Bob Sheak, Dec 12, 2022
The U.S. political system is at a crossroads. Trump, Republicans and their supporters want to limit ‘democracy,” while Democrats generally want to expand it. The outcome of this struggle is still to be determined.
A definition of “democracy”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary provides a definition of “democracy” (https://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy). Accordingly, the basic characteristic of democracy (1) “involves “government by the people,” or “the rule of the majority” and (2) “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
The definition needs to be expanded to address “minority rights.” The Constitution US website addresses this issue (https://constitutionus.com/democracy/how-does-democracy-protect-minority-rights).
“In a democracy, whether you lose in a political debate or an election, or belong to a minority group due to ethnic background, geographic location, religious belief, gender preference, civil status, educational experience, or socioeconomic level — you are guaranteed fundamental human rights. No one — not any person, government, nor the majority — can remove these rights from you. This is called the Majority Rule, Minority Rights Principle, which holds the twin pillars of democracy.
“The Majority Rule, Minority Rights Principle practiced in a democracy protects minority rights by ensuring that even if a majority decision is followed, that decision should never impinge on the fundamental human rights of minorities.”
Democratic reforms to strengthen U.S. democracy
The reform(s) that would strengthen U.S. democracy would include opportunities in the political system for citizens in all material conditions (class, “race,” gender, etc.) to find it easy (1) to register or to be registered to vote, (2) to cast their vote, (3) to be informed by education, political campaigns, candidates, and evidence-based media, on the substance and potential impacts of the issues, and (4) to have their votes fairly and accurately counted. In addition, (5) candidates for public office, when they met a certain level of voter support, would be given government financial support so as to have the financial means to run a campaign. And (6) there would be limits on campaign contributions and (7) the elimination of “dark money.”
Flaws in the current U.S. electoral system
Limiting who votes
Republicans in the U.S. Congress and across the country want to limit voting and do so through gerrymandering, voter suppression and intimidation, along with efforts to replace the popular vote by giving state legislatures the power to choose their own electors independently of state courts and with disregard to how voters have voted. The latter is related to the Electoral College provisions of the U.S. Constitution, established in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution It was included in the Constitution by the founders as a way to limit democracy and protect the interests of those with property and influence. To strengthen democracy, it needs to be phased out.
The Electoral College
Here’s how the National Archives summarizes this complex procedure, one that denies the direct votes of the electorate for presidential and vice-presidential candidates (https://archives.gov/electoral-college/about). It is also a procedure that gives disproportionate influence to states with relatively small populations. To strengthen U.S. democracy, it should be phased out. However, it would require an amendment to the Constitution that makes such change unlikely because of the expected Republican opposition.
“The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The Founding Fathers established it in the Constitution, in part, as a compromise between the election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.
“What is the process?
“The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.
“How many electors are there? How are they distributed among the States?
“The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. Your State has the same number of electors as it does Members in its Congressional delegation: one for each Member in the House of Representatives plus two Senators.
“The District of Columbia is allocated 3 electors and treated like a State for purposes of the Electoral College under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution.
“For this reason, in the following discussion, the word ‘State’ also refers to the District of Columbia and ‘Governor’ to the Mayor of the District of Columbia.
“How are my electors chosen? What are their qualifications? How do they decide who to vote for?
“Each candidate running for President in your State has his or her own group of electors (known as a slate). The slates are generally chosen by the candidate’s political party in your State, but State laws vary on how the electors are selected and what their responsibilities are.
“What happens in the general election? Why should I vote?
“The general election is held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. When you vote for a Presidential candidate, you are actually voting for your candidate’s preferred electors.
“Most States have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the Presidential candidate who wins the State’s popular vote. However, Maine and Nebraska each have a variation of ‘proportional representation.’
“What happens after the general election?
“After the general election, your Governor prepares a Certificate of Ascertainment listing the names of all the individuals on the slates for each candidate. The Certificate of Ascertainment also lists the number of votes each individual received and shows which individuals were appointed as your State’s electors. Your State’s Certificate of Ascertainment is sent to NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] as part of the official records of the Presidential election.
“The meeting of the electors takes place on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December after the general election. The electors meet in their respective States, where they cast their votes for President and Vice President on separate ballots. Your State’s electors’ votes are recorded on a Certificate of Vote, which is prepared at the meeting by the electors. Your State’s Certificate of Vote is sent to Congress, where the votes are counted, and NARA, as part of the official records of the Presidential election.
