Will Biden and the Democrats be able to stop Trump’s party from destroying democracy?

Bob Sheak, June 4, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I attempt to do two things.

First, I consider the extensive efforts by Trump and the Republican Party to obstruct Democratic policy initiatives in the U.S. Congress and to protect an anti-democratic agenda, while Republicans in states across the country work to extend voter suppression laws and even, yet today, try to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. The framework for much of what Republicans are doing revolves around pushing the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump and doing whatever it takes to hold onto power. Trump is their undisputed “leader.” His mass, cultist-like, base follows him unquestioningly. If they are successful, our already tenuous democracy will be more severely undermined than ever before.

Second, I consider what Biden and Democrats are doing to protect voters’ rights, with special attention to the For the People Act. Democratic success depends on their ability to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate, pass voting rights legislation, combat Republican disinformation, run successful political campaigns, and educate and mobilize their voters for the 2022 elections.

Part 1: The Republican attack on democracy

The Republican Party has mounted major efforts to shape the electoral system in ways to limit significantly the opportunities for voters, aimed at voters of color and other perceived opponents. The Republicans have long been engaged in voter suppression. Among other authors, Carol Anderson documents how Republicans have used suppression tactics for 150 years to harass, obstruct, frustrate, and purge American citizens from having a say in their own democracy (One Person, One Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, p. 2). What is new in this era of the Trump-dominated Republican Party, is the breadth and depth of voter suppression and efforts to subvert other institutional aspects of the electoral system.

And in the 2020 elections, Republicans increased the number of state legislatures they control. This is important, because the party that has a majority in state legislatures has the power to determine the contours of congressional districts. Alvin Change and Sam Levine refer to the following evidence (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/15/gerrymandering-republicans-map-charts-states).

“Democrats failed to flip any of the legislative chambers they targeted and Republicans came out of election night in nearly the best possible position for drawing districts, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, and will have the opportunity to draw 188 congressional seats, 43% of the House of Representatives. Democrats will have a chance to draw at most just 73 seats. Republicans will probably also be able to draw districts that will make it more difficult for Democrats to hold their majority in the US House in 2022”

If the current efforts to limit the votes of opponents and skew the electoral rules are successful, the Republicans running for federal and state offices will be able to win elections despite losing the popular vote and even when they lose in the electoral college. And there’s more. Whenever there are legal challenges to voting outcomes in these circumstances, the radical-right majority on the Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of what Republicans call voter “integrity” laws and legitimate the anti-democratic thrust of the Republican voter suppression laws.

The likely repercussions of not passing voting rights policies

Consider a not-so hypothetical set of consequences. If the Republicans are successful in suppressing the vote, they will be able to further consolidate their misbegotten electoral advantages and advance a right-wing agenda. The election of Trump and cronies would cascade into the control of the executive branch and the bevy of federal agencies and to both houses of Congress. At the same time, Republicans would control more state legislatures and governorships than they already do. The president, elected by a minority of voters, would then be able to appoint right-wing lawyers to the federal court and Supreme Court.

Such changes would give Trump and a Republican Congress opportunity to consolidate their neoliberal economic agenda, including the goals of lowering taxes, advancing further deregulation, further privatization of public land, prisons, immigrant detention facilities, schools, along with pushing for unrestrained military spending, and a hawkish foreign policy. The impulsive, arrogant, autocratically-aspiring president would again have the power to launch nuclear weapons at a whim. When Republicans have power, they would support legislation that plays to Trump’s base, which is large but far from a majority, on anti-abortion, unrestricted gun ownership, support for Christian nationalism, and white supremacy. Overall, in such a dystopian situation, they would continue to make up their own “facts” to rationalize their goals and policies. Fox News and other extreme rightist media would echo it all and reinforce whatever Trump and the Republicans put forth. (See Henry Giroux’s article on Carlson and the right-wing media at: https://truthout.org/articles/tucker-carlson-is-just-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-in-right-wing-media-war-on-truth.)

Evidence of the escalating Republican attacks on voting rights

Voter suppression

Sam Levine reports for The Guardian thatthe Republican effort to suppress the vote is, as of the end of April, unprecedented “not only in its volume as more than 360 bills with voting restrictions have been introduced so far – but also in its scope” (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republican-voter-suppression-biden).

