Maybe democracy dies in broad daylight

I do really like the Post’s “Democracy dies in Darkness,” but over the past week I’ve read multiple pieces with themes like this one from David Graham, “Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre Is Already Happening.”  And, if you don’t get the Watergate reference you should so totally listen to Slate’s terrific “Slow Burn” podcast.  Really eye-opening how not-inevitable Nixon’s fall was and how hard many in the Republican Party worked to protect him for so long.

Anyway, what this really got me thinking is that democracy dies in broad daylight.  Sadly, we’ve seen this in a number of European countries (e.g., Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Russia).  And, it’s because various institutions– especially political parties– cooperate with anti-democratic actions in the craven pursuit of power above all else.  And, as I said the other day, no, democracy is not dying here, but has been sent to the hospital.  Super-centrists Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes therefore make the case that it is a small-d democracy-preserving imperative to vote against Republicans.  I think they are right:

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former)…

We’re proposing something different. We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans… [emphases mine]

So why have we come to regard the GOP as an institutional danger? In a nutshell, it has proved unable or unwilling (mostly unwilling) to block assaults by Trump and his base on the rule of law. Those assaults, were they to be normalized, would pose existential, not incidental, threats to American democracy.

Future generations of scholars will scrutinize the many weird ways that Trump has twisted the GOP. For present purposes, however, let’s focus on the party’s failure to restrain the president from two unforgivable sins. The first is his attempt to erode the independence of the justice system. This includes Trump’s sinister interactions with his law-enforcement apparatus: his demands for criminal investigations of his political opponents, his pressuring of law-enforcement leaders on investigative matters, his frank efforts to interfere with investigations that implicate his personal interests, and his threats against the individuals who run the Justice Department. It also includes his attacks on federal judges, his pardon of a sheriff convicted of defying a court’s order to enforce constitutional rights, his belief that he gets to decide on Twitter who is guilty of what crimes, and his view that the justice system exists to effectuate his will. Some Republicans have clucked disapprovingly at various of Trump’s acts. But in each case, many other Republicans have cheered, and the party, as a party, has quickly moved on. A party that behaves this way is not functioning as a democratic actor.

The second unforgivable sin is Trump’s encouragement of a foreign adversary’s interference in U.S. electoral processes. 

Ross Douthat has some interesting pushback against this, and outlines all the ways Republicans have constrained Trump.  And, he’s right.  Yet, as with the Nunes memo, the key here is what Douthat omits.  It’s kind of like saying Republicans are fine because they have limited 70% of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-democratic tendencies.  You know what that other 30% gets you?  Authoritarianism.

And Brian Beutler argues that a Republican electoral boycott is not enough for Republicans to learn their lesson:

But they (quite wisely it turns out) didn’t respond to these back-to-back referenda [2006 and 2008] as if a large majority of the country would boycott them indefinitely.

Instead, they understood that subsequent elections would be referenda on the country’s new political leaders, not its old ones. Rather than adopt a political style with mass appeal, they became even more reactionary. They committed themselves to sabotaging President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats in order to shorten their climb back to political power.

After years of engaging enthusiastically in corruption and fiscal profligacy, Obama-era Republicans adopted a pose of rectitude and austerity. Anyone who had been paying attention knew these were just poses. Their immediate jettisoning of Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” ethos and overnight embrace of hawkish budget rhetoric was nakedly insincere, but was nevertheless accepted in good faith by nearly the entire political elite. Just this week, in an otherwise astute assessment of Republican base voters, Axios’ Jonathan Swan asserted that Trump “has moved the party away from decades of orthodoxy on…deficits,” as if such an orthodoxy has existed in the post-Reagan era. As if Republicans’ re-embrace of expansionary fiscal policy after reclaiming power weren’t completely foreordained…

The Republican Party isn’t going to “right itself or implode” unless that kind of unprincipled behavior is rendered toxic. It should be considered disreputable outside of movement conservatism to work for Fox News or for the same RNC that propped up Trump, and then backed Roy Moore in Alabama. If you conduct yourself the way Devin Nunes has conducted himself as Trump’s agent atop the House Intelligence Committee, you shouldn’t just have to worry about losing your seat, but about your name being dirt.

I can dimly envision how that might happen, but hold almost no hope that it will.

So, yeah, the Republican Party has been totally complicit in much of the worst of what Trump has to offer.  And in plain sight.  And Beutler’s argument that even electoral defeat isn’t enough is pretty depressing.  And, it seems pretty damn clear that daylight is not sufficient either.  For now, just keep resisting.  And vote for small-d democracy.

Map of the day

This is pretty cool from Gallup, a map of state based on percentage of the population that identifies as “conservative” versus “liberal.”  Now, that’s a horribly problematic measure as plenty of people identify as “conservative” and support all sorts of liberal policies, but it’s a decent enough rough metric.


Also interesting to see where the largest shifts have been (mostly in already blue states):


Net-Conservative Scores by State
% Conservative minus % Liberal


2008 2017 Change
U.S. average +17 +9 -8
Increased/No change
Wyoming +28 +33 +5
North Dakota +19 +24 +5
Montana +18 +21 +3
Kansas +20 +20 0
Biggest decreases
Delaware +16 0 -16
Vermont -1 -14 -13
New Mexico +19 +7 -12
Massachusetts -2 -13 -11
Maryland +10 -1 -11
Oregon +7 -3 -10
California +7 -3 -10
Georgia +25 +15 -10
Annual averages

But, hey, watch out for Georgia.

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