Soundings November 5: Only Our Nation’s Citizens Can Address its Deepening Governance Crisis

In recent Soundings, I have argued that the United States has fallen into a governance crisis occasioned disproportionately by the Republican Party’s choice to mobilize voters by fear and lies. That is, one of the nation’s political parties and its leaders have led the country into crisis by their chosen strategy to galvanize voters via lies and fearmongering and by their apparent decision to stop at nothing to maintain their control of the nation’s governing institutions. President Donald Trump, and the Republican Party following him, systematically lie, mislead and foster fear among voters to obtain their support and encourage them to go to the polls.

Most recently, Trump has declared that a group of families and individuals traveling north fleeing violence in Honduras to request asylum in the United States constitutes a grave national security threat because it contains “Middle East terrorists” (that do not exist and are completely of his concoction, by his own admission). He has dispatched troops to stop the refugees’ effort to request asylum should they reach our border. Every element of this trope is nonsense. These individuals pose no threat, their number contains no known terrorists from the Middle East or anywhere else, and individually and collectively they constitute no economic or political danger to the United States. Indeed, their numbers, relative to the population of this nation, are so miniscule as not even to register as a blip on any screen. Nonetheless, Trump has othered this group with impunity and argued that voters should be deeply afraid of its existence in a bid to use fear of the unknown and of those of different skin color to rally GOP partisans to the polls.

Meanwhile, Trump has been telling supporters at recent campaign rallies that electing Republicans will protect them from the “mob rule” that would ensue should Democrats win control of either chamber of Congress. This claim, too, is preposterous on its face and cruel in its underpinnings, even as it falsely describes those who dare disagree with Trump or the GOP as violent and lawless. Meanwhile, the President and other representatives of his Party have also begun arguing that they will “protect” voters’ access to health insurance by ensuring that the Democrats do not rob them of the clause protecting those insured from discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions. This contention is Orwellian and cynical in the extreme, as the Democrats have never adopted such a stance, but the GOP has certainly done so, and until very recently.

As these efforts have occurred, the Republican Party has completely abandoned its decades long support to build a stronger international community by supporting Trump as he attacks this nation’s traditional allies and engages in trade wars of his own devising, apparently to appeal to voters’ fears of economic fragility and to reinforce claims that “others,” even long-term allied nations, cannot be trusted and are instead out to take advantage of “us.” Likewise, in the realm of policy making, the GOP has abandoned its traditional call for government frugality and prudence by adopting tax cuts that have advantaged the wealthiest individuals in the country while increasing the nation’s budget deficit by 17 percent in the last year alone. In still another lie, all of this has been justified by claiming that it was intended to support working-and middle-class citizens. It has not had that impact and was never so intended by those Republicans who pressed for it.

In addition to these stands, Trump particularly, backed by his Party’s leaders and supporters, has attacked the civil and human rights of targeted individuals and groups, by constantly arguing that the freedom of the press should be curtailed when journalists dare publish anything critical of his contentions, however wild or false those may be. He has also contended that freedom of speech should be restricted for any who would criticize him. Even as the President has convinced thousands that any account of his efforts that is less than fawning is “Fake,” his demonizing rhetoric has emboldened hate groups of all sorts, most notably and tragically neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va.  More, in recent days, the nation has witnessed an effort by one self-anointed Trump acolyte to send pipe bombs to major Democratic party leaders and major donors and to journalists at the CNN offices, who, not coincidentally, Trump had vilified at various points. Even as this sad episode was unfolding, an anti-Semitic-inspired mass killing occurred at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its purveyor was clearly motivated in his hatred by the climate Trump has helped to create in recent years, including the President’s own series of calculated anti-Semitic messages.

Trump and the GOP’s response to this latest mass killing of innocents is to argue, completely without foundation, that still larger numbers of Americans should be armed as a matter of prevention, including at places of worship. Neither Trump, nor the GOP nor the National Rifle Association whose position they echo, has explained where this sort of logic ends or what its implications will ultimately be for how Americans shall live. It is enough, apparently, to fearmonger for perceived present electoral positioning and gains, whatever the implications of those actions for society’s future.

To these calculated attacks on democratic self-governance, Trump and the Republican Party have added another in their efforts to secure and maintain their power: active and ongoing efforts to prevent specific groups from voting because their members may not support the party. Put plainly, the Republican Party has spent millions of dollars and crafted many legislative efforts aimed at convincing Americans that the nation has a massive problem with voter fraud for which there is no evidence.  As with much of the current GOP agenda, this stance is completely unsupported by fact and instead predicated on the false premise that undeserving and conniving “others” will vote when they should not. The Party has just as aggressively taken steps where it controls state legislatures to make voting more difficult for groups whom its leaders fear will not cast ballots for its candidates. That is, its officeholders have worked assiduously to deny Americans the franchise on the basis of partisan concerns. As Ari Berman has observed, these immoral efforts could maintain Republican control of Congress in the 2018 national election:

Since the 2010 election, 24 states overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans have put in place new voting restrictions, such as tougher voter ID laws, cutbacks to early voting and barriers to registration. Republicans say these measures are necessary to combat the threat of widespread voter fraud, even though study after study shows that such fraud is exceedingly rare. Many of these states have hotly contested races in 2018, and a drop in turnout among Democratic constituencies, such as young people and voters of color, could keep Republicans in power.[1]

Put plainly, these actions suggest that the Republican Party now values power far more than it values its officials’ sworn fealty to the Constitution and to the civil rights of all of this nation’s citizens.

Readers will notice that the current governance crisis is not about any specific policy as, indeed, the GOP has vitiated its previously articulated rationale for existence in recent years as it has abandoned its support for American international leadership, fiscal probity and pragmatic policy-making. Instead, Donald Trump and that Party have embarked on a reckless and feckless attack on the American political system in the name of power and they have clearly calculated that such action will allow them to maintain that power. With the mid-term election at hand, and aware that roughly 100 million eligible voters did not cast ballots in 2016, an election in which Trump prevailed by a whisker in the Electoral College, this is a call for citizens to exercise their right to vote. Doing so is now the only effective mechanism available to stop the hate and scapegoating now being offered by a share of elected leaders in this country in lieu of governance. Voting is the only way to begin to demand an alternate course in which responsible officials, whatever their partisan predilections, debate policy possibilities without seeking to deprive entire groups of Americans of their franchise or attacking the foundations of the regime. If this country’s governance crisis is to be halted and its ugly and ramifying implications redressed, its citizens must act. Voting has never been more important.        

Notes

[1] Berman, Ari. “How Voter Suppression Could Swing the Midterms,”  The New York Times,  October 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/opinion/sunday/voter-suppression-georgia-2018.html?emc=edit_th_181028&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=400875341028 Accessed October 27, 2018.