In an update on May 11, 2021, Nathaniel Rakich and Elena Mejia consider how and where Republicans are making it harder for some Americans to vote, with more to come (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republicans-have-made-it-harder-to-vote-in-11-states-so-far). They refer to data from the Brennan Center for Justice and their own research and report that “at least 404 voting-restriction bills have now been introduced in 48 state legislatures, adding that “nearly 90 percent of them were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republicans.”

Many of these bills will not be approved; however, dozens or more will be approved. According to their analysis of the data, Rakich and Mejia “count 179 that are already dead — either because they were voted down or weren’t passed before a key deadline. Another 137 bills have not yet progressed beyond the committee stage, and at this point, that inaction bodes poorly for their chances of passage. On the other hand, 63 bills are still worth watching, having passed at least one step of the legislative process (with those that have passed two chambers closer to passage than those that have just passed committee). That leaves 25 bills that are already law (back in March, this number was only six); four states have even enacted multiple such laws.”

Rakich and Mejia identify 11 states that had by May 11 already enacted new voting restrictions, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Michigan and Florida should now be added to the list and Texas is on the verge of passing extensive voter suppression legislation. These states could sway the next elections in 2022 to Trumpian Republicans.

This is an “emergency”

Sam Levine writes that the electoral system is in an “emergency.” He underlines the point that during the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency Republican lawmakers have taken an unprecedented effort to make it harder to vote. Even as attacks on voting rights have escalated in recent years, the Republican efforts since January “mark a new, more dangerous phase for American democracy, experts say.”

Levine gives some examples of what the voter-suppression bills include.

“Republicans in states like GeorgiaFlorida and Michigan have taken aim at mail in voting with measures that require voters to provide identification information with their mail in ballot application or ballot (in some cases both). They’ve sought to limit access to mail-in ballot drop boxes, even though they were extremely popular for voters in 2020 and there’s no evidence they were connected to malfeasance.

“Texas Republicans are advancing legislation that would criminalize minor voting mistakes and give partisan poll watchers the ability to record people at the polls. In Georgia and Arkansas, new legislation makes it illegal to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote. In Michigan, one Republican proposal would even go so far as to block the state’s top election official from providing a link to an absentee ballot application on a state government website.”

If these efforts are left unchecked, Levine posits, “it will likely not only set the stage for Republicans to retake control of the US House in 2022, but also allow the Republican party to hold on to its political power by shutting a rapidly diversifying electorate out from the ballot box.”

Jessica Corbett provides additional information on the Republican’s voter suppression and electoral subversion activities ((https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/27/fears-mount-gops-big-lie-2020-test-run-what-comes-next). She writes: “since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol in January, Republican state legislators have proposed, and in some cases passed, voter suppression bills that critics warn could impact ballot access in key states for next year’s midterms and the elections that follow.” As mentioned, Republican efforts to subvert the electoral system is not new. She refers to an interview by Vox’s Sean Illing with Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris.

“In 2018, Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris told Vox‘s Sean Illing that since the 1990s, ‘we’ve seen a one-sided escalation in which Republicans exploit the vagueness or lack of clarity in the Constitution in order to press their advantage in a variety of arenas—from voter ID laws to gerrymandering to behavioral norms in the Congress and Senate.’ He warned that ‘Democrats have to recognize the urgency of the moment and act accordingly.’”

In a follow-up interview, Illing interviewed Faris on May 27, when he said that “it feels like we’re sleepwalking into a real crisis here, but it’s hard to convey the urgency because it’s not dramatic and it’s happening in slow motion and so much of life feels so normal.” Faris also said, “The most destructive thing that Trump did on his way out the door was he took the Republicans’ waning commitment to democracy and he weaponized it, and he made it much worse to the point where I think that a good deal of rank-and-file Republican voters simply don’t believe that Democrats can win a legitimate election. And if Democrats do win an election, it has to be fraudulent.”

Meanwhile, according to Faris, Republicans are trying to take over election oversight offices in some states, among other shenanigans. Corbett quotes Faris: “Key figures in the attempted election theft are now running for election oversight offices in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan,” he continued. That is, they want to have their people count the votes and determine which votes are valid or not.” At the same time: “The national-level Republican Party has swung hard against the proposed congressional investigation to investigate the [January 6] putsch, and Senate Republicans are likely to filibuster it.”

