BY: *Robert Reich
April 15, 2023
We have a Democratic party, which – notwithstanding a few glaring counter-examples, such as what the Democratic National Committee did to Bernie Sanders in 2016 – is still largely committed to democracy.
And we have a Republican party, which is careening at high velocity toward authoritarianism. OK, fascism.
What occurred in Nashville last week is a frightening reminder of the fragility of American democracy when Republicans obtain supermajorities and no longer need to work with Democratic lawmakers.
The two Tennessee Democrats who Republicans expelled from the Tennessee house have been restored to their seats until special elections are held, but the damage to democracy cannot be easily undone.
The two were not accused of criminal wrongdoing or even immoral conduct. Their putative offense was to protest against Tennessee’s failure to enact stronger gun controls after a shooting at a Christian school in Nashville left three nine-year-old students and three adults dead.
They were technically in violation of house rules, but the state legislature has never imposed so severe a penalty for rules violations. In fact, over the past few years, several Tennessee legislators have kept their posts even after being charged with serious sexual misconduct. And the two who were expelled last week are Black people, while a third legislator who demonstrated in the same manner but was not expelled is white.
We are witnessing the logical culmination of win-at-any-cost Trump Republican politics – scorched-earth tactics used by Republicans to entrench their power, with no justification other than that they can.
Democracy is about means. Under it, citizens don’t have to agree on ends (abortion, healthcare, guns or whatever else we disagree about) as long as we agree on democratic means for handling our disagreements.
But for Trump Republicans, the ends justify whatever means they choose – including expelling lawmakers, rigging elections through gerrymandering, refusing to raise the debt ceiling and denying the outcome of a legitimate presidential election.
Wisconsin may soon offer an even more chilling example. While liberals celebrated the election last Tuesday of Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin supreme court because she will tip the court against the state’s extreme gerrymandering (the most extreme in the nation) and its fierce laws against abortion (among the most stringent in America), something else occurred in Wisconsin on election day that may well negate Protasiewicz’s victory.
Voters in Wisconsin’s eighth senatorial district decided (by a small margin) to send Republican Dan Knodl to the state senate. This gives the Wisconsin Republican party a supermajority – and with it, the power to remove key state officials, including judges, through impeachment.
Several weeks ago, Knodl said he would “certainly consider” impeaching Protasiewicz. Although he was then talking about her role as a county judge, his interest in impeaching her presumably has increased now that she’s able to tip the state’s highest court.
As in Tennessee, this could be done without any necessity for a public justification. Under Republican authoritarianism, power is its own justification.
Recall that in 2018, after Wisconsin voters elected a Democratic governor and attorney general, the Republican legislature and the lame duck Republican governor responded by significantly cutting back the power of both offices.
Meanwhile, a newly installed Republican supermajority in Florida has given Ron DeSantis unbridled control – with total authority over the board governing Disney, the theme park giant he has fought over his anti-LGBTQ “don’t say gay” law; permission to fly migrants from anywhere in the US to destinations of his own choosing, for political purposes, and then send the bill to Florida’s taxpayers; and unprecedented prosecutorial power in the form of his newly created, hand-picked office of election “integrity”, pursuing supposed cases of voter fraud.
Without two parties committed to democratic means to resolve differences in ends, the party committed to democracy is at a tactical disadvantage. If it is to survive, eventually it, too, will sacrifice democratic means to its own ends.
In these circumstances, partisanship turns to enmity and political divisions morph into hatred. In warfare there are no principles, only wins and losses. America experienced this 160 years ago, when the civil war tore us apart.
Donald Trump is not singularly responsible
for this dangerous trend, but he has legitimized
and encouraged the ends-justify-the-means
viciousness now pushing the GOP
toward becoming the American fascist party.
See also the Huffpost article: Director At Florida Liberal Arts College Likens Ron DeSantis’ Takeover To ‘Fascism’
*Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a Guardian US columnist. His newsletter is at robertreich.substack.com