I hate to say this, but America no longer has two parties devoted to a democratic system of self-government. We have a Democratic Party, which — notwithstanding a few glaring counter-examples such as what the Democratic National Committee did to Bernie in 2016 — is still largely committed to democracy. And we have a Republican Party, which is careening at high-velocity toward authoritarianism. Okay, fascism.
What occurred in Nashville last week is a frightening reminder of the fragility of American democracy when Republicans obtain supermajorities and no longer need to work with Democratic lawmakers.
The two Tennessee Democrats expelled from the Tennessee House were not accused of criminal wrongdoing or even immoral conduct. Their putative offense was to protest Tennessee’s failure to enact stronger gun controls after a shooting at a Christian school in Nashville left three 9-year-old students and three adults dead.
They were technically in violation of House rules, but the state legislature has never before imposed so severe a penalty for rules violations. In fact, over the past few years, a number of Tennessee legislators have kept their posts even after being charged with serious sexual misconduct. And the two who were expelled last week are Black people, while a third legislator who demonstrated in the same manner but was not expelled is white.
We are witnessing the logical culmination of win-at-any-cost Trump Republican politics — scorched-earth tactics used by Republicans to entrench their power, with no justification other than that they can.
Democracy is about means. Under it, citizens don’t have to agree on ends (abortion, health care, guns, or whatever else we disagree about) as long as we agree on democratic means for handling our disagreements.
But for Trump Republicans, the ends justify whatever means they choose —including expelling lawmakers, rigging elections through gerrymandering, refusing to raise the debt ceiling, and denying the outcome of a legitimate presidential election.
My friends, the Republican Party is no longer committed to democracy. It is rapidly becoming the American fascist party.
Wisconsin may soon offer an even more chilling example. While liberals celebrated the election on Tuesday of Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because she’ll tip the court against the state’s extreme gerrymandering (the most extreme in the nation) and its fierce laws against abortion (among the most stringent in America), something else occurred in Wisconsin on election day that may well negate Protasiewicz’s victory. Voters in Wisconsin’s 8th senatorial district decided (by a small margin) to send Republican Dan Knodl to the state Senate.
This gives the Wisconsin Republican Party a supermajority — and with it, the power to remove key state officials, including judges, through impeachment. Several weeks ago, Knodl said he would “certainly consider” impeaching Protasiewicz. Although he was then talking about her role as a county judge, his interest in impeaching her presumably has increased now that she’s able to tip the state’s highest court.
As in Tennessee, this could be done without any necessity for a public justification. Under Republican authoritarianism, power is its own justification. Recall that in 2018, after Wisconsin voters elected a Democratic governor and attorney general, the Republican legislature and the lame duck Republican governor responded by significantly cutting back the power of both offices.
North Carolina is another state where a supermajority of GOP legislators has cut deeply into the power of the executive branch, after Democrats won those posts. The GOP now has veto-proof majorities in both of the state’s legislative chambers, which enable Republicans to enact conservative policies over the opposition of Gov. Roy Cooper, including even more extreme gerrymandered districts. Although North Carolina’s constitution bans mid-decade legislative redistricting absent a court order, Republicans just announced they plan to do it anyway.
Meanwhile, a newly installed Republican supermajority in Florida has given Ron DeSantis unbridled control over the state — granting him total authority of the board governing Disney, the theme park giant he has fought over his anti-LGBTQ+ “don’t say gay” law; permission to fly migrants from anywhere in the U.S. to destinations of his own choosing, for political purposes, and then send the bill to Florida’s taxpayers; and unprecedented prosecutorial power in the form of his newly created, hand-picked office of election “integrity,” pursuing supposed cases of voter fraud.
Florida has now effectively silenced even Florida residents from speaking out in opposition to Republican proposals. A new rule prohibits rallies at the state house. Those testifying against Republican bills are often allowed to speak for no more than 30 seconds.
Without two parties committed to democratic means to resolve differences in ends, the one remaining (small-d) democratic party is at a disadvantage in seeking ends it deems worthy. The inevitable result: Eventually it, too, sacrifices democratic means to its own ends.
When a political party sacrifices democratic means to its own ends, partisanship turns to enmity, and political divisions morph into hatred. In warfare there are no principles, only wins and losses. One hundred sixty years ago, our system of self government fell apart because Southern states refused to recognize the inherent equality of Black people. What occurred in Tennessee last week is a throwback to that shameful era.
I don’t believe Trump alone is responsible for the birth of modern Republican fascism, but he has legitimized and encouraged the vicious rancor that has led much of the GOP into election-denying authoritarianism.
What do you think?
Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.