For a year now, the Republican Party has carried out a strategy in state legislatures across the country designed to further the January 6 insurrection in a less brutal, legalized form, immune from the interruptions of police offices and prosecutors. The sweeping plan is meant to assure that when a Republican presidential candidate loses (again) in 2024, he can claim that he won and have, at his disposal, an infrastructure to secure the reversal.
Some measures, proposed or adopted, make it easier for Republican legislatures, astonishingly, to reject a decision by the voters if they disagree with it. Some changes substitute partisan hacks for professional, traditionally independent election officials. Some try to intimidate local officers through the specter of criminal prosecution. All aim to assure that when Donald Trump, or someone like him, fails to obtain a majority vote, he can become president anyway, democracy be damned. The American idea, the theory apparently goes, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
As Republicans have worked feverishly to construct this seditionist framework, Democrats, especially at the highest echelons, have largely averted their eyes – like modern-day Neville Chamberlains. You can almost imagine them pleading: “I’ve got a paper in my hands, signed by Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, saying they love bi-partisanship and know it must be out there.” Not to worry. Don’t believe your lying eyes.
This Trump-abetting anti-democratic agenda has now become the defining, foundational tenet of the Grand Old Party. The be all, end all. It has taken some time, I’ll concede, to let that sink in. I’m among the naïve crowd that never thought this could happen in what we used to call the world’s greatest democracy. Of course no one says that anymore.
But now that the pattern is set, the course undeniable, it is important to inquire further. If one of America’s two major parties is now opposed to democracy, what, exactly, are they for? If majority rule is passé, destined for the dustbin of history, what replaces it? If the majority doesn’t win, and, thereby, rule, who does?
Majority rule, consent of the most of the governed, is, after all a principle of governing. If it is to be cast aside, then who will become the “deciders”? The minority? Surely not just any minority of voters, because there are a lot of those. Is it just the Republican minority? Any Republican minority? Or just some Republican minorities? Like white Republicans, or Trump Republicans?
What happens if, like I’ve assumed it works sometimes in totalitarian countries, everybody, for self-preservation, joins the favored party? If hundreds of millions of us now enroll in the Republican Party so that our votes will count, do we get to be winners too? Or would that spoil the project?
So what’s the new endgame? What’s the ultimate Republican takeaway in this time of darkness? It is one thing, both comprehensible and just, to rule by majority preference. If we’re now to switch to minority dominance, which one? Which group counts? Which subset prevails? If, as I suspect, the answer is really just “mine”, “our group” prevails – then, of course, we’ve got more work to do still. Crucial and defining work. If it’s just “our” group that deserves to rule and no one else, who is the “our”?
The Republican Party in the United States has some explaining to do. I’m just saying.
Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina.