The GOP is about to realize their dream of dismantling fifty years of progressive policy. And they want you to know it.
In our household, a kind of gallows humor has emerged. I suppose it’s our laugh-to-keep-from-crying method of coping with the daily grind of the last four years.
For example, whenever a media pundit seems surprised by the President’s disregard for a norm or an obscure law, one of us (usually one of our teenagers) pipes in with the punchline of this stickman cartoon:
My family’s jaded sense of humor notwithstanding, a shopworn yet totally apropos quote best encapsulates the underlying message of this little cartoon:
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~Maya Angelou
Which brings me to a series of tweets from Senator Mike Lee of Utah, recently diagnosed with the coronavirus. While live-tweeting during the Vice-Presidential debate, Lee shared his opinion via Twitter that “We’re not a democracy.” A few hours later, the Senator doubled down on his previous comment: “Democracy isn’t the objective: liberty, peace, and [prosperity] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
As those who passed eighth-grade civics already know, America is not a popular democracy; it is a representative form of government that depends on public servants like Senator Lee to represent the larger populace’s interests. Since Senator Lee tweeted his viewpoint while under quarantine for COVID-19, I initially thought his tweets were yet another argument for avoiding social media while under the influence of medication.
But Senator Lee isn’t a person prone to gaffes. Aside from his ten years in the U.S. Senate, where he sits on the Judiciary Committee, he clerked for Justice Samuel Alito on the Third Circuit Court. He was legal counsel to the governor of Utah and even served as a federal prosecutor.
So the guy is no dummy. And his tweets were not a mistake.
Indeed, Senator Lee’s tweets were a social media shout-out of sorts to his fellow proponents of illiberalism and minority rule. The Bulwark’s Nathaniel A. G. Zelinsky explains:
“[A]t another level, Senator Lee sent a well-crafted message, one that came through loud and clear: The American experiment is worth it only when my view prevails. This message fits a growing and disturbing trend. Among the conservative intelligentsia, especially in certain legal circles, it has become stylish to view self-governance as nothing more than a means to a very particular set of ends. And should “conservative” policies lose out in the democratic process, then liberal democracy itself should go.
As Sue Halpern of The New Yorker points out, Senator Lee’s tweets express a view of the Constitution that “stems from a selective interpretation” of the document popular among modern-day Republicans:
“Lee’s words also underscore something else: that many on the right view voting as an existential threat. At a gathering of evangelicals back in 1980, Paul Weyrich, a Republican strategist and a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, asked, “How many of our Christians have what I call the ‘goo-goo syndrome’? Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
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The next day, Senator Lee tried to clean up the appearance of advocating for straight-up fascism by saying, “There’s nothing more counter-fascist than a constitutional republic like ours.” Conventional wisdom states that conservatives like Lee and soon-to-be-confirmed Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett subscribe to what are commonly known as textualism and originalist philosophies.
Their philosophy allegedly contends that the Constitution’s Framers intended the document to be understood based on the strict text and its original understanding when adopted. According to ACB, the Constitution’s meaning “doesn’t change over time. And it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.” But for many (myself included), the issue with this ideology is that the Constitution’s original interpretation excludes everyone but white, landowning men. So there’s that.
And with calls within the Federalist Society for “active judging” and the suggestion from conservative scholars that originalism itself “has now outlived its utility, and has become an obstacle to the development of a robust, substantively conservative approach to constitutional law and interpretation,” pardon my skepticism.
Judging from the rise in illiberal rhetoric within the GOP, their failure to even bother with a party platform, and the fact that the majority of the country’s citizens disagree with their stances on everything from abortion to healthcare, it appears Republicans have abandoned the idea of winning by gaining majorities.
In other words, our representative democracy is in their way.
And while it is a relief to know ACB believes Brown v. Board of Education was properly decided, consider the areas where she was less than forthcoming. Barrett would not share her views on the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, or even Medicare during her three days of testimony.
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There is through-line directly from Paul Weyrich’s philosophy to the watering down of the Voting Rights Act, the push for onerous voter I.D. laws, to the President’s current attacks on mail-in ballots. Bottom line — Republicans only want their voters to vote.
The underlying disdain for liberal democracy underpinning Senator Lee’s tweet is of a piece with a mindset, one that allows Republicans to block a Democratic president’s SCOTUS selection with a rule created out of whole cloth, abandoning the precedent they created when it fails to suit their agenda.
The same power-at-all-costs philosophy allows the GOP to push Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination out of the Judiciary Committee without a quorum — or even a single Democrat present breaking their own rules in the process.
It’s easy when the rules only apply to those that do not agree with you.
This, ladies and gentlemen, are how Republicans plan to dismantle fifty years of progressive accomplishments — everything from New Deal and Great Society policies to Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act.
Make no mistake: Republicans have told us who they are. We should believe them.
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