Sliding Toward Minority Rule

“All wealth and power might be concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, while most people will suffer not from exploitation but from something far worse — irrelevance.” Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Anyone who pays reasonably close attention to national politics knows that the only way the Republican Party can consistently win elections is by gaming the electoral system. This is why in states where Republicans control the legislature they are rushing full-tilt to take advantage of the opportunity created by Trump’s incessant bellowing about election fraud, phony ballots, and perfidious Democrats, by introducing and enacting a rash of bills that boil down to brazen attempts to keep certain people from voting. Poor people, people of color, students, former felons. Let’s get clear about what is taking place in this moment. Like the Southern Democrats prior to the Civil War, the GOP represents a minority of the American population, yet wields out-sized political influence over the majority. They succeed because of mechanisms that are baked into the Constitution, like the Electoral College, and the undemocratic structure of the US Senate. But with demographic trends moving like a tidal surge against them, they’re now attempting to steal future elections in advance under the banner of preserving election “integrity.” Following Donald Trump’s malignant lead, they are manipulating, subverting, disrupting, and demonizing the electoral process itself. We’ve seen the nonsense in Arizona, where the faux ballot “audit” in Maricopa County confirmed that Biden won. Similar exercises are underway in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump apparently cowed Texas — a state he won mind you — into launching a bogus vote audit. When do winners demand audits? Only when their goal is to promote the idea that an election was compromised. This is where our country is at the moment, precariously balanced between reality and utter make-believe.

The old norms, rules, customs, and protocols that kept politicians from going totally rogue don’t work any more. Trump proved that. Trump trampled every presidential norm and demonstrated to his party that the easiest way to subvert a law is to simply ignore it. Or argue that it doesn’t apply. Or that it’s unfair, very unfair. Or whatever other gibberish Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon can yank from their asses. And if none of that seals the deal, dare someone to enforce the law and cry “witch hunt” when the subpoenas start flying.

The GOP’s anti-democratic strategy is multi-pronged. First, use the 2020 census data to gerrymander as many congressional districts as possible. The Republicans can do this because they control a majority of state legislatures where redistricting takes place. Second, turbocharge the voter suppression machinery. Employ all the usual tricks. Purge voters from the rolls. Close polling stations. Limit hours of operation and staff. Have as few voting machines available as possible and as few poll workers. Add twists to make the process slow and cumbersome. Require ID, birth certificates, blood tests, bank statements — whatever documentation the other party’s potential voters are most likely not to have handy, if at all. Third, seize control of the process by which votes are counted and certified. Excommunicate local elections officials who display any integrity or the slightest potential for ethical behavior. Fourth, invest the legislature with the power to overturn the will of the voters. If Republicans can do all these things they can run the table and cement minority rule.

And make no mistake, if the GOP retakes control of the House or Senate in 2022, Trump will run in 2024 (unless he chokes on a chicken nugget or is indicted and tried) and then the shit will hit the fan. America won’t only be ruled by a corrupt minority, it will be a decidedly authoritarian minority.

What’s infuriating is how few Americans are wise to what’s happening. A few journalists and political analysts, Mehdi Hasan on his program on the Peacock network and Ian Masters of Background Briefing, have sounded the alarm and gamed out how this minority coup might unfold. It’s entirely plausible because there are enough ambiguities in our election laws, and the US Supreme Court is controlled by a cabal of reactionary justices. What I can’t fathom is why the Democratic party isn’t putting up more resistance. Surely the party mandarins can see that they will doom themselves to perpetual failure if they don’t get serious about scuttling the filibuster and putting some federal voting safeguards on the books. Why are Democrats so passive about this threat? Why can’t they see what is happening right in front of them?

Photograph by Brian Tanguay

Brian Tanguay writes about politics, culture, and books. Co-founder of the California Review of Books and the long running blog, Shouts from the Balcony.