Charles C. W. Cooke report that Donald Trump is saying, and perhaps truly believes, that he will be “reinstated” as president this summer, after it becomes clear that he rightfully won the election; perhaps some Republican senators defeated in November will come back with him. The Post adds that Trump has become convinced that “audits” in Arizona and elsewhere will prove that he actually won.
Several barriers will prevent this: Trump didn’t win, no evidence can prove otherwise, and there’s no constitutional mechanism for such a reinstatement. Many losing candidates have griped about election results, and insisted that they were cheated. Stacey Abrams never conceded the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race. John Kerry reportedly remains skeptical of the 2004 presidential-election results in Ohio. But the current situation is unprecedented: No former presidential candidate, much less president, has ever so flatly refused to accept the results or expected to be reinstalled. Samuel Tilden, after being shut out of the White House in 1876, told his supporters, “Be of good cheer. The Republic will live.” Trump, by contrast, exhorted his backers on January 6, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Reality has never constrained Trump’s statements. The problem is how far this thinking has spread beyond him. Large portions of the Republican electorate purport to agree in opinion polls that Trump rightfully won the election, and the on-again, off-again Svengali Steve Bannon claims that staying in lockstep with Trump will be a “litmus test” for future GOP candidates. “There will not be a Republican that wins a primary for 2022—not one—that doesn’t take the pledge to get to the bottom of November 3,” he recently told NBC News.
Meanwhile, exercises like the count in Arizona, which purport to rebuild confidence in elections, are actually likely to only further undermine Trump partisans’ trust. As I wrote this week, opposition both to majority rule and to the notion that Democrats can win elections fairly is on the rise in the Republican Party. These rejections of the system’s basic tenets have consequences. In March, FBI Director Christopher Wray (a Trump appointee) warned, “January 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.”
John Haltiwanger at Business Insider: The GOP has proven to be an even ‘greater threat’ to US democracy than Trump in 2021, experts warn.
By the time Donald Trump left the White House, it was widely agreed upon that he was the most anti-democratic president in modern US history. He exhibited an unparalleled disdain for democratic institutions during his four years in power, and topped it all off by refusing to accept the legitimate results of the 2020 election and provoking a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol. It was unprecedented and the US is still dealing with the consequences.
On his way out the door, Trump was impeached for a second time for inciting the riot. A week later, President Joe Biden was inaugurated, and some scholars of democracy were hopeful that Trump’s departure would open the door for the GOP to hit the reset button. But those feelings of optimism didn’t last long as Republicans continued to show unwavering loyalty to Trump and his “big lie,” and as GOP-led legislatures nationwide pushed for laws to restrict voting in extraordinary ways.
Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College and author of “Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day,” told Insider she’s become even “more pessimistic” about the future of American democracy in 2021.
“With Trump gone, I hoped the Republican party might recalibrate, moving away from his illiberal, anti-democratic and irrational behavior and embracing a conservative, but firmly reality-based and small ‘d’ democratic politics,” Berman said. “That the Republican party has proven to be a greater threat than Trump — a single individual — bodes poorly for the health of American democracy.” [….]
Only 16% of Americans say democracy is working well or extremely well, according to a February poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll found that nearly half of Americans — 45% — think democracy isn’t functioning properly. But it’s less clear if Americans are cognizant of the escalating threat posed to the democratic process in the US by GOP efforts to make it harder to vote.
“I don’t think the average citizen understands the threat because the average citizen doesn’t have the time or the incentive to analyze what is going on politically at the national, state and local level on a daily basis,” Berman said.
A few more relevant stories
The New York Times: At Once Diminished and Dominating, Trump Prepares for His Next Act.
Axios: Trump’s new Hillary. [It’s Antony Fauci]
Jonathan Allen at NBC News: Trump’s back. Here’s what his re-entry means for 2024.
Steve Benen at MSNBC: Why Trump’s utterly bonkers ‘reinstatement’ ideas matter.
That’s it for me. Have a terrific weekend!!