“Each State’s electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on the 6th of January in the year following the meeting of the electors. Members of the House and Senate meet in the House Chamber to conduct the official count of electoral votes. The Vice President, as President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results of the vote. The President of the Senate then declares which persons, if any, have been elected President and Vice President of the United States.
“The President-elect takes the oath of office and is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th in the year following the general election.”
Dark Money – an anti-democratic process
Money plays a significant role in who runs for elected office and gives the rich and powerful disproportionate influence, especially in the competition for national and state-wide offices. Dark money is yet another example of how U.S. democracy is compromised.
Open Secrets provides a detailed analysis of “dark money” (https://opensecrets.org/dark-money/basics).
“Dark money” refers to spending meant to influence political outcomes where the source of the money is not disclosed. Here’s how dark money makes its way into elections:
“Politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s are generally under no legal obligation to disclose their donors even if they spend to influence elections. When they choose not to reveal their sources of funding, they are considered dark money groups.
“Opaque nonprofits and shell companies may give unlimited amounts of money to super PACs. While super PACs are legally required to disclose their donors, some of these groups are effectively dark money outlets when the bulk of their funding cannot be traced back to the original donor.”
“Citizens who are barraged with political messages paid for with money from undisclosed sources may not be able to consider the credibility and possible motives of the wealthy corporate or individual funders behind those messages.”
Both Democrats and Republicans channel large amounts of campaign contributions to national candidates through “dark money” sources. However, Republicans spend more than Democrats in this way. Democrats in the U.S. Congress would like to eliminate or sharply curtail dark money contributions, while Republicans would eliminate all government restrictions on campaign contributions.
On the first point, Dominico Montanaro refers to evidence from Open Secrets to substantiate that Republicans maker greater use of dark money than their Democratic opponents (https://npr.org/2022/10/22/1129976565/dark-money-groups-midterms-elections-republicans-democrats-senate).
“More than $1.6 billion has been spent or booked on TV ads in a dozen Senate races, with $3 out of every $4 being spent in six states — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada and Ohio, according to an NPR analysis of data provided by the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.
“Most of that money is coming from outside groups, some of which have little-to-no donor transparency — and Republicans are getting a huge boost from them
Outside groups have poured in nearly $1 billion to buoy GOP Senate candidates.
“Just how important have these groups been to Republicans? Eighty-six percent of the money going toward pro-GOP TV ads is coming from these outside groups, compared to 55% for Democrats.”
Democrats want to minimize or eliminate “dark money,” The example of the Disclose Act.
Brandon Lee and Michaela Ross address this issue in an article published by bgov.com on September Sept. 21, 2022 (https://about.bgov.com/news/what-to-know-in-washington-biden-democrats-target-dark-money). They report that President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats want to eliminate dark money, despite the party’s own significant reliance on these anonymous donors. They have proposed the Disclose Act, legislation that would require disclosure of political campaign donations of $10,000 or more.
After having passed in the House, where Democrats have a small majority and there is no filibuster rule, the measure failed in the Senate on Sept. 22, 2022. Lee and Ross write: “At least 60 votes would have been required to end debate on the bill, which has been introduced multiple times in the past 10 years by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D–R.I.). The bill would, among other things, require dark money groups that contribute to super PACs or spend on communications referring to a federal candidate to disclose contributions greater than $10,000.”
“In remarks before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed the bill as ‘an insult to the First Amendment’ and warned that it would amount to a partisan Democratic takeover of elections. They quote Whitehouse’s response.
‘Today, Senate Republicans stood in lockstep with their megadonors and secretive special interests to protect the most corrupting force in American politics—dark money,’ Whitehouse said in a statement. ‘Republicans heeded the wishes of dark money donors today, but the fight to pass this bill isn’t over.’ Other subsequent Democratic initiatives in the U.S. Senate that would have included the provisions of the Disclose Act, that is, the For the People Act also subsequently were blocked by Republicans led by McConnell. Earlier in 2022, “Republicans also blocked passage of the Freedom to Vote Act, a Democratic-sponsored voting rights bill that included the campaign finance provisions of the DISCLOSE Act.”
Right-wing forces in America: a coalition
Unregulated corporate power
Large corporations and the rich wield extraordinary influence in the U.S. political (and other) systems. Thom Hartman, among a host of others, offers evidence to support this view (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/08/24/march-towards-us-fascism-began-corporate-hijacking-democracy). Here is one of Hartmann’s examples.