Example of voter suppression in Texas

In an article for Common Dreams, Jessica Corbett reports on how Republican Texas lawmakers have put forth and will soon pass a voter suppression bill without any Democratic votes that targets people of color and in disregard of overwhelming public opposition (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/30/texas-gop-finalizes-ruthless-voter-suppression-bill-sparking-calls-congressional).

Among other provisions, the bill says: (1) you can vote with a gun permit but not a student ID; (2) no online voter registration; (3) must be deputized to register voters; (4) voters under 65 cannot use fear of covid to vote by mail.” The bill also plans to “limit electoral participation in the largely Democratic Harris County because it would outlaw drive-thru and 24-hour voting, which nearly 140,000 county voters used in the 2020 election.”

Other provisions “include barring election officials from sending absentee ballots to all voters, implementing new identification requirements for Texans who request mail ballots, allowing partisan poll watchers additional access, and imposing harsher punishments on election officials who violate state rules.” There is also language in the bill that would make “it easier to overturn an election, no longer requiring evidence that fraud actually altered an outcome of a race—but rather only that enough ballots were illegally cast that could have made a difference.”

The Texas Republican’s voter suppression initiative is occurring after 750 polling places across the state have been closed in recent years.

Corbett quotes Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Texas, who “slammed the state GOP’s Senate Bill 7 (pdf) in a statement Saturday, declaring that “S.B. 7 is a ruthless piece of legislation.” Journalist and expert on voting Ari Berman said “S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era.” Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez said Saturday [May 30] after a conference committee of state House and Senate members released the final version that “S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era.”

The “big lie” gives momentum to Republican voter suppression efforts

Even before the November 2020 presidential election, Trump was saying that, if he lost the election, it would be due to a “rigged election,” a fraudulent election. He doubled-down on this false claim in the weeks after the election. Indeed, he still persistently tweets that the election was “stolen” from him. Here’s some of what I wrote on January 11, 2021 in a post entitled “America at Crossroads: Trump, the insurrection, and what comes next.” (You can find it at wordpress under vitalissues-bob sheak, or email for a copy to bsheak983@gmail.com.)

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In the weeks before and after the presidential election

Advancing the “big lie” that the election was rigged

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that he had won the election by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th.” Glasser continues: “As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). Glasser further writes:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 60 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a… Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others.” And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including an assimilate of some 30,000, that Trump told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

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Republicans “test” the limits

Jessica Corbett also describes the Republican attempts to overturn the 2020 election “a test run,” to test the integrity of the Electoral College certification in the U.S. Congress. According to Vox’s Sean Illing, stopping the certification “never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that.” However, it was a test run searching “for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality.” What is so troubling is that Trump and Republicans were able to tap a narrative that gave the Trump’s base reasons to believe that the election was stolen from Trump. Trump and large swaths of his base appear to welcome court battles and even the possibility of a civil war, that is, if they can’t win by suppressing the vote and controlling enough state legislatures and the Congress to win Republican victories at the polls.

Levine points out that Republicans in the U.S. Congress and in some states echoed and, now with even less dissent, echo Trump’s lie that Biden’s election was based on widespread fraud and therefore is illegitimate. With the help of the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, Republican voices proclaiming the big lie are more pronounced than ever. This false message gave those who assaulted the Capitol on January 6 a self-serving justification, among others, for their violence and destruction. Corbett writes: “Recent legal proceedings for alleged members of the mob that attacked the Capitol have highlighted the effectiveness of the Big Lie—that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump—among voters.”

Explaining away the assault on the Capitol

The January 6 assault on the capitol

As widely reported, on January 6, as several Republican senators tried to block certification of the electoral college vote, Trump urged a large crowd to march on the capitol and protest or somehow disrupt the certification process. The events of the riot, assault, or insurrection have been widely documented and verified by video, interviews with Capitol security personnel, a slew of in-depth reports, and court proceedings involving some of the riot participants.

A spiral and spread of radicalization

The headline of Teri Kanefield’s article in The Washington Post on April 29, 2021 is that “Republican rhetoric is getting more extreme because that’s what the base demands” (https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/04/29/republican-rhetoric-extreme-base). Kanefield is an author and a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. For 12 years, she maintained an appellate law practice in California. She offers this explanation.

