It’s time for another one.
The present political situation is based on a concerted Republican campaign, since 2009, to deny people the right to vote, and to make sure that the voices of its political opponents is never heard. The result is a government that believes it can act with impunity, that it can ignore the will of the majority, that it has succeeded in making democracy a dead letter.
Some of the weapons in this war have been around since the nation’s founding. Others were developed over time, in the South, for racist purposes, and have now been moved north for political ones.
Gerrymanders are named for Elbridge Gerry, a member of the original Constitutional Convention, who used some imaginative legislative borders to maintain his power early in the 19th century. A cartoonist drew one of these borders as a bird-like animal, and named it the gerrymander. The name stuck. Such borders aren’t strictly illegal, when done for partisan reasons, but they can be challenged when they’re racially motivated, and the two have become the same.
In recent years Republicans have made this ridiculous. If a noxious Democrat wins a legislative district in one election, Republican majorities will change the lines for the next election, simply to get rid of that Democrat. This is an abomination.
Voter ID laws are poll taxes. The 24th Amendment prohibits poll taxes, but Republicans have found a loophole. By requiring specific forms of identification to register and vote, by charging for those forms of identification, and by making it as hard as possible to obtain them – demanding birth certificates on people whose birth was not registered for instance – Republicans have brought back the poll tax.
Voter purges are supposed to be done only to make sure dead people don’t vote. Many Republican states, like Ohio, are now purging voters from the rolls if they just vote irregularly. Purges have been combined with voter caging, where registered letters are sent to “unfriendly” voters that come back undelivered, leaving those voters to be challenged or even stricken from the rolls at the next election.
A form of voter purge that has been popular in the South since the Civil Rights era began is to deny felons the vote, for life. By enforcing the law strictly against black people, throwing millions in jail for what should be petty crimes, minorities have turned themselves into majorities while claiming a moral high ground. Jim Crow has made a comeback.
Republicans have also sought to restrict early voting, and have limited the number of polling places available to their political opponents, resulting in hours-long lines in Democratic precincts while Republicans can get the job done in minutes.
It all adds up to the same thing. Republicans are determined to make registering to vote, and voting, as difficult as possible. If you’re voting the wrong way.
This isn’t anti-Democracy. It is anti-democracy. It is un-American. It is what we fought against for 230 years. Time to fight again.
The Republican strategy is the greatest direct threat to American democracy in generations. It’s why we have a Republican Congress and a President Trump. If you can keep your opponents from voting, while making sure your side does, you can do what you want. When your voters know this to be the case, their demands are going to escalate. Unequal treatment springs from unequal voting rights.
This poison has a history. It was re-injected into the system by Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the 1970s, which replaced the original Jim Crow laws with something more insidious, more devious, more closeted, but just as effective. Republicans became the “white party” in Mississippi, in Alabama, and throughout the South. Democracy became a tribal affair, and when that happens there is no real democracy, because issues and corruption can’t break through tribal identification. This strategy has now moved to states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and wherever Republicans could elect governors and friendly legislatures. The whole party is in on it.
This is the real source of the national disquiet. It’s not Trump. He is just a symptom. The real source of national disquiet is this feeling that we have lost our collective voice, and that we may not be able to get it back.
It amazes me that Democrats have let themselves be distracted by either the pretty baubles of the news cycle or the daily outrages of various Republicans saying and doing stupid things, when the problem, and solution, are so much more basic.
Instead of talking about foreign policy, domestic policy, social policy, or economic policy, lovers of democracy need to talk every day about the one underlying issue, about democracy, and propose a solution.
My solution is the 28th Amendment.
- Every citizen will be automatically registered to vote on their 18th birthday, and this right shall not be infringed or denied for any reason
- Identification needed for voting will be provided free of charge to all voters.
- Voting times and availability will be standardized across the country.
- Legislative districts will be set once, after each census, and designed to give no party a partisan advantage beyond its numbers.
- Congress shall enforce this through appropriate legislation.
We can debate precisely how this should be worded, but its meaning should be clear. Everyone gets an equal right to vote. Everyone is automatically registered. District lines should be fair, and mid-census redistricting (except when demanded by courts because the first districts were unfair) must be eliminated.
If people like Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can get the support of most Americans, with all Americans being given an equal right to be heard, that’s one thing. But that is not what has happened. And that needs to be the issue before the Republic, today and every day, until the peoples’ rights are restored.
Ben Franklin, asked about the original Constitution said we would have a republic, “if you can keep it.” Generations kept it with their blood, against Civil War, against global dictators, ideologies and religious extremists.
It’s our turn now.