Increasing numbers of Americans are worried about the erosion of democracy. Most of us–this writer included–feel powerless to do much about it; we follow the news, and bemoan what seems like the inexorable drip-drip-drip of melting democratic norms.
One of the most recent drips was the spectacle of GOP incivility and bullying during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. As I heard the posturing and antics of Cruz, “Miss Lindsey” and others, I couldn’t help recalling Dick Lugar’s explanation of his vote for a Clinton nominee (I no longer recall whether it was Breyer or Ginsberg); although he had some philosophical differences with the nominee, Lugar said something along the lines of, ” Absent serious and well-founded concerns, a President is entitled to his choice.”
Now, opposition isn’t even grounded in philosophical differences; it is purely partisan–and manifests itself in ugly and (patently false) “discourse” unworthy of the Senate.
This performative exercise was a taste of what we can expect if the GOP wins control of the Senate. It was just one more “drip” on the road to autocracy.
Democracy is most likely to break down through a series of incremental actions that cumulatively undermine the electoral process, resulting in a presidential election that produces an outcome clearly at odds with the voters’ will. It is this comparatively quiet but steady subversion, rather than a violent coup or insurrection against a sitting president, that Americans today have to fear most
Five sets of actions fuel this corrosion: limiting participation in elections; controlling election administration; legitimizing and mobilizing social support for methods to obstruct or overturn an election; using political violence to further that end; and politicizing the regular military or National Guard to delegitimize election outcomes.
The essay identified 18 steps to democratic breakdown and indicated how worrisome a threat the authors considered each.
They identified the willingness of the current Supreme Court to validate efforts to restrict voting–and the inability of Congress to pass voting rights protections–is ominous omens, and found state-level efforts to control the administration of elections equally ominous. They described efforts to put officials in place who would be willing to make decisions that subvert election outcomes as one of the most concerning of all actions that contribute to democratic breakdown.
Citizens should also be on the alert for
Governors, state election boards or commissions appoint, or voters elect, chief election officials who are sympathetic to false claims of voter fraud and willing to use their position to undermine confidence in election results, create new voting regulations or interpret election rules to partisan advantage.
We need to keep an eye on the battleground states of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, “where Republican candidates who publicly supported partisan audits or other actions to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election are now running for secretary of state or other statewide offices.”
The essay also warned against the “Independent State Legislature doctrine”–a doctrine that would move the country back toward the Articles of Confederation. (It was recently endorsed by creepy Indiana Senator Mike Braun.) That doctrine
interprets the Constitution as enabling legislatures to make final determinations about the outcomes of federal elections. A blueprint for such an effort appears in a memo drafted by attorney John Eastman after the 2020 election to try to convince Vice President Mike Pence that there were legal grounds to overthrow the election results. This would provide social backing for courts ceding power to the states to control elections.
Since the article was focused upon elections, it didn’t explore the multiple other dangers posed by this particular doctrine–including the fact that its adoption would facilitate elimination of most civil liberty and civil rights protections in states where Republicans control the legislatures.
The essay also wanted readers to be aware of well-funded and organized efforts to draft model laws and file legal briefs that support the engineering of election outcomes; of incidents of overt coordination between law enforcement officers and militia groups; and politicians voicing support for the use of violence and political intimidation in service of political ends.
Political elites undermine accountability for prior acts of political violence in ways that decrease perception about the costs of future violence. Making statements minimizing the Jan. 6 attack, obstructing efforts to investigate it and failing to punish politicians who supported it would fall into this category, as would punishing those politicians who support investigations.
There’s more. If you want to elevate your blood pressure, click through and read the whole thing.
And do everything in your power to get out the vote–and to protect the mechanisms for counting the votes that are cast.