Opinion | How The Republican Party Delegitimized Government
The right’s message has been loud and clear: they don’t care what the majority of voters think. They’ll do as they please, even if they have to change the laws to do it.
Republicans seem to have little use for government, as their literature tends to make quite clear. They see anything, other than running the military and a few other functions they would reluctantly concede may be of value, as best left to states or better yet corporations. And while they haven’t succeeded in truly shrinking the federal government, over the last decade, they did manage to do something even more nefarious. They managed to more or less delegitimize it.
This isn’t another side-effect of political hyper-polarization. Americans of all ideologies, party affiliations, and generations have been recording the lowest levels of trust in government in more than half a century. From 1958 to 1964, some three-quarters of the country said they could trust their leaders to do the right thing. Today it’s fewer than a fifth. We can see the reason why when we consider that over the decade that the GOP has been in power, they’ve been pursuing an agenda at odds with anywhere between two thirds and three quarters of the country, and have attacked the role of government since the Reagan administration, fomenting public distrust in their own duly elected representatives.
Pick a topic Americans care about and you’ll find that Congress either squashed a bill to tackle it in a way satisfactory to the sizeable majority of the country without a vote, or passed its evil twin as if there was a competition to do the opposite of the nation’s wishes and not content with just winning first place in it, Republicans are trying to run up the score. Voters say they want to live in a modern country and the party in power replies “What’s that you say? Let’s go back to the turn of the last century?” It’s frustrating, to put it mildly.
Engineering Minority Rule
But surely, citizens of the country that calls itself “the world’s greatest democracy” can simply vote the bums out if they’re so out of touch with the public, right? Well, yes and no. As we’ve covered before, an oversight in the Constitution essentially allows a radicalized majority to dig in and resist popular change as long as their base lives in the right imaginary lines on a map. Today, just 18% of votes can determine 51% of the Senate. Likewise, runaway gerrymandering allows the party in power to pick their voters and seize control of the House of Representatives by making their critics’ voices largely irrelevant just by how districts are drawn.
They’re not subtle about it either. Just consider that a redistricting committee of Republicans in Michigan cheered about “cramming Dem garbage” into districts that would ensure a 9 to 5 delegation in the House of Representatives. In 29 states where districts are drawn through explicitly partisan processes, politicians similarly get to pick their voters, making anything short of a tsunami of dissenting voices effectively meaningless.
And on top of that, there are loops and hoops to jump through if you want to vote, unlike in so many other democratic nations there citizens are automatically registered to vote when they’re old enough. Voting in America takes place on Tuesdays because back in 1845 the country was mostly agrarian and election days were based around farmers’ schedules. After nearly two centuries, we haven’t caught up to the fact that we are asking nearly 200 million citizens to leave work and stand in line to vote, and millions just can’t do it. Since election day is not a holiday, in 20 states, workers have to use personal time off if they want to exercise their civic duty.
In the 30 states where they can get time off to vote, they get between one and three hours, often unpaid, to cast their ballots. If it takes them too long to get to their polling places and vote due to long lines, traffic, or technical and bureaucratic problems, or all three, they have to turn back or risk getting in trouble at work. Even worse, sometimes, the inconvenient voting locations, schedules, and options are by design, and Republican lawmakers are loath to allow voting on weekends, extend early voting, open new voting locations, or increase voting hours because it would help boost Democratic turnout.
In the end, despite voting hurdles and Democrats receiving nearly 6 million more votes in the Senate, and nearly 3 million more for the presidency, they’re the minority party in every chamber and branch of the government because the American electoral process favors where you cast your vote over how many votes were cast. And this trend is on track to get worse in the next two decades as just 30 senators will end up representing 66% of the voting public, allowing the other third to stack the judiciary branch as they see fit. Technically, the system is working by the letter of the law, but certainly not the spirit, and that has a profound effect on voters and citizens.
