Every other Tuesday morning, my writing day for TFT, I wake up in dread that I am running out of things to write about. When I woke this morning, the only idea I had was an anecdote about a kerfuffle between a Bangladeshi friend who publishes two publications regarding South Asia and someone who claimed that one of my TFT articles that he republished with my permission was actually authored by someone else who had not given him permission to reprint it. This sounds like, and could be, a simple misunderstanding, but after perusing google for information about the alleged author and the alleged publication, what appeared to be a simple misunderstanding looks to be much more complicated, with political implications and consequences that require further study. So, I will leave that kerfuffle to a later article.
In the meantime, as often happens, The New York Times morning report has saved my bacon. It reported the current organized assault on American democracy, undertaken as one should expect by (guess who?), the Republican Party. It is not another physical attack, such as the one on the Capitol carried out by extremists of the Trump wing of the party on January 6. It is an attack by the entire party, in which of course the Trumpists are the dominant element, on a fundamental right and a foundational principle of democracy—the right to vote.
This attack is spurred, after the election which gave the Democratic Party control of the Executive Branch and both houses of the Legislative Branch, by “the big lie” that the Trumpists have made central to their narrative of victimhood—that the election was stolen from Trump by massive voter fraud. Yet, while many of the non-Trump wing do not buy that narrative, they have and will join the attack on voting joyfully.
I have written about the Republican Party’s anti-democratic mindset many times. Each time I write about this it feels very counter intuitive; this is the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that expanded American democracy by the largest leap in our history, by giving 4 million slaves freedom in 1865, and more than just freedom in 1868 in the 14th amendment to the Constitution by giving them equality before the law. The Republican Party enforced Reconstruction in the Southern States after the war and required them to accept the 14th amendment as a price to rejoin the Union.
Republicans began their long and erratic rejection of democracy in 1877 when they agreed to give up enforcing Reconstruction in a deal to give their candidate for president, Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency. They traded their support of democracy for power; Lincoln would not have approved. The party became more invested in that will to power as it became also less interested in inclusive politics, a party that seemed intent on maintaining its whiteness. By the middle of the 20th century, because of that exclusive mindset, the Republicans became a minority party, requiring it to acts that limited suffrage to maintain its place as one of the two major American parties.
Thus its “Southern Strategy,” which may have been incubated by the revolt of the Southern states against the Democratic Party’s civil rights agenda and Harry Truman in the 1948 election (he was not on the ballot in several southern states but won anyway) and begun consciously, if unsuccessfully in 1964 by Barry Goldwater, became the way the Republicans maintained their place in the political spectrum. That strategy involved, from the top down, racist and anti-minority dog whistles for Southern voters and strong attention to voter suppression aimed at minorities that kept the Republican Party in the game despite its unwillingness to expand its tent to include new voters of color.
Voter suppression became the MO of the party and strengthened its authoritarian outlook. But voter suppression did not define the party; there were moderate Republicans who did not share that mindset, but they rode a Republican bus which was powered by it. The mindset has hardened as demographic trends continued to favor the inclusive Democratic Party. After the defeat of John McCain in 2008 by Barack Obama, the Republican leaders issued a statement that the party would have to open its doors, become more inclusive, to remain competitive, but never began to carry out that promise. Instead, we saw increasing waves of voting restrictions aimed and suppressing minority voting. These are carried out in the State legislatures, 2/3 of which are controlled by the Republicans. And one of the main reasons for this imbalance is that Republican State legislators have been more aggressive and more assertive in gerrymandering the districts.
And now another such a wave is upon us. And it has built up quickly as a result of Trump’s “Big Lie.” The Brennan Center, a think tank that follows politics closely estimated that there are around 250 bills that would restrict voting to be considered by State Legislators in the next few months. Several bills that will work to restrict voting were argued in the Supreme Court today (Tuesday, March 2) and the Court appeared by its questions to be relatively sympathetic to such measures. Given the Court’s majority of conservative justices, and the likelihood that the Court’s ruling on these cases will guide lower courts in the wave of such cases to be considered in the coming months, it would surprise me if voter suppression will be a factor in the next few elections, and the Republicans may indeed enjoy control of the House and/or the Senate. The Democratic control in both is quite fragile. Republican control of one or both would put paid to Biden’s ambitious and progressive agenda.
We have to factor Trump into this equation. He made his first public appearance on Sunday at an annual conclave of conservatives in Florida and continues to hint that he might rem for President again in 2024. Now it is too early to tell if that is a likely prospect or not. His immediate aim seems to be to maintain control of the Republican Party in order to do his best to undermine President Biden’s ability to get enough of his agenda through Congress to have a chance to keep control of the two houses of Congress after the election of 2022. And he made a point of mentioning in the conclave on Sunday, that he intends also to wreak vengeance on his Republican enemies and unseat those who voted for impeachment He faces a potential blizzard of criminal and civil litigation, and that very well could knock him out of any possibility of running for office either because he is in jail, or because his luster has been badly tarnished by his legal problems. Also, he might end up spending all the money he has raised since the election and his campaign to overturn the results on his legal fees which could be enormous in the next few years.
But Trump comes into our analysis not just because he continues to be a force to be reckoned with if he does keep control of the party and does run for President in 2024. He also brings a particular mindset to the Republican urge for voter suppression. Through the power he wields over his adoring base, he has fused the idea of fraud with the idea of entitlement, which he has used from the beginning, of his political career, by telling his passionate followers that they are owed something that has been taken from them by minorities and immigrants. Though he doesn’t say it explicitly, as he did not say to those at the January 6 meeting to go invade and sack the Capitol, he only hinted that he would like them to do so, and he is telling them in the same indirect but understandable way that their entitlement is white entitlement. And implicitly, they are the real Americans who are the only Americans with the right to vote. And if you notice, the “Big Lie” is based on this mutual understanding. According to his arguments to the courts, it was the early and mail-in votes that were fraudulent, and the unspoken reason is that most of those votes were cast by minorities and people of color who he implicitly says are not the real Americans. In other words, Trump and his base share the view that the election was stolen, not by a lot of fraudulent votes, but by a lot of fraudulent voters.
Shades of our Orwellian future! Remember, Orwell gave us two looks into the future: the “surveillance state” of 1984, in which Big Brother (and a coterie of the “select”) regulating every aspect of life was the main theme; and the idyllic society of Animal Farm in which the theme of real and bogus citizens was dramatized by the rule that all animals are equal but pigs are more equal and, thus, choose the leaders. Trump is leading the Republican Party to its logical conclusion regarding democracy—the nullification of the 14th Amendment and a society of real citizens who get to choose and fraudulent citizens who don’t, and for the most part, are of a darker skin color.
The writer is a former career diplomat who among other positions was ambassador to Bangladesh and Pakistan