“Monopolistic consolidation of the American economy is so complete that American consumers are being openly played as the world’s suckers. We pay more—often twice to ten times more—than the citizens of any other developed country for everything from pharmaceuticals to broadband to cell service. There was a time in America when Congress did something about monopolies: that time is now gone, as lawmakers are regularly bribed by the very corporations they would have to pass laws to regulate.”
Geoff Dembicki, investigative climate change reporter from Alberta, Canada, offers another example of corporate power in his book, The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Conspiracy to Cover-Up Climate Change (published 2022). The book focuses on large fossil fuel corporations. One of his striking findings tells it all. He writes that “close to two-thirds of greenhouse gases emitted over the last 150 years could be traced back to just ninety companies, Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, and ConocoPhilips were all in the top ten” (p. 196).” Dembicki’s book documents how these corporations have used their resources to lobby against meaningful legislative proposals to phase out fossil fuels and increase government support for solar, wind, geothermal, and energy efficiency.
The solution is to break up the large corporations through the reinvigoration of anti-trust policy. When corporations control vast markets, they can charge higher prices, lobby and influence elected officials to do their bidding, support anti-union legislative initiatives, and be a major force in support of neoliberal policies generally, that is, to support deregulation, low taxes, the privatization of potentially profitable government functions (e.g., the prisons, charter schools), and low spending on social/welfare programs.
In his book, The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream, Hartmann refers to examples of corporate concentration.
“On Wall Street, the 20 biggest banks own assets equivalent to 84% of the nation’s entire gross domestic product (GDP). And just 12 of these banks own 70% of all banking assets.”
In the food industry, “four companies control 90% of the grain trade. Just three companies control 70% of the American beef industry. And just four companies control 58% of the U.S. pork and chicken producing and processing industries.”
“On the retail side, Walmart controls a quarter of the entire grocery market. And just four companies produce 75% of our snack food, 60% of our cookies, and half of all the ice cream sold in supermarkets around the nation” (p. 39)
The right-wing, increasingly extremist Republican Party
Then there is Republican Party.
For example, Dana Milbank identifies some of the prominent people in the Republican Party who have successfully worked to advance an anti-democratic, authoritarian agenda in his book, The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party. Here’s one revealing quote from the book:
“The GOP’s quarter-century war on facts had come to this: a gargantuan fabrication aimed at discrediting democracy itself” (p. 204).
Having the goal of cutting Social Security and Medicare
Sharon Zhang gives an example of this Republican view. She reports on how “High-Ranking Senate Republicans Reveal GOP Plans to Slash Social Security (https://truthout.org/articles/high-ranking-senate-republican-reveals-gop-plan-to-slash-social-security). She quotes Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) who “said that slashing such programs would be a ‘solution’ to the national debt — an issue that Republicans only bring up in regards to liberal or left-leaning proposals and programs. Thune added that threatening a default, which would have catastrophic consequences for the economy and risk triggering a recession, could be a viable option for the party to force the cuts.”
The debt ceiling is currently slated to expire in the first quarter of 2023. Thune is not alone among Senate and House Republicans. Zhang points out,
“Bottom of Form
House Republicans are on board with the plan; in October, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) also said that the party is planning to use the debt ceiling to push through Republican priorities like slashing Social Security and Medicare.”
This is not the first time that Republicans have used the threat of opposing an increase in the U.S. debt ceiling. “The party had already engaged in political brinkmanship with the debt default last year ,” Zhang notes, “threatening to tank the economy over the Build Back Better Act, a bill that ultimately didn’t pass for separate reasons.”
Republicans in the U.S. Congress appear little concerned about the devastating effects that would accompany cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or that
“Social Security is consistently the most effective program in the U.S. in cutting poverty, preventing tens of millions of people from falling into poverty each year. Medicare and Medicaid are also crucial antipoverty measures, with tens of millions of people dependent on the programs for health care coverage.”
The Republicans pushing this plan disregard polls, like the recent poll by Data for Progress, which “found that 83 percent of voters oppose Republican plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, with results lining up with other polls overwhelmingly finding that voters want increases to Social Security — not cuts.”
Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) proposes expanding Social Security without contributing to the national debt. This can be done by having those with higher job-related incomes to pay a higher wage tax, the financial basis for the program. Zhang explains. “Currently, while those making less than $147,000 a year pay an even 12.4 percent of their yearly incomes into the program, those making more pay a smaller proportion. This is due to the highly regressive structure of the Social Security tax, which stops taxing income above the threshold — meaning that, for instance, those making more than $1 million a year stop paying into the program by the end of February each year.