“The Republican Party is caught in a spiral of radicalization: Having alienated moderates and corporate donors, some prominent GOP figures are turning to grass roots funding from the more radical segment of its base, which has led them to delve further into the conspiracy theories and dangerous rhetoric that their most passionate voters love but that drove centrists away.”

She later adds: “These Republican leaders are thus in a downward spiral, forced to cater to the most radicalized members of their base. The only way to break the cycle is to break with Trump, denounce the ‘big lie’ that the election was stolen, and stop feeding lies to the base — something they appear unable or unwilling to do.”  

As evidence of extremism in the Republican congressional ranks, Kanefield refers to statements by newly elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Not long after the capitol riot, Greene “liked” a comment on Twitter that advocated putting a bullet through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head.” Previously, Greene had questioned “whether 9/11 was a hoax, flatly stated that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim and accused the Clintons of murdering John F. Kennedy Jr.”

Kanefield also points to how false QAnon and other conspiratorial beliefs have infiltrated the Republican mainstream. The centerpiece of these beliefs, hardly the only one, is that Democrats are part of a global cabal of satanic pedophiles. She buttresses her argument with the following evidence. (`1) “A January YouGov poll found that 30 percent of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of the QAnon belief system.” (2) “Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, noted that a ‘significant plurality, if not potentially a majority, of our voters have been deceived into this creation of an alternate reality.’” (3)  The current party chairman in Texas is Allen West, a former Florida member of Congress who in 2014 described Barack Obama as ‘an Islamist’ who is ‘purposefully enabling the Islamist cause.’” (4) A keynote speaker at a recent Minnesota County Republican event told attendees that George Floyd’s murder was a “hoax.”

(5) “Last week, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, claimed that Democrats are ‘importing’ immigrants to ‘dilute’ the votes of ‘real’ Americans. This is the ‘replacement theory,’ also known as the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory which holds that minorities and immigrants are seeking to replace ‘real Americans.’””

(6) “When former president Donald Trump was brought to trial in the Senate for his role in inciting the insurrection, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to walk a narrow line, as Republicans had done in the past. He nodded to the insurrectionists by voting to acquit Trump is his role in inciting the riot. He then tried to keep the support of moderates and corporate donors by stating immediately after the vote that Trump was ‘morally and practically responsible for the insurrection.’”

McConnell’s attempts to satisfy both sides of the issue didn’t work, but by supporting the big lie and Trump the outcome for the Senate majority leader proved to be beneficial. On the one hand, previously stalwart corporate supporters withdrew their support from McConnell. According to Kanefield, “During the first quarter of 2021, McConnell didn’t receive a single corporate PAC donation. In contrast, during the first quarter of 2019, he took in $625,000 from 157 corporate PACs and trade associations.” On the other hand, McConnell “then pivoted to soliciting donations from individuals by denouncing ‘cancel culture’ and putting forward claims of voter fraud.” This worked. “Appealing to grass roots supporters by stoking conspiracy theories about the election paid off. McConnell hauled in more than $700,000 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2021. Appealing to the radicalized base brought in more than relying on corporate donors had.”

Majority of Republicans polled believe the big lie

And recent polls finds that a majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. Ariel-Edwards Levy reports on the findings of an Ipsos/Reuters poll released in late May ((https://mercurynews.com/2011/05/28/a-majority-of-republicans-believe-that-2020-election-was-stolen). The new polling results released in May document that a “majority of Republicans, 56%, say they believe that the 2020 election was the result of illegal voting or election rigging… with about 6 in 10 agreeing with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.”

The Ipsos/Reuters poll also finds that Republicans agree, “4% to 30%, with the myth that the January 6 riot at the US Capitol “was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.” This belief is demolished by subsequent investigations, as sources from the FBI to alleged participants in the riot “have shot down the myth that left-wing agitators were involved. Nonetheless, Ariel-Edwards Levy reports “One-quarter of the American public as a whole say they think last year’s election outcome was determined by illegal voting or election rigging, with about 30% saying the election was stolen from Trump and roughly one-third that the Capitol riot was led by left-wingers.”

Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House reject an independent commission to study the January 6 assault on the Capitol

Author and professor Robert Reich tells us on Friday, May 28, “54 U.S. senators voted in favor of proceeding to debate a House-passed bill to establish a commission to investigate the causes and events of the January 6th insurrection. This was 6 votes short of the number of votes needed for ‘cloture,’ or stopping debate – meaning any further consideration of the bill would have been filibustered by Republicans indefinitely.” The upshot is that there will be no bipartisan investigation (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/06/01/republican-party-existential-threat-american-democracy).

