As the 116th Congress draws to a close, we must confront the fact that a large majority—64%—of the Republican Congressional caucus signed on to an amicus brief siding with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to bar Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from casting their Electoral College votes for Joe Biden. Ken Paxton was not alone: 17 Republican Attorneys General backed the lawsuit.
The behavior of the majority of the Republican caucus is not simply stupid, although it is that. It is also political malpractice. Let’s leave aside the fact—and it is a fact—that there was no reasonable legal theory underlying the case to begin with. Not only that, the Republicans never produced a shred of evidence to show that the election was sufficiently tainted to alter the outcome, much less that they “won big”.
Despite the blizzard of lawsuits they launched, Trump and his Republican sycophants lost virtually all of them. And for good reason. They simply had no case. The judges that dismissed the cases were often Trump appointees. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Supreme Court declined to even hear the Texas lawsuit and declined to do so without a single dissent.
What should we make of this? Well, the first question is kind of obvious: Why should anybody take the Republicans seriously? After all, the party is rapidly being overwhelmed by the Tin Foil Hat Brigade. And that is a very big problem.
Let’s define what the problem is and what it is not. The problem is not that democracy—left undefined—is being foiled. We’ll return to that later. The real problem is that a substantial portion, and perhaps a majority, of Republican office holders are now headed where the Democrats already are. They are denying the legitimacy of an outcome they don’t like, and not for any good reason. They think they are entitled to win; that the election belonged to them. Any election they lose is illegitimate.
That is a pretty good description of where Hillary Clinton stood after the 2016 election. And the Democratic Party, along with its press acolytes, spent the next 4 years trying to de-legitimize the Trump Presidency, particularly with the Russia Collusion story.
The effort to delegitimize the other side is not a new phenomenon; it has been with us since the beginning of the Republic. There was that matter of the Civil War. Andrew Jackson denied the legitimacy of the 1824 election accusing Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams of agreeing to a corrupt bargain to deny Jackson the presidency. Rutherford B. Hayes was named as president as a result of the Compromise of 1877 in which Congress awarded him 20 contested electoral votes in return for which, he pulled Northern troops out of the South, thus ending the Reconstruction era.
In more recent times, Democrats have been arguing, without a shred of evidence, that Republicans have systematically suppressed the vote of African Americans. This is a piety almost universally accepted by the party, a piety belied by the numbers. When addressing an NAACP meeting, Joe Biden added helpfully that Mitt Romney would “…put y’all back in chains.”
On the other hand, plenty of Republicans never accepted the legitimacy of either the Obama or Clinton presidencies. The tightness of the 2000 election didn’t help very much either. John Kerry remains convinced that he won the election of 2004, but that Ohio was stolen from him. And lots of Democrats argue that the only reason why George H.W. Bush won in 1988 is because of the infamous Willy Horton ad, which, they say was racist.
It seems though, that modern attacks on the legitimacy of the opposing side are qualitatively different. That’s because in some ways, they are. Which points to the real underlying problem. There is too much democracy.
The word democracy is tossed about far too loosely in American politics. It has come to simply mean “good”, which also implies there should be no restraint.
There are two points here that have to be emphasized. The first is that in actuality democracy is simply a process for selecting among competing alternatives. It is designed to mediate differences, not to create some illusory unity. The second is that, contrary to widely held opinion, democracy is not the foundational value of the American experiment in self-rule. Liberty is.
The Madisonian framework for constitutional governance was designed to secure and preserve liberty. The framers were terrified of mob rule. The French Revolution, which began in 1789, reinforced that fear. The U.S. Constitution was designed to make government decision making difficult so as to limit government power. In theory the government could only do what it was permitted to do by the Constitution. The Bill of Rights carved out things the government was expressly prohibited from doing.
That went out the window with the rise of progressive politics. Government was unleashed and so was democracy. Now government’s power to intervene in the minutia of peoples lives is almost limitless. All in the name of helping “the people”. Even in areas where government action was strictly circumscribed by the Bill of Rights, policymakers are only held back by courts. And the independence of the courts is under attack.
What’s more is that there is a unified theory that forms the basis of the attack on liberty. Call it relativism, critical race theory, deconstructionism, intersectionality, radical feminism, Neo-Marxism or what you will. It all amounts to the same thing. Individual human beings count for nothing; all that matters is power relations. Workers v Capitalists, Males (the patriarchy) vs Females, Whites vs People of Color etc etc. Intersectionality simply creates a more exquisitely refined selection of grievance categories.
When all human relations are reduced to one dimension; namely, the will to power, politics eventually dominates everything. Inevitably the result is violence and tyranny. There is no room for individual liberty; no room for live and let live; for kindness, decency, love, respect or all the things that make life worth living.
That is were we are headed if the critical theorists have their way. More and more, the culture shapers in the media, the arts, the universities and woke corporations have bought into it. Now it is seeping into the popular culture. That’s what the real problem is.