Other progressive lawmakers and advocates “have called for the abolition of the debt ceiling altogether. The limit ‘serves no function except to create leverage for people who are willing to blow up the economy,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said earlier this month.” Most other large countries do not have debt limits.
Trump’s anti-democratic record
There is little doubt that Trump has been and continues to be a major factor in Republican Party affairs because of the seemingly unconditional support tens of millions of Americans give him. Henry A. Giroux, professor and prolific writer, believes the U.S. under Trump/Republican influence is in danger of becoming a fascist country, which, if ever implemented, would represent a negation of democracy based on one-party government. He offers the following summary of the anti-democratic views advanced by Trump during his presidency in his new book, Pedagogy of Resistance: Against Manufactured Ignorance (published 2022).
“flooding America with lies and launching a full-fledged attack on truth and science; enacting racist fear-mongering and a politics of disposability; promoting extreme nationalism and celebrating an alignment with dictators; endorsing a discourse of winners, along with a list of losers and enemies who became the object of contempt, if not violence; he also labelled the American press as an ‘enemy of the people’; legitimated a culture of dehumanization, called immigrants vermin and rapists; reinforced the language of misogyny and xenophobia; and used powerful right-wing propaganda machine to legitimate culture of autocratic power and political corruption” (p.114).
Extremism from the Right is not going away: Examples
#1 – David Leonhardt identifies “the twin threats to American democracy” (https://nytimes.com/2022/09/17/us/american-democracy-threats.html).
“The United States has experienced deep political turmoil several times before over the past century. The Great Depression caused Americans to doubt the country’s economic system. World War II and the Cold War presented threats from global totalitarian movements. The 1960s and ’70s were marred by assassinations, riots, a losing war and a disgraced president.
“These earlier periods were each more alarming in some ways than anything that has happened in the United States recently. Yet during each of those previous times of tumult, the basic dynamics of American democracy held firm. Candidates who won the most votes were able to take power and attempt to address the country’s problems.
“The current period is different. As a result, the United States today finds itself in a situation with little historical precedent. American democracy is facing two distinct threats, which together represent the most serious challenge to the country’s governing ideals in decades.
“The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.
The violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, meant to prevent the certification of President Biden’s election, was the clearest manifestation of this movement, but it has continued since then. Hundreds of elected Republican officials around the country falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Some of them are running for statewide offices that would oversee future elections, potentially putting them in position to overturn an election in 2024 or beyond.
“‘There is the [future] possibility, for the first time in American history, that a legitimately elected president will not be able to take office,’ said Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who studies democracy.
“The second threat to democracy is chronic but also growing: The power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.
“The run of recent Supreme Court decisions — both sweeping and, according to polls, unpopular — highlight this disconnect. Although the Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees seems poised to shape American politics for years, if not decades. And the court is only one of the means through which policy outcomes are becoming less closely tied to the popular will.
“Two of the past four presidents have taken office despite losing the popular vote. Senators representing a majority of Americans are often unable to pass bills, partly because of the increasing use of the filibuster. Even the House, intended as the branch of the government that most reflects the popular will, does not always do so, because of the way districts are drawn.
Leonhardt quotes Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University and a co-author of the book ‘How Democracies Die,’ with Daniel Ziblatt. “We are far and away the most counter majoritarian democracy in the world.”
#2 – Right-wing, Trump/GOP extremism is now more salient and uncompromising
John Nichols analyzes “The Disturbing World of the New GOP” (https://thenation.com/article/society/republican-party-2022-midterms). Here’s some of what he writes.
“The Republican Party that will take narrow control of the House of Representatives in January 2023 has gone through a dramatic transformation in the two years since Donald Trump and his allies attempted a violent coup to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The party that was once torn over how to respond to Trump’s assault on democratic norms is no more. It was replaced in 2022 by one that did not merely tolerate Trump’s election denialism but embraced it by nominating January 6 insurrectionists and apologists for congressional and statewide posts—a strategy so noxious that it cost Republicans key US Senate contests and the ‘red wave’ GOP strategists were counting on. But postelection pundits who imagine that the party will do an about-face and suddenly adopt a more politically rational course are sorely mistaken. The new Republican Party has a base—and many leaders—that does not merely fall for Trump’s lies. Republican partisans are increasingly looking beyond the scandal-plagued former president and taking inspiration from right-wing European nationalist leaders with politics rooted in a fascist sensibility that employs racism, xenophobia, and a win-at-any-cost approach to elections and governing. This transformed Republican Party will exploit its control of the House and state posts for a 2024 presidential election in which Trump and a rising generation of ruthless partisans will plot a return to unitary power—with a vision that is dramatically more authoritarian than anything seen in the 45th president’s first term.”
