Democracy? That’s for losers. For the Republicans, the name of the game is winning—and rigging the system the better to ensure perpetual winning.
One year and a month into the Donald Trump presidency, it’s increasingly clear that the Republican Party, drunk on the power of unified government under a man it once despised, has given up on the idea of democracy and decided instead to stand firmly at his side, and to maintain control by any means necessary. They have decided to not to govern, but to rule.
Democracy works only if all of the parties to it agree to its ground rules. We now have entered an era when only one party does so, often to its detriment, while the other continually blows through the guard rails of democratic normalcy in pursuit of perpetual power and monetary gain. The result: the most ostentatiously corrupt administration since Richard Nixon’s is completely off its tether, while his political party’s soul vanishes a little more each day.
The tax cut rammed through the Senate on a party-line basis, which promises to suck $1.5 trillion out of the treasury and which could yet set up draconian cuts to social services for the poor, children and the elderly was but one example of the rot. Holding hostage a Supreme Court seat, which Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell made clear he would allow to be filled only by a Republican president, was another. There are the serial attacks on voting rights in state after state under GOP control that, combined with likely continued Russian meddling, threaten the very democratic character of our elections. And the current determination of House Republicans to burn it all—including the intelligence community and the FBI—to protect Trump, and by extension the Kremlin, is the most outrageous of all.
Trump’s elevation to the White House, thanks to the anachronistic Electoral College, combined with the gerrymandered control of state and federal legislatures made possible by the Obama backlash and the short-sightedness of Democratic voters in 2010, gave Republicans a rare gift. The party has controlled all three branches of the federal government only three times since its founding as the anti-slavery party in 1854.
Since rebranding itself as the party of big business during the Gilded Age and losing losingTeddy Roosevelt in the process, the Grand Old Party controlled the presidency and Congress four times: during the presidencies of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover from 1925 to 1933, to disastrous results for the global economy; then again under Dwight Eisenhower, due to the deaths of nine Democratic senators and the resignation of another; and finally during parts of George W. Bush’s tenure. (It’s worth noting that Eisenhower, who presided over a period of rare economic stability under a Republican, was so non-ideological, he was offered the Democratic nomination by party bosses in 1948. With Bush, the GOP returned to deficit-busting, tax-cutting, recession-inducing form.)
Even without the White House, Republican control of the federal legislature has been disastrous for anyone but the super rich.
After the “Republican revolution” of 1994, Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Trent Lott used their power to force through a wholesale rewrite of welfare and criminal justice law; changes that resulted in the mass incarceration of millions of people, disproportionately black or Latino. During the Obama years, Republican control of Congress resulted in a veritable halt to legislative activity, as Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, followed by Paul Ryan, effected a virtual congressional work stoppage to thwart the Democratic president.
Now, with unified control of government again in their hands, including a Republican majority on the Supreme Court, plus control of 67 state legislative chambers to Democrats’ 32 (with Virginia up in the air), and 34 governor’s mansions to Democrats’ 15 (plus total control in 26 states), Republicans are galloping through their agenda of returning America to the 1920s.
Anywhere Republicans wield control, a familiar pattern emerges: aggressive deregulation and tax cuts for big business, attacks on unionized work, Medicaid, and public education, and the savaging of voting rights for people of color and any other group suspected of potential alignment with Democrats. On a federal level, throw in a wholesale handover of pristine lands, from Alaska to Bears Ears in Utah to the extractive industries, coupled with relaxed rules on how much those oil, gas, and coal companies can pollute the air and water with impunity.
Donald Trump supports this agenda, but he isn’t implementing it on his own. He has an entire party apparatus behind him, which is why Mitch McConnell declared 2017 to be, in his view, the greatest single year in the history of the Republican Party.
Apparently the feeling is so good to Republicans both in Washington and in the states, they have decided that they will never relinquish this unprecedented power.
In Wisconsin, the Republican governor, Scott Walker, has for nearly a full year refused to call special elections, leaving legislative seats vacant rather than risk their being filled by Democrats. This after his administration pulled off the most widespread voter disenfranchisement in the country in 2016 and dismantled his state’s Government Accountability Board, which was supposed to insure fair and ethical elections. That’s banana republic dictator behavior.
In Pennsylvania, having lost appeals going all the way up to the Republican majority Supreme Court, Republicans are now threatening to impeach state Supreme Court justices who ruled against them in a gerrymandering case that could finally break their stranglehold over state and federal legislative seats.
And of course there is the autocrat in training in Washington, who this week declared that not standing and applauding his speeches is tantamount to treason, and who with his party having emptied the coffers on their billionaire tax cuts, has ordered the Pentagon to throw him a grand military parade to “showcase America’s might,” in the style of Kim Jong Un. One shudders at the thought of tanks and troops filing down Pennsylvania Avenue, while the man who ducked out of Vietnam and has denigrated the service of braver men and Gold Star families does his best Mussolini pucker as he and his kleptocratic clan preen in the reviewing stand.
And rather than use the power the Constitution grants the Congress to rein in the would-be American Louis XVI, the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, and a cadre of lickspittle Republican marionettes have put the United States Congress wholly in the president’s service. Ryan is too busy urging the peasants to dance in the streets for the dollar-fifty he and his fellow top hatters flung from the Bastille in Washington while handing Exxon Mobil billions, the Koch brothers millions to care. McConnell can only rouse himself to threaten Democrats and take children’s health care and military payrolls hostage while allowing community health center funding benefitting 26 million Americans to languish for months while dawdling on immigration reform (which Ryan insists will only proceed in the House on the Dear Leader’s terms). In short, we now have zero checks on the executive branch in Washington, and an almost frenzied money grab by the wealthiest Americans under the benighted gaze of the once revered Grand Old Party. Abe Lincoln must be spinning in his grave.
Ryan and McConnell are destined to go down in history as twin handmaidens of America’s surprisingly swift descent toward authoritarianism, along with present-day Joe McCarthy Devin Nunes. Their morally decrepit political party has turned its back on every principle of democracy in favor of the naked pursuit of profit and power. Trump will be remembered as a wanna-be autocrat surrounded by beaters, cheaters, grifters, miscreants, and incompetents, and depending on what Mueller finds, maybe a criminal, too.
And he can be assured no one will ever throw him a memorial parade.