After Trump’s election, there was speculation about what would happen after a “Reichstag fire,” that would justify consolidation of authoritarian control. Some have described the obscenity of the Kavanaugh confirmation as a dumpster fire, but it’s close enough to a Reichstag fire for me.
The core Republican voters are racist whites comprising 15-25% of the electorate, and shrinking. The right knows they have no electoral majority, so they’ve dedicated themselves to antidemocratic strategies. They’re preparing for a permanent electoral minority.
Throughout U.S. history, to preserve white supremacy, elites created and then exploited antidemocratic rules and structures. Recognizing that southern states would not ratify the Constitution without ironclad protections for slavery, the Founding Fathers deferred debate over abolition of slavery and the slave trade for a generation, and created the Electoral College. Slave states won disproportionate clout in the Senate through the three-fifths compromise, and the filibuster was created a few years later to allow minorities of Senators to block bills. Over the next 200 years, Southern senators leveraged the filibuster many times to preserve white supremacy, such as stopping anti-lynching legislation in 1922, 1937 and 1940, and civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.
Leveling our democracy and pursuing racial justice are one and the same. Progressives must recognize that defending democracy from the right means fighting for racial justice, and vice versa. There is no path for Democrats to undo the damage done by Trump without racial justice. Democrats should prioritize expansion of democracy in their agenda to regain control of government at all levels.
This means ending the filibuster for all purposes. That’s a simple rule change that requires no other approval. It also means ending felon disenfranchisement laws, reducing mass incarceration, creating a path to citizenship for all twelve million undocumented immigrants, moving election days to the weekend, passing automatic and same-day voter registration, expanding early voting, and fighting gerrymandering and voter ID.
It’s time to end the Electoral College, and assign Senators proportional to population. It’s projected that in twenty years, half the US population will live in eight states, giving massively distorted voting power to sparsely-populated states and effectively disenfranchising millions of Americans. We should also demand statehood for DC and Puerto Rico.
Progressives don’t have much strategy around the judiciary. The Republicans stole the Supreme Court and a lot of judgeships to hijack the judicial branch for a generation. Long after we’ve defeated their reactionary policies in the court of public opinion, they will be able to thwart progressive gains won from the legislative or executive branch.
Progressives don’t have enough of a plan beyond hoping that the courts aren’t as bad as feared and electing more Democrats. Two concrete proposals is for the next Democratic Congress to add two Supreme Court justices to undo Trump’s illegitimate nominees, or Robert Reich’s proposal to “annul” Trump’s entire presidency, including his judicial appointments.
My cousin Aaron Belkin, political scientist at San Francisco State, says that all three—ending the filibuster, democratization, and unpacking the courts—should be done in tandem before Groundhog’s Day 2021, or the right will be able to dismantle any other progress.
Establishment Democrats like Obama, Pelosi, Schumer, Biden, and Clinton use antidemocratic structures to hold the left at bay. They can shrug that Medicare for All, free college, taxing the 1%, defunding the war machine, a just transition to a carbon-free future are sadly not possible despite their best intentions because gridlock.
The right has launched a frontal assault on democratic rights and the rule of law, flaunting both racism and corruption. This is their last desperate stand to consolidate permanent minority rule. They know they can’t win at the ballot and have lost hearts and minds. They won’t be stopped by a restoration of civility, but only by a crushing loss of power.
Winning on the agenda that has energized progressives depends on including a bold fight to have true democracy for the first time in American history.
Nato Green is a comedian who doesn’t feel that funny at the moment, but it’ll come back eventually.