Nichols also adds,
“Republicans in the U.S. Congress embrace “an ideology that promises not just retribution for political rivals—and for longtime targets of its vitriol, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and the liberal philanthropist George Soros—but a wholesale restructuring of federal power.”
#3 – The House Republicans with a small majority in the incoming 118th U.S. Congress (Jan. 2023 to Jan. 2025) will be even more extremist than they have been. They will certainly carry on with their obstructionist tactics aimed at undermining Democratic proposals, with little concern about the effects on the country.
As one example, Elaina Plott Calabro reports on Marjorie Taylor Greene’s arrival to Congress, her background and her evolving, but always, extremist views
(https://theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2023/01/marjorie-taylor-greene-congress-georgia-election-background/6721229). She writes:
“she was very late. A man named Barry was compelled to lead the room in a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” to stall for time. But when she did arrive, the tardiness was forgiven and the Cobb County Republican Party’s November breakfast was made new. She wasn’t greeted. She was beheld, like a religious apparition. Emotions verged on rapture. Later, as she spoke, one man jumped to his feet with such force that his chair fell over. Not far away, two women clung to each other and shrieked. I was knocked to my seat when a tablemate’s corrugated-plastic flood the polls sign collided inadvertently with my head. Upon looking up, I came eye-level with a pistol tucked into the khaki waistband of an elderly man in front of me. ‘She is just so great,’ I heard someone say. ‘I mean, she really is just amazing.’
“Marjorie Taylor Greene arrived in Congress in January 2021, blond and crass and indelibly identified with conspiracy theories involving Jewish space lasers and Democratic pedophiles. She had barely settled into office before being stripped of her committee assignments; she has been called a “cancer” on the Republican Party by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; and she now has a loud voice in the GOP’s most consequential decisions on Capitol Hill because her party’s leaders know, and she knows they know, that she has become far too popular with their voters to risk upsetting her.”
John Nichols points out that, in the aftermath of the 2022 midterm elections, “…Keven McCarthy is promising to restore the committee assignments that Greene was stripped of after a CNN investigation found that she had repeatedly expressed support for executing prominent Democrats (https://thenation.com/article/society/republican-party-2022-midterms).
Robert Draper draws attention to the extreme “policy agenda” of Greene in the following paragraph from his book, “Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind” (published 2022).
“She wanted to impeach President Biden. She wanted to expel AOC and other members of the Squad from Congress for being communists. She wanted to label Black Lives Matter a terrorist group. She wanted to ban all abortion. She wanted to end all mask mandates, starting within the halls of Congress. She wanted to finish building Trump’s wall and keep immigrants of any kind out of America for the foreseeable future. She wanted to disregard rights for transgendered people. She wanted to start a trade war with China and expel their students from the United States. She wanted to eliminate any and all regulations that were intended to address climate change, because, in her view, ‘The climate has always changed. And no amount of taxes and no government can do anything to stop climate change.’ She wanted to unravel gun-related-control laws. She wanted prayer back in schools” (pp. 276-277).
#4 – The issues that energize and may promote violence amid Trump’s electoral base
Ronald Brownstein considers issues that rile the Trump/Republican’s base (https://theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2022/12/gop-lawmakers-distancing-extremism-trump-fuentes-yet/672328).
“In various polls, preponderant majorities of GOP voters have said that discrimination against white people is now as big a problem as bias against minorities, that Christianity in the U.S. is under assault, and that the growing number of immigrants threatens American values and traditions. About half of Republicans have expressed agreement in other polls with tenets of white nationalism,’ that elites are importing immigrants to undermine the political power of native-born white people, the core Christian-nationalist belief that ‘God intended America to be a new promised land,’ and the assertion that ‘the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.’
“Only a minuscule percentage of those Republican partisans might contemplate violence or join extremist organizations, [Elizabeth] Neumann and other experts point out. But the receptivity of so many Republican voters to arguments, even if less virulent, that overlap with those championed by white- and Christian-nationalist organizations may be a crucial reason for party leaders’ reluctance to confront Trump and others, like Greene, who have associated with such groups.”