Reich delves into how the Senators voted. He writes: “The 54 Senators who voted yes to cloture—in favor of the commission [and to end debate]—represent 189 million Americans, or 58% of the American population. The 35 who voted no represent 104 million Americans, or 32% of the population.” He continues: “In other words, 32% of American voters got to decide that the nation would not know about what happened to American democracy on January 6.” Moreover, “the 35 who voted against the commission were all Republicans.” Why? “They did not want such an inquiry because it might jeopardize their chances of gaining a majority of the House or Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They also wanted to stay in the good graces of Donald Trump, whose participation in that insurrection might have been more fully revealed.” 

What must Democrats do? Reich gives this advice: “Senate Democrats must get rid of the filibuster and push through major reforms—voting rights, as well as policies that will enable more Americans in the bottom half—most of them without college educations, many of whom cling to the Republican Party— to do better.” Better said, then done.

Karen Tumulty also considers the underlying reasons for why the Senate Republicans rejected the proposal in the Senate to create an independent commission to study the January 6 assault on the Capitol (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/28/really-scary-republicans-dont-want-to-face-the-truth-about-jan-6).

There is no mystery here, Tumulty writes. “Anything that looks back to the final ugly spasms of the Trump presidency… would hurt the Republicans’ chances for gaining back control of Congress, McConnell acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday.

As already notes, the Senate Republicans “blocked a motion to invoke cloture [to end debate and vote] on legislation to create a Jan. 6 Capitol attack commission 54-35 on May 28.” Sixty votes were needed to overcome the filibuster. Six Republicans broke ranks, and nine Republicans and two Democrats were absent for the vote. The defeat of the commission bill happened, even though “Democrats had given them just about everything they had claimed to want — including a power-sharing arrangement under which the GOP would have equal representation on the 10-member panel, as well as a say in any subpoenas it might issue.” The commission was to be “structured on the model of the one set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

Trump’s calls to Republican senators to reject the commission proposal made a difference. Just a week before the vote, “nearly three dozen GOP members joined Democrats in the House last week to approve the proposed commission.” But then “the former president issued a statement blasting those ‘35 wayward Republicans’ and warning of ‘consequences to being ineffective and weak.’” Trump’s power rests on the fact “that a not-insignificant portion of the GOP’s Trumpian base actually appears to believe that the violent mob was justified in its effort to disrupt Congress as it conducted its pro forma tally of the electoral votes that made Joe Biden the 46th president.”

Tumulty offers this concluding assessment. “McConnell may be right that dodging and delaying accountability for what happened on Jan. 6 could help Republicans win back power in Congress. But by standing in the way of a reckoning with the poisonous forces that are growing within the ranks of their own party, they are doing a disservice to the country — one for which democracy itself will ultimately pay a price.”

No end to it: Arizona Republicans promote a phony audit

In an article for The Atlantic, staff writer David A. Graham analyzes the implausible Arizona Republican arguments for advancing a made-up, phony, audit of the 2020 votes cast the heavily Democratic Maricopa County (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/06/arizona-audit-will-only-undermine-faith-democracy/619072).

The so-called audit is becoming a model for Republicans in other states to undertake similar baseless audits. Their purpose is to perpetuate the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

Graham puts it this way: “The firm that was hired by the Arizona Senate to oversee the count, Cyber Ninjas, which has no evident qualifications and is run by a ‘stop the steal activist, touts ‘the systemic, transparent method we have created to ensure Arizonan and American confidence in the election process and results.’” Republicans in Wisconsin are “launching an Arizona-style investigation, as well as in other states that have moved to restrict voting, such as Texas, Georgia, and Florida, leaders have similarly argued that such efforts are necessary to guarantee faith in elections.”

Maricopa election officials have months ago “conducted both a hand recount of a sample of ballots and a forensic audit.” The real purpose of the Arizona selective county audit is to foster further doubts about the validity of the 2020 presidential election. Graham reports that “Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has begun posting a series of concerns about the security, counting process, equipment, and professionalism of the Cyber Ninjas’s audit at the site.”