Nearly half of registered voters aren’t even showing up to the polls in a pattern that puts the United States near the bottom of the list of other developed countries when it comes to voter turnout, and some third of non-voters say they believe their voices don’t even matter. And it’s kind of hard to argue with that at first blush. They’re living in a country run by a party who did not receive the majority of the popular vote, with a president a larger plurality voted against, and the courts packed with partisan shenanigans by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a group of libertarians and John Birch Society-style conspiracy theorists instead of an actual process in any way reflecting the will of the voters.
That last point is especially underscored by the current hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Despite accusations of sexual abuse, a nearly blanked out record showing glimpses at extremely questionable behavior and lack of ethics, and the lowest favorability ratings of any Supreme Court nominee in three decades, Kavanaugh is being rammed through by the GOP hell-bent on ignoring any concerns about his character or public misgivings about his backwards views on virtually every issue of importance to the majority of Americans. The thought of an accused rapist rejected by voters sitting on a court that will decide women’s reproductive rights seems like Republicans deliberately underlining that no longer is government something that works for Americans, but something that is done to them.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will no longer even resemble an independent check on the other branches but become little more a tool for partisans to do as they please even if they violated a law forbidding the exact thing they’re trying to do. After all, it won’t be stuffed with serious jurists anymore, but tribalists shoved through a Kabuki theater-styled process in which even serious criminal accusations are waived off as mere delays in the inevitable confirmation of a useful toady to the nation’s highest court. We could consider the story of Merrick Garland as another example of the GOP’s disrespect for constitutional norms and rules, but the party is very busy pretending that not only was he not named to the Supreme Court, but that no one by this name even exists.
The only way to change it within the current system is for tens of millions of people to give up their jobs, part with their homes, move hundreds, if not thousands of miles, then successfully jump through enough hoops to cast a vote within the right imaginary lines to affect who gets to sit on Capitol Hill. It’s simply not a realistic proposition in a time when Americans are becoming more rooted and less mobile than at any point in the last 50 years, which contributes to tens of millions of potential voters just giving up, certain that their votes will be thrown away in an outcome already decided by rabid partisans and geography. They’re also certain that the party in power will govern like Republicans do, drafting a retrograde bill with one hand and holding up a giant middle finger to the citizens they’re supposed to represent with the other.
We Can Do Better
We could declare the bi-annual November elections a holiday, or designate a Saturday as the official voting day. We could enact automatic voter registration, eliminate states’ ability to purge voter rolls on an arbitrary basis, expand early voting, vote by mail, and extend voting hours on election day. And we could eliminate partisan gerrymandering in favor of algorithms reviewed by independent, bipartisan committees as is done in 21 states. None of these fixes are difficult, but they rely on lawmakers greatly benefiting from restricting voting and making the process more complicated to hold on to their jobs to agree to change things for the better. And it’s very little wonder they don’t want to and are, in fact, actively making it even harder to vote.
The takeaway is obvious. Our elected leaders at the highest levels view us as meat with eyes at best and obstacles to power and the ability to dictate their dogmas to us unchallenged at worst. They know they lack a popular mandate and do not care one whit, happy that the system currently failing their voters makes implementing their broadly opposed agendas possible. And if all that wasn’t enough, their widely reviled, reprobate shenanigans made America quite literally the world’s laughingstock.
The end result is a nation with leaders unwilling and unable to solve its problems, interested in the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish something instead of the best way to do it. Any serious change, no matter how necessary, any investment, no matter how crucial for the future, are immediately waived off as unrealistic before passionately debating the next guaranteed to fail gimmick that puts off a long-term fix. Want to vote them out or undo their diktats? Yeah, ok, good luck with that. Also, enjoy being demonized as a treasonous agent of the globalist Deep State by right-wing media and your own family.
Such a government might have legal legitimacy, technically speaking, but certainly not a moral or truly democratic one. But that suits Republicans just fine. The more people give up, the more people tune politics out, the more people assume that contacting and challenging their elected representatives is an exercise in futility, the easier it is for them to do as they please. And the same goes for the next party elected without a popular mandate, under questionable rules, with an unpopular, retrograde agenda. Dragging a country backward is, after all, a lot easier when the populace has the fight strangled out of them with malicious, Kafkaesque bureaucracy and being treated with thinly veiled contempt by those who govern them.