Elizabeth Neumann is the former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under Trump who focused on domestic extremism, and is “now the chief strategy officer of Moonshot, a company that combats online extremism, worries that organized far-right violence could still erupt if Trump ever faces a trial as a result of the various investigations targeting him. But she sees the possibility that the visibility and influence of the extreme right inside the GOP peaked with this fall’s converging events, especially the party’s disappointing election results. ‘I really do think [she speculates] this is, like, a 10-, 20-year process, she told me…” That is, if Republican win control of the U.S. Congress and White House they, with the support of the Supreme Court and right-wing media, will be able to shape the rules by which the government acts for years to come, putting in jeopardy government support of programs that benefit the majority of Americans.
#5 – Advocacy of “white supremacy”
White supremacists are a core constituency of the Republican Party. They are “a persistent and lethal” force in American society, according to a Senate report and as reported by Julia Conley (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/11/29/senate-report-details-failure-confront-persistent-and-lethal-threat-white). She writes,
“Despite the fact that federal law enforcement agencies have in recent years acknowledged that white supremacy represents a major threat to public safety in the United States and is fueling domestic terrorist attacks, a new U.S. Senate report reveals that authorities are continuing to pour resources into fighting international threats instead of addressing extremism stateside.
“After a three-year investigation, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this month released a nearly 130-page report detailing how the FBI—part of the Justice Department—and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have ‘failed to adequately align resources to address the threat from domestic terrorism, despite the agencies highlighting the magnitude of the threat in their annual strategic intelligence assessments.’”
“The report notes that the agencies have not complied with a congressional requirement to track and report data on domestic terrorism and have failed to adapt to a new era in which social media has played a role ‘in the radicalization process of perpetrators in over 90% of extremist plots or activities in the United States.’
“For example, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS identified ‘specific threat information” on social media in the days leading up to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but did not report on the threats until two days after the insurrection, an oversight that was partially due to ‘inexperienced open source collectors who received inadequate training.’”
“Last year, data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showed that right-wing extremists had carried out or plotted 267 attacks and caused 91 deaths since 2015. More than a quarter of the attacks and nearly half the killings had been perpetrated by white supremacists, according to a Washington Post analysis.
“That analysis was compiled before this year’s mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, after which the shooter reported he was motivated by the “Great Replacement Theory”—a conspiracy-fueled belief that white Americans are being intentionally “replaced” by people of color. The suspect in that shooting, which killed 10 Black people, pleaded guilty on Monday to murder and hate-motivated terrorism charges.
The Great Replacement Theory has been endorsed in recent years by influential right-wing figures including Fox commentator Tucker Carlson, Sen.-elect J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).”
The U.S. Constitution needs remedying, not rejection
Trump wants to dismiss or disregard the U.S. Constitution
Trump has recently called for Americans to ignore or reject the constitution and what it stands for, with little criticism from leaders in the Republican Party. Kenny Stancil reports on this issue ((https://commondreams.org/news/2022/12/04/gop-silence-trumps-call-axe-constitution-reveals-full-embrace-fascism-house-dem).
“‘Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler ‘great,’’ said Rep. Bill Pascrell. ‘Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator.’”
Then in a viral post on Trump social media platform, Truth Social, Trump keyed the following statements referring to his long reputed “big lie” and the need to reject Biden’s 2020 presidential victory.
“So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
The Biden administration responded.
“The administration of President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump by more than seven million votes and 74 Electoral College votes, quickly responded. In a statement rebuking Trump, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said:
“The American Constitution is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country. The Constitution brings the American people together—regardless of party—and elected leaders swear to uphold it. It’s the ultimate monument to all of the Americans who have given their lives to defeat self-serving despots that abused their power and trampled on fundamental rights. Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation, and should be universally condemned. You cannot only love America when you win.”
Trump continues is make statements in support of the Jan.6 rioters and, if elected in 2024, promises to pardon all of them.
Stancil also reports on Trump’s continuing endorsement of the rioters who attempted on Jan. 6, 2021 to stop the Congress’s legal responsibility for certifying the results of the 2020 presential election.
“Just days ago, Trump reiterated his support for the far-right insurrectionists who participated in the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, saying in a video played during a fundraiser that ‘people have been treated unconstitutionally in my opinion and very, very unfairly, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.’
“Trump claimed earlier this year that he was ‘financially supporting’ some January 6 defendants and said that if reelected, he would ‘look very, very favorably’ at full pardons for those being prosecuted. More than 950 people have been charged so far, including two leaders of the far-right Oath Keepers militia who were convicted last week of seditious conspiracy. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s failed coup, 147 congressional Republicans voted to reverse Biden’s victory.”
