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Poll worker talks to a voter on April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo: Andy Manis/Getty Images)

The Perilous Condition of American Democracy at the Hands of the Republican Party

There are more than 440 Republican proposals aimed precisely at reducing voter turnout, with 34 passed in 19 states.

Roger Bybee

New York Times columnist David Brooks has breathlessly pronounced to his millions of readers Jan. 7 a crucial new discovery about the rising threat to American democracy, which he says, has been unfortunately distorted by election watchdogs, Democrats, and major media. 

'Why The Democrats are so bad at defending democracy' is the problem that Brooks proposes to explore. The Brooks piece amounts to a never-Trumper providing cover for the strategies of Donald J. Trump's minions to profoundly undermine democracy in 2022, 2024, and beyond.

Brooks' column amounts to a comforting but dangerous hallucination about the perilous condition of American democracy at the hands of a Republican Party poised on the edge of a thinly-veiled fascism.

Too much attention, Brooks warns, has been devoted to Republican attempts for permanent minority rule. It's not that big a deal that the Republicans are moving quickly to implement voter suppression to shrink the number and color of those who can vote and to de-value the impact of Democratic votes. You see, the level of voter turnout doesn't matter at all in affecting outcomes, he assures us.

Meanwhile, there are more than 440 Republican proposals aimed precisely at reducing voter turnout, with 34 passed in 19 states. So, we are witnessing a major push for stricter photo ID voter requirements, reducing early voting and sharply curtailing mail-in voting and the use of drop boxes to receive ballots, outright cutting of Election Day voting hours, and imposing a more intense level of anti-Democratic gerrymandering. Further, there are ongoing and expensive official efforts as in Wisconsin to 'audit' 2020's election results in the hope of somehow reversing Biden's win.

However, most shocking and inimical to democracy are Republican proposals in over 15 states to diminish the power of non-partisan election officials to certify elections and permit partisan legislators to nullify election results if declared 'fraudulent' and to declare a new winner or force a new election. The substitution of legislators' partisan loyalties for the choice of voters is an unprecedented attack on majority rule in America.

True, the Republicans are lying, Brooks admits, about the 'essentially zero fraud' in 2020. But really, no big deal.  these hardly matter. Well, yes, the GOP lies have been inherited from Trump's infamous Big Lie' in order to justify the tidal wave of voter restrictions. This fierce, overwhelming drive to make voting more difficult, often successfully as in Georgia and Texas, will be used to re-shape the voting public to Republicans' electoral needs. But the Republicans' main problem on voting is 'Republican hacks' interfering in administering elections, the Times columnist cautions.

Again, keep in mind that Republican actions are not the big problem in preserving democracy. Brooks explains.  It's the Democrats' fault for 'catering to D.C. interest groups.' Those Democrats are foolishly backing, he says, sweeping legislation that would restore an effective voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 by the US Supreme Court and address the overt dominance of huge contributions, partisan gerrymander, and the proliferation of onerous voter ID laws affecting the poor, people of color and students.

However, these Democratic efforts are badly mis-guided and reflect easily-refuted myths about electoral politics. A central myth spotlighted by Brooks and his right-wing ally Yuval Levin is that 'voter suppression efforts are  major threat to democracy,' which must be a shocker to all the Republican legislators frantically working to achieve exactly that impact. Brooks goes on to argue that 'people who want to vote end up voting' despite any barriers intentionally thrown in their path. The proof: 'one recent well-researched study,' which goes unidentified. But conveniently ignored  are two widely-cited major studies and numerous journalistic accounts suggesting that voter ID and other suppression techniques  were decisive factors in 2016 when Donald Trump won the crucial swing state of Wisconsin by a razor-thin 22.748.

Still, it is the Democrats—not the Republicans--who are fixated on 'measures that they mistakenly think will give them an advantage, Brooks tells us. That tidal wave of state legislation of new voting restrictions is basically a trickle. The Democrats ought to 'stop berating' poor Joe Manchin and focus their efforts on grooming better candidates and creating reforms and recruiting electoral staffers at the local level, Brooks helpfully advises.

Instead, the Democrats are focusing their efforts on national crusades for the For the People Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. One danger, Brooks points out with alarm, is that trying to establish national rules for voting fairness risks 'firing up' a 'populist uprising' in favor of complete local autonomy. 'The crisis of democracy is right in front of us,' Brooks concedes. National measures to 'centralize things' and that would 'dictate' local procedures to ensure equal access to voting and conclusively ending the specter of voter nullification carry too heavy a cost, except in their most watered-down form.

Brooks' column amounts to a comforting but dangerous hallucination about the perilous condition of American democracy at the hands of a Republican Party poised on the edge of a thinly-veiled fascism. Frustrated with democracy over losing six of the last seven presidential elections—in large measure over their pro-elite economic commitments, the Republicans are now turning on democracy itself. The Republicans' conduct—like avoiding the Jan. 6 commemoration of the attempted coup to restore Trump—and their goals increasingly betray their authoritarian essence.  With this reality hanging overhead, Brooks has failed in his attempt to whitewash the Republicans and their long-term slide into a party intent on ruling now and in perpetuity, regardless of the popular will.

A former Republican commentator David Frum chillingly describes the reality from which Brooks would divert our attention in his column: 'If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.'

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Roger Bybee

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Common Dreams, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus.

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