Journalists Steven Rosenfeld and Jeremy Stahl have,” Graham writes, “chronicled in detail, the procedures are a mess, which is all but certain to result in a different tally than the official final tally, even if it still finds that Joe Biden beat Trump by a wide margin.” But this charade will “seed only more doubts and questions about the result—and the audit’s sloppy handling of ballots means that the evidence may be irreversibly tainted ahead of any future count. And that’s just what the audit’s proponents want.”

A coup?

Mark Joyella reports that, according to New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, “Trump is telling people he expects to be ‘reinstated” as president by August (https://forbes.com/sites/markjoyella/20201/06/01/maggie-haberman-trump-telling-people-he-expects-to-be-reinstated-as-president-by-august/?sh=7b5b58de7a76).

Here’s how Joyella puts it: “The New York Times’ Washington Correspondent Maggie Haberman reports that former President Donald Trump is telling ‘a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated’ as president by August.”

Trump’s baseless assertions about a stolen election are being reinforced by the phony audit in Arizona and others on the way in other Republican-controlled states. The audits, in turn, help to keep the “big lie” alive. Combined with Republican acts of voter suppression in most states, Republican support in the U.S. Congress for Trump, the tyrannical hold Trump has on Republicans nationwide, and the obedient right-wing media, perhaps there will be further acts of insurrection.

The rub, Joyella says, is that some Trump supporters and QAnon believers hope for a coup that would restore Trump to the White House.

Trump and QAnon

Wikipedia has a section on QAnon (https://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/QAnon).

The online encyclopedia describes QAnon or simply Q as “a discredited American far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satanic,[1] cannibalistic pedophiles run a global child sex trafficking ring and conspired against former President Donald Trump during his term in office.[2][3][4][5] QAnon is commonly described as a cult.[6][7][8] On the Trump-Qanon connection, Wikipedia reports the following.

 “QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018.[35] Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who has promoted QAnon, attended a White House “social media summit” in July 2019.[36][37] QAnon believers commonly tag their social media posts with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, signifying the motto “Where We Go One, We Go All”.[38] At an August 2019 Trump rally, a man warming up the crowd used the QAnon motto, later denying that it was a QAnon reference. This occurred hours after the FBI published a report calling QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism, the first time the agency had so rated a fringe conspiracy theory.[39][40] According to analysis by Media Matters for America, as of October 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 265 times by retweeting or mentioning 152 Twitter accounts affiliated with QAnon, sometimes multiple times a day.[41][42] QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as “Q+”.[43]

Part 2: Biden and the Democrats

Biden’s initial steps through executive actions

Sam Levine reminds us that the “constitution gives the US president little unilateral power over voting laws, a power explicitly given to the states” and that “Biden has done just about all he can to act alone against these efforts.” Levine gives these examples of what Biden has done (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republican-voter-suppression-biden).  

“On the day he was inaugurated, he halted a Trump administration effort to try and use the census to limit non-citizen representation. He has used the power of the power of his bully pulpit to unsparingly criticize the measures (“Jim Crow in the 21st century” is how he described Georgia’s voting measure).” Then in March, Biden “issued a relatively modest, but potentially significant executive order, directing federal agencies to expand voting access. He has created a senior-level White House role focused on voting rights tapped two longtime civil rights lawyers with an expertise in voting rights to top roles at the justice department, which is responsible for enforcing some of the nation’s top voting rights laws.”

Eugene Daniels also reports on Bident’s executive order that was signed on Sunday [March 7]. It came symbolically on the 56th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala., known as ‘Bloody Sunday’” (https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/07/biden-voting-access-474041).

The order was described as an “initial step” to protect voting rights — one that uses the authority of the president “to leverage federal resources to help people register to vote and provide information,” according to an administration official.”

According to Daniels, “Federal agencies will be directed to notify states about the ways in which they can help with voter registration, in addition to being tasked with improving voting access to military voters and people with disabilities. Biden also directed the federal government to update and modernize Vote.gov, the website it operates to provide the public with voting-related information.” It remains to be seen whether Biden’s executive order is an “initial step” or a last step in protecting and opening up access to voting. The prospects for the legislation avoiding a filibuster and being passed with a simple majority in the Senate appear to be challenging. At the same time, Congressional Democrats were just able to pass a Covid-19 relief act on the basis of reconciliation, circumventing a Republican filibuster and passing the legislation with a simple majority, 50 to 49 (one Republican was absent).