Identifying the democratic flaws in the U.S. Constitution – and fixing them
Law professor and scholar Sanford Levinson identifies key Constitutional flaws in his book, “Our Undemocratic Constitution” (published 2006). He lists the following problems, overlooking the racist aspects of the document.
“1. Even if you support having a Senate in addition to the House of Representatives, do you support as well giving Wyoming the same number of votes as California, which has roughly seventy times the population?
“2. Are you comfortable with an Electoral College that, among other things, has regularly placed in the White House candidates who did not get a majority of the popular vote and, in at least two [now three] cases over the past fifty years, wo did not even come in first in that vote.
“3. Are you concerned that the president might have too much power, whether to spy on Americans without any congressional or judicial authority or to frustrate the will of the majority of both houses of Congress by vetoing legislation which he disagrees on political grounds?
“4. Do you really want justices on the Supreme Court to serve up to four decades and, among other things, to be able to time their resignation to mesh with their own political preferences as to their successors?
“5. Do you support the ability of thirteen legislative houses in as many states to block constitutional amendments desired by the overwhelming majority of Americans as well as, possibly, eighty-six out of the ninety-nine legislative houses in the American states?” (pp. 6-7).
The Constitutional founders were concerned about the “unruly masses”
David Frum, staff writer for The Atlantic magazine, argues in an article published by the magazine on Feb 15, 2021, that the “authors of the Constitution feared mass participation would unsettle government, but it’s the privileged minority that has proved destabilizing” (https://www.theatlantic/com/ideas/archive/2012/02/america-must-become-democracy/618028). Frum’s principal point is that just about every author of the Constitution shared this idea, which was “articulated by James Madison at the convention on June 26, 1787.” Frum continues.
“The mass of the people would be susceptible to ‘fickleness and passion,’ he [Madison] warned. They would suffer from ‘want of information as to their true interest.’ Those who must ‘labour under all the hardships of life’ would ‘secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings.’ Over time, as the population expanded and crowded into cities, the risk would only worsen that ‘the major interest might under sudden impulses be tempted to commit injustice on the minority.’”
In response to this concern, the Framers erected erect ‘a necessary fence’ against ‘impetuous councils.’ A Senate to counterbalance the House of Representatives, selected from a more elite few and serving for longer terms, would be one such fence. The indirect election of the president through an Electoral College would be another. A federal judiciary confirmed by the Senate and serving for life would provide one more. And so on through the constitutional design.”
Frum adds: “In no other comparably developed society is voting as difficult; in no peer society are votes weighted as unequally; in no peer society is there a legislative chamber where 41 percent of the lawmakers can routinely outvote 59 percent, as happens in the U.S. Senate.”
The Biden Administration’s approach: make voting easier
One of the proposals to do this is called the For the People Act.
Brennan Center for Justice officers and researchers, Michael Waldman, Wendy R. Weiser, Daniel I. Weiner, consider President Biden’s proposal, the goal of which is to eliminate obstacles to voting (https://brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/brennan-center-urges-congress-pass-people-act). They delve into the provisions of the proposed legislation.
“Among the most important provisions in this historic legislation are:
“Modernizing Voter Registration. The For the People Act would make automatic voter registration, which 19 states and the District of Columbia have already approved, the national standard. Automatic registration is a transformative reform under which eligible voters are automatically registered when they provide information to the government at the DMV or other agencies, unless they opt out. It could add as many as 50 million new eligible voters to the rolls. It improves the integrity of the rolls and saves money. H.R.1 would also require online and same-day voter registration and curtail illegal purges of the voter rolls. Taken together, these reforms would modernize our system and solve almost all of the registration problems that routinely plague elections and keep millions of Americans from voting. No change is more important for giving all eligible voters the chance to cast their ballots.
“Small-Donor Public Financing. The For the People Act would create a voluntary program to amplify the voices of small, private donors, using public funds to match contributions of up to $200 6-to-1. It would also revamp and expand to the general election a similar program for presidential primaries that for three decades was used by every major contender…. If enacted for congressional races, small donor matching would also significantly narrow the fundraising gap for candidates of color (who typically must work harder to raise the same amounts as their white peers), especially women of color.
“Restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The For the People Act would affirm Congress’s commitment to restore the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), the landmark civil rights law the Supreme Court hobbled in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. The absence of these protections has ushered in a wave of restrictive voting measures and allowed discriminatory changes to voting rules to stay in effect for years. Full restoration of the VRA is accomplished by the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, which Congress should again pass as soon as it has amassed a sufficient legislative record.
