So, what are we to make of the current incarnation of the Republican Party? When the demographics started to shift against them, a few years back, they pulled off a strategy to gerrymander the living bejesus out of Congressional districts all over the country. When that looked insufficient they started passing laws to suppress the votes of groups that vote Democrat, abetted in the Southern States by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act. When that wasn’t enough they engaged in election fraud and further voter suppression tactics, and if somehow they lose despite all of that, they use the last moments of their authority to deprive their freely elected opponents of the power of their offices.
Partisan belly-aching? No. The evidence for all this is either simply on the record, or has been widely and thoroughly reported, cross-verified by dozens of investigations by media and activist groups alike, and is by now incontrovertible to everyone not dwelling within the Fox News Alternate Universe. My characterization of events isn’t even a slight exaggeration. Just a few examples (and this doesn’t even flirt with being exhaustive):
In the November Governor’s race in Georgia, the GOP’s Brian Kemp served not only as candidate, but remained on as Secretary of State, overseeing the fairness of his own election, a textbook example of what we lawyers refer to as a breach of natural justice. In the years prior to the election, Kemp used his authority as Secretary of State to improve his chances by purging literally hundreds of thousands of names from the voter rolls – a move largely sanctioned by the Supreme Court in a case involving Ohio – and slow-walked tens of thousands of applications by purged voters to be reinstated. The overwhelming majority of those stricken from the rolls were, of course, African American:
In Dodge City, Kansas, where the demographic now skews heavily towards Hispanics, it was decided that there should be only one polling station for 13,000 people, and that it should be moved out of town:
All across the U.S., voter I.D. and registration requirements have been almost surgically designed to make it more difficult for Native Americans, who tend to lean Democratic, to vote. One GOP measure, implemented in Arizona and elsewhere, is to require registered voters to have a street address rather than, say, a P.O. Box – of course, most inhabitants within the U.S. Reserve system don’t have street addresses:
The GOP has for years been justifying various voter suppression efforts involving ID requirements and voter purges on the basis of essentially non-existent voter fraud – that is, people voting under false identities, a charge Donald Trump repeated recently by conjuring up the farcical image of voters donning disguises, heading to the polls to vote, then taking a drive around the block to change disguise, and coming in and voting again, repeating this all night long. It has repeatedly been demonstrated that this is a patently false narrative, and that this type of fraud is virtually unknown within all levels of the U.S. electoral system.
However, in North Carolina’s 9th district, a GOP-hatched scheme of outright election fraud, involving, essentially, the theft of absentee ballots, was so transparently heinous that the election remains in legal limbo:
Meanwhile, in State elections throughout the country, the effects of years of gerrymandering were manifest in the form of badly out-of-whack inconsistencies between share of popular vote won, and number of seats allocated:
And now, in various States in which Republicans lost State elections, they’re using lame duck sessions to push through unpopular laws and strip powers from the offices soon to be occupied by the incoming Democrats. North Carolina set the template for this in 2016. Now the Republican lame duck legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio are up to the same tricks, while doing as much damage as possible before losing the chance, for example by rolling back minimum wage raises and paid sick leave protections in Michigan, and implementing a new voter-ID requirement in North Carolina.
I’m sorry for burying this column in tedious links, but I’m striving to make it clear that what I’m complaining of here is no mere point of view, not spin, not opinion, and not embellished. This is what’s going on, today. We are all of us, understandably, mesmerized by the catastrophe unfolding in the Trump White House, but The Donald is far from the only problem, and is not even a participant in some of the worst abuses, which began many years before he decided to run for office. All across America, at all levels, Republicans, from those in Governor’s offices to humble county clerks toiling away in Arizona, are behaving in ways that undermine democracy in fundamental and very frightening ways. In the process, America is ceasing to be a true representative democracy. The will of the people is being overridden.
This is a tragedy, is it not?
The sensible way of looking at all this acknowledges that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is not actually the Republican Party at all, anymore. The party of Lincoln? This isn’t even the party of Dick Cheney. It’s been taken over, hijacked really, by oligarchs, evangelicals, science-deniers and various other unsavoury interests, and it isn’t at all unfair to note that a steady undercurrent of racism underlies its actions, from pretending that immigration is a crisis, to suppressing Native, Hispanic, and African American voters all across the land, by any means possible. It’s all about dirty tricks and feats of procedural sleight of hand that were beyond the imaginations of the authors of Federal and State laws and Constitutions. It’s Mitch McConnell refusing to allow a President to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. It’s Orrin Hatch telling a reporter that he “doesn’t care” if Trump is now provably guilty of felonies involving campaign finance – not that he doesn’t believe it, but that he doesn’t care. The economy is strong right? And you can make anything a crime anyway. And, oh yeah, the economy has charged ahead (itself nonsense, it’s merely continued to chug along, so far, just as Obama left it). Get a load of this:
It’s outgoing legislators deciding that before power changes hands, they’ll strip the Governor’s office of its authority. It’s Paul Ryan, just yesterday, preventing a floor discussion of America’s options with respect to the mounting tragedy in Yemen, by tacking a stealthy procedural measure on to a farm bill. Really. Look, sorry to add yet another link, but you have to read this for yourself, I just can’t stand to have you take my word for it – it’s Paul Ryan, just prior to hustling out the door, in peak form writing yet another chapter into his Profiles in Courage:
The modern G.O.P. belongs to the Koch Brothers, the Bible Thumpers, the 0.01%, and the Tea Party. What’s needed, desperately, is for true conservatives, the real, honest-to-God men and women of the centre-right, who believe in such reasonable things as fiscal prudence, robust national defence, caution on sweeping changes to social programs, and a general “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to life, to form a new party. This would be painful at the outset, and would entail years of splitting the vote on the Right, and leaving the field open to the Democrats for a while, but look, this is a crisis. I don’t always agree with them, but genuine conservatives have a right to be represented by people who pursue a genuine conservative philosophy, and one which might actually do something to advance the interests of the people who feel left behind in the 21st Century. If there’s a good argument against Medicaid expansion, let’s hear it. If the point of tax cuts is to prime the pump of investment and economic growth, O.K., let’s talk about the evidence. If the Defence Budget, at 750 billion, is still too low, tell us why. If deficits must be brought under control at the cost of some pain for everybody, tell me how, and how the shared pain will actually put the fiscal house in order – and leave the Laffer curve in the trash can where it belongs. If addressing climate change appears likely to impose horrific economic costs, let’s talk about how those might be avoided while saving the planet too – let’s not argue about whether it’s even happening. These debates between reasonable people, sharing a stipulated set of facts, and advancing their ideas honestly, are desperately needed. They cannot be had in America today.
Which is, as I keep insisting, a tragedy.