Biden also pushes voting rights policies

Biden and his advisers have also authored two voting rights proposals, both of which have been taken up and passed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and have been introduced by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, they have already passed with a slim Democratic majority in the House. However, unless Democrats can muster 50 votes in the Senate, Republicans will use the filibuster to keep the bills from being passed. The bills are titled (1) For the People Act and (2) the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I’ll focus on the former bill here.

The For Peoples’ Act

The full title of this act, H.R.1 and S.1, “An Act to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

Wendy R. Weiser, Daniel I. Weiner, and Dominique Erney provide a comprehensive analysis of the proposed legislation, section by section, and what it can accomplish.  (https://brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/congress-must-pass-people-act).

“The Act” they write, “incorporates key measures that are urgently needed, including automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections; a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act; small donor public financing to empower ordinary Americans instead of big donors (at no cost to taxpayers) and other critical campaign finance reforms; an end to partisan gerrymandering; and a much-needed overhaul of federal ethics rules. Critically, the Act would thwart virtually every voter suppression bill currently pending in the states.”

Wikipedia also provides an extensive analysis of the potentially far-reaching provisions of the bill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_the_People_Act).

The Wikipedia account considers 7 key provisions of the bill, dealing with voting rights, election security, campaign finance reform, ethics, findings in support of D.C. Statehood, gerrymandering, and the number of federal election commissioners. With respect to “voting rights,” the bill would eliminate obstacles and institute changes that would streamline and increase the accessibility of voting for the American people.

Here I quote excerpts from Wikipedia on the proposed changes in voting rights.

Excerpts

“The bill would require states to offer same-day voter registration for federal elections[3][2] and to permit voters to make changes to their registration at the polls.[3] It would require states to hold early voting for at least two weeks and would establish automatic voter registration[17][3][2] for individuals to be eligible to vote in elections for federal office in the state.[18] Under the automatic voter registration provision, eligible citizens who provide information to state agencies (including state departments of motor vehicles or public universities) would be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out of doing so.[17] The bill would also expand opportunities to vote by mail and would make Election Day a federal holiday.[17] The bill would require states to offer online voter registration,[3][17] which has already been adopted in 39 states and the District of Columbia;[17] under the bill, states would be required to establish a system to allow applications to be electronically completed, submitted, and received by election officials, and to allow registered voters to electronically update their voter registration information.[17] The bill would establish criminal penalties for persons who ‘corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from registering to vote’ and for voter deception or intimidation (the bill would specifically ‘prohibit knowing and intentional communication of false and misleading information – including about the time, place, or manner of elections, public endorsements, and the rules governing voter eligibility and voter registration – made with the intent of preventing eligible voters from casting ballots’).[17] The bill would instruct the Election Assistance Commission to adopt recommendations for states on the prevention of interference with voter registration.[17]

 The bill would also prohibit the practice of voter caging[17] and restrict the practicing of voter-roll purges[9] by limiting states’ ability to remove registered voters from the rolls[4] and setting conditions for when they could do so.[3] Specifically, the bill would require states to obtain certain information before removing voters from the rolls, and would prohibit voter purges from taking place less than six months before an election.[17] The bill prohibits any person from communicating “materially false” claims meant to prevent others from voting 60 days before an election[20] and compels the attorney general to correct such misinformation.[21] The bill also requires elections officials to timely notify any voter tagged for removal from the rolls and give them an opportunity to contest the removal or seek reinstatement of their registration.[17] It also restores voting rights to felons who complete prison terms.[2][22]

“The bill contains various provisions to promote voting access for people with disabilities and provisions to strengthen the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) by providing additional protections for military and overseas voters.[17] 

“The bill would also create a Congressional task force on voting rights in American territories.[17]

——————————

Can the Democrats in the U.S. Senate muster the votes to get past Republican filibustering and pass the For People Act?

