The Root of Minority Tyranny

“The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible.” Abraham Lincoln

As more information trickles out, it appears the January 6 riot at the United States Capitol was the culmination of a premeditated effort to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. This helps to explain, in part, why the Republican Party has opposed with great determination and non-stop gaslighting any attempt to investigate what happened on January 6, and, as critically, what took place in the days leading up to that horrible day on which five people died, a fact that gets lost in all the spin-doctoring by GOP hacks and their FOX News mouthpieces. In addition to those killed, hundreds of police officers were injured. The seat of one of the three branches of our government was desecrated by a mob as millions of Americans watched it happen in real time.

Many months before the 2020 election, I predicted that if Trump lost he would not go quietly. This prediction was based on Trump’s repeated fear-mongering about fraud being the only way he could lose. That was an obvious signal that Trump would not accept the outcome if he lost, and that he would never concede defeat. Trump’s position was always, heads I win, tails you lose. After living through four years of Trump’s epic misrule, corruption and incompetence, it was clear to me that a man of his grandiose psychological makeup wouldn’t be able to resist attempting to undermine the peaceful transfer of political power which has been one positive hallmark of American democracy. Trump would be, had to be, the first to shatter all the norms and piss all over every inaugural tradition.

People who have paid attention know how close we came to a full-blown Constitutional confrontation, but many people are unaware that the threat is ongoing. From its inception, American democracy has always been more fragile and far less democratic than it appears. It took a bitter civil war to break the iron grip the slave states exercised over the federal government, and in the aftermath of that war the defeated southern states fought any and all attempts to ameliorate the condition of black people. Yes, the Reconstruction Era saw the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, but the effort incited the southern states to wage a bloody campaign of terror against black people and their white supporters, while at the same time it exhausted the northern states. A century of rigid Jim Crow segregation followed, which forced millions of blacks, in the greatest internal migration in our history, to flee the south for northern and western cities where they were hardly welcomed with open arms.

The root of minority tyranny has been with us for a long time, and it snakes its way around the trunk of the fabled tree of liberty. It’s baked in. The Electoral College favors sparsely populated states with disproportionate electoral power. The population of Brooklyn, New York, is roughly equal to the combined population of reliably red states like Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, and West Virginia. For nearly two decades, Mitch McConnell has wielded the rules of the US Senate (primarily the filibuster) like a blackjack to pack the federal courts with judges who support the agenda of the GOP’s wealthy and corporate donors, and the culture warriors of the Christian Right. The Senate is an entirely undemocratic body, once the bastion of slaveholders, and now the property of Mitch McConnell, even when he’s not majority leader. It wasn’t until the early part of the twentieth century that senators were elected by popular vote; that speaks volumes about its undemocratic nature and intent. And look at what is happening with Biden’s legislative agenda, much of which is very popular with the public: two senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, who combined represent only 9 million Americans, have totally gummed up the works, while McConnell stands in the shadows, laughing his old, white, self-satisfied ass off. Like the wily coyote that he is, McConnell knows that time is on his side and that obstruction works to his party’s benefit; the more Democrats appear inept and consumed with infighting, the better chances the GOP has of regaining the House and Senate in 2022.

If the next two or three years play out as they seem poised to, American democracy, at least on the national level, may be effectively kaput. Here’s what historian Sean Wilentz wrote in a recent piece for the journal Liberties: “Without dissolving the Union or amending the Constitution, or assaulting the Capitol, the Republican Party will have replaced American democracy with minority despotism.” Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and empowering state legislatures controlled by Republicans to overturn the results of elections in which they don’t prevail (by some reported estimates, more than 300 bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country), are the nails that will seal the coffin. We’re well down this road. Don’t think all those federal judges that McConnell had a hand in seating for lifetime terms won’t play a role in the legal battles ahead; they will.

Here’s another point Sean Wilentz makes in his excellent essay (I’ll link below for those of you who may be interested) that sent a tremor of fear down my spine: When the southern states seceded from the union after the election of Abraham Lincoln, essentially rejecting the outcome of the election of 1860, “they did not identify their cause with the personality and political fortunes of a single autocratic leader or subdue an entire national political party to the autocrat’s will.”

The GOP of 2020, a minority party intent on imposing its unpopular policies on the majority of Americans, did just that. Think of the potential consequences for the next generation. How can we possibly address climate catastrophe, grotesque wealth inequality, nuclear weapons, racial injustice, homelessness, and every other problem we face when the minority who rule over us deny these problems exist or have zero inclination to do anything to ameliorate them? That’s what’s at stake, and why saving what remains of American democracy matters.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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.