“Voting Rights Restoration. The For the People Act would restore federal voting rights to citizens with past criminal convictions living in our communities — strengthening those communities, offering a second chance to those who have served their time, and removing the stain of a policy born out of Jim Crow….
“Redistricting Reform. The For the People Act would create strong uniform rules for congressional redistricting, including strengthened protections for communities of color and a statutory ban on partisan gerrymandering. It would also ensure greater transparency in the redistricting process and add enhanced judicial remedies to ensure that discriminatory maps can quickly be challenged in court and fixed. Absent these measures, extreme gerrymandering and discrimination against communities of color will continue to run rife in the upcoming redistricting cycle.
“Nationwide Early Voting. The For the People Act would ensure that all states have at least two weeks of early voting to boost turnout among working Americans, reduce long lines, and help officials identify and address problems before Election Day. More than 100 million Americans voted early in 2020, a substantial increase over previous years, which additionally helped to ensure a safe and secure election in the pandemic context.
“Shoring up Campaign Finance Rules. The For the People Act would extend common-sense transparency rules to online political advertising and close other loopholes, tighten rules intended to keep super PACs and dark money groups independent of candidates, and overhaul the Federal Election Commission to prevent deadlocks and enforce campaign finance laws more effectively.
“Election Security. The For the People Act would bring needed improvements to election security by requiring states to replace paperless electronic voting machines, promoting risk-limiting audits, creating grants to help states enhance election security on an ongoing basis, and ensuring election system vendors meet security requirements, among other changes.
“Government Ethics. Finally, the For the People Act would bolster enforcement of executive branch ethics rules, slow the revolving door between the private and public sectors, require disclosure of presidential tax returns, tighten restrictions on congressional conflicts of interest, and require a code of ethics for the Supreme Court, among other things.”
Despite the extremist Republican Party, Biden and Congressional Democrats have managed to win some legislative victories
Even amid deep partisan divisions in the U.S. political system, the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats, with a 50-50 seat tie in the Senate, which relies on Vice-President Kamala Harris to break ties, and a mere 8 or so seat advantage in the House have managed prior to the midterms to overcome Republican opposition, by using a reconciliation process that gets around the filibuster, with at times the support of some Republicans, and with executive actions issued by President Biden. And there have been rare occasions when a majority of Republicans have joined with their Democratic colleagues to pass legislation.
Russell Berman considers “What Joe Biden has (and hasn’t) accomplished in an article for The Atlantic, on Nov 7, 2022 (https://theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2022/11/biden-2022/midterms-policy-record-approval/671941). Here some highlights from Berman’s artricle.
“The signing of just three enormous bills—the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law, and this summer’s climate-and-health spending bill—made Biden’s first two years among the most productive of any president in the past half century. The initial pandemic bill, also known as the American Rescue Plan, was about the size of Barack Obama’s two biggest legislative achievements—his initial economic stimulus package and the 2010 Affordable Care Act—combined. The legislation sent $1,400 checks to Americans across the country, nearly doubled the child tax credit, shored up state budget accounts, and funded testing, treatment, and vaccines to fight the pandemic.
“The politically named Inflation Reduction Act is actually the largest climate bill in U.S. history and allows Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs for the first time.
“Beyond those headline bills, Biden more quietly amassed a bevy of smaller legislative wins, often with bipartisan support. A modest gun-safety bill expanded background checks (although not universally), made it easier to prosecute illegal gun trafficking, and provided federal funding for so-called red-flag laws. Congress also passed the CHIPS Act to boost domestic production of semiconductors, a long-stalled postal-reform bill, substantial military aid for Ukraine, and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—all with fairly broad support from both parties. Biden’s executive actions on student-loan forgiveness and pardons for marijuana possession answered a pair of progressive demands.”
Coincidentally, the Democrats in the U.S. Congress have just passed legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriage. Jessica Corbett reports on the legislation (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/11/29/love-wins-again-senate-passes-bill-protest-same-sex-and-interracial-marriage). She writes,
“While not perfect, this legislation ensures marriages solemnized validly anywhere in these United States are valid everywhere in our country without government discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
American democracy is under severe threat from right-wing political forces. They have been able to stifle many, not all, Democratic legislative proposals that would have enhanced Democracy. As it is, however, the Trump/Republicans, their corporate and grassroots supporters, and other right-wing segments of the society continue to oppose most reforms to strengthen U.S. Democracy. The future of the country’s political system rests on which major political party will be able to get out the vote and win elections.