The filibuster, a procedural rule in the US Senate, requires 60 votes to by-pass the filibuster and advance legislation.  Democrats do not have enough votes to eliminate the filibuster, and it’s currently blocking a bill that would block many of the restrictions advancing at the state level and dramatically expand access to the ballot, including national requirements for same-day, automatic and online registration. If Biden and the Democrats do not find ways around the filibuster, then their chances in the elections of 2022 and 2024 are considerably reduced. In the absence of successful policy victories, including H.R. 1, the Democrats would rely on an unprecedented massive voter turnout in the 2020 mid-term election, large enough to overcome Republican suppression, gerrymandering, and subversion of state electoral institutions. Even then, however, that may not be enough.

Sam Levine quotes Amanda Litman, the executive director of Run for Something, “which seeks to recruit candidates for state legislative races.” Litman says, “If the Senate does not kill the filibuster and pass voting rights reforms … Democrats are going to lose control of the House and likely the Senate forever. You don’t put these worms back into a can. You can’t undo this quite easily.”

There are two challenges to which Senate Democrats must successfully respond in order to block Republican filibusters. One, they must use Senate procedures to defeat the filibuster and, two, the must have unity in their caucus to do so. There are presently two prominent holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The two Senators are presently refusing to support procedural changes that would allow Democrats to sidestep the inevitable Republican filibuster and pass S. 1 by a simple majority, that is, 50 Democratic votes plus the vote by Vice-President Kamala Harris. Manchin and Sinema justify their positions in support of the filibuster by arguing that it is a necessary tool to protect input of the minority. It’s not yet clear how Democrats might persuade them to change their minds.

Overcoming a Republican filibuster procedurally

The filibuster is based on the Senate’s cloture rule, “which” Molly E. Reynolds writes, “requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote” (https://brookings.edu/policy2020/votervitals/what-is-the-senate-filibuster-and-what-would-it-take-to-eliminate-it). The Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Given that Republicans are unified in their opposition to virtually any bill put forward by Democrats, this means that it is impossible for Democratically-supported legislation to pass in the Senate as long as this rule stands.

Reynolds discusses a number of procedural options that can circumvent the filibuster. One is often referred to as “the nuclear option,” or formally as “reform by ruling.” It certain circumstances, this option can be employed with support from only a simple majority ofsenators.” A senator can raise a point of order, or claim that a Senate rule is being violated. If the presiding officer (typically a member of the Senate; presently a Democrat) agrees, and has the support of a majority, which would mean that all fifty Senate Democrats plus the vice-president Kamala Harris agree, the ruling would establish a new precedent and permit passage of the legislation in question by a simple majority. This, in theory, would be the most direct way of avoiding a filibuster. The problem is that there are some Democrats who oppose this option and thus, for the time being, eliminate the opportunity of a majority vote. It all hinges on the Democratic holdouts.

Concluding thoughts

The anti-democratic Republican Party and their supporters represent a growing threat to American democracy. Luckily, they don’t yet have a well-organized army of brownshirts to violently attack opponents and rip apart American political institutions, but they have other facilitative conditions.

As I wrote in the earlier post to which I have referred, “Professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identify the signs of the rise of authoritarian behavior and government in their book, How Democracies Die.

First, “there is a rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.” For example, authoritarians want to restrict basic civil or political rights (e.g., voter suppression).

Second, authoritarians deny the legitimacy of their political opponents, as when they describe them as an “existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life,” “describe their partisan rivals as criminals.” Trump’s continuously bellowed “big lie” that the election was stolen and the support for this allegation by much of the Republican Party and Republican base.

Third, authoritarians tolerate or encourage violence. They have “ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias….” Trump and many Republican legislators want to blame the January 6 attempted insurrection on leftist influences and dismiss the actual right-wing mob. Indeed, they encouraged “mob attacks on opponents.” There is little doubt that Trump incited and enflamed those who invaded the Capitol building. The refuse to unambiguously condemn violence and punish it.

Fourth, authoritarians “curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.” For example, they support laws restricting protests and Trump has expressed his hatred toward the mainstream media as “fake news” and worse.

Despite all this, the majority of American voters support democratic values and institutions. Despite all this, the Democratic Party stands against Trump’s authoritarian party and movement. Despite all this, the majority of Americans reject Trump’s “big lie.” Despite all this, there are ongoing investigations by government authorities of Republican corruption.

If Democrats in Congress can find ways to overcome Republican obstruction and enact the For the People Act and other legislation, and if a massive number of people vote in 2022, then the momentum toward authoritarian and autocratic government may be defeated – and Trump finally relegated to the trash heap of history.

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