In these, the first few days of the New Year, what should have been a chance to hope for respite from the corona virus has once again turned into a Republican Party ploy to steal the presidency. This time it's via protests over Electoral votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives. We already had heard the rumors that 140 Republicans in the House would contest the Electoral College votes, but suddenly, we are reading that Ted Cruz will be leading a dozen or so in the senate in the same attempt.
It's not only dishonest and dishonorable, it's also hypocritical in terms of what the conservatives like to call "states' rights." It may even be a stark violation of what the Federalist Society people want to claim.
Aside: The news has been hitting all weekend about a call that Donald Trump made to the Georgia Secretary of State, demanding, (and even kind of begging) that the SOS find another 11,780 votes so that Trump can win in Georgia. More about that later, but back to the Republican coup attempt coming up in the senate:
Let's start with a point that is not brought up nearly enough. There is a lot of vote fraud in this country (notice that I did not say voter fraud) and it's almost all on the part of conservative counties and states. That's because it's the taking away of the ability to vote by African Americans. Take, for example, this story from one Georgia county. Voter suppression was carried out in the old confederacy (obviously, since slaves didn't vote) and later morphed into the Jim Crow system. It took a Constitutional amendment to abolish the poll tax, laws against the totally outrageous and discriminatory use of so-called literacy tests, and then it took oversight by federal courts just to make the system a little less dishonest, as discussed at length in this ABC News article.
Even now, the game is to put as many Black men into prison as possible while disenfranchising them through their felony records (see the ABC News story cited above for the history of felony disenfranchisement). When the people of Florida passed a ballot initiative to reverse this practice, the Republican Florida legislature passed a bill to undermine that new rule by requiring that the released felons not only complete their sentences, but also pay off any and all of the fines and penalties they had accumulated. The games never end when it comes to attempts at voter suppression by white supremacists and racists.
Perhaps it's not all that surprising that Donald Trump would claim that liberal Democratic urban areas would be rigging their elections. After all, most of Trump's allegations against his opponents have turned out to be projections of his own dishonest, angry, and irrational impulses. He was used to a system in which the middle class white majority held control by making it difficult for African Americans to vote, even as Republicans carried out attempts to intimidate Latino voters from going to the polls through the use of men hanging around the polls in police-like uniforms. (Remember when they did that just over the Orange County line?)
What Trump has been trying to do is nothing new, in the sense of what the deep south has been doing for more than a century. It's just the brazenness of this northerner adopting the same racist language as his predecessors -- you know, Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Atlanta can't be right because the white man didn't win.
Let's take a quick look at the senators who have pledged to oppose the electoral vote count on Wednesday according to their home states:
Tennessee, Tennessee (got both of them), Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama
That's six senators from formerly slave states.
Also senators from Indiana, Montana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kansas.
Admittedly, 7 senators from formerly slave states are on the other side, joining those who plan to support the counting of the electoral votes.
But when elected members of the Senate and the House take office, they swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. It's curious that so few of them seem to have considered what that document actually says -- in particular the part about the election of the president by the Electoral College. Remember that it's the red state conservatives who have held out for states' rights all these years, particularly when it was the right to segregate their schools and neighborhoods. The idea was that such practices should not be regulated by the national government, but by individual states and local school districts.
But somehow, the concept of states' rights doesn't seem to hold, at least this week, when these same red staters want control over a presidential election. The authority of the state of Pennsylvania to write the rules for its choice of presidential electors is about as basic a state right as there is. But this week, those 12 senators and 140 members of the House are seeing things differently. Funny how the deep south defended its right to withhold the right to vote from its Black citizens for so many decades, yet now wants to tell Wisconsin and Arizona how to run their affairs.
I must confess that I'm not much of a states' rights partisan. I think the Civil War and the 14th Amendment did a lot to change the original system in the American republic. I'm just trying to point out that when Donald Trump and his followers go to such great lengths to nitpick every aspect of Pennsylvania's presidential vote, it is remarkably hypocritical. The right to have representation in the Senate and the right to choose presidential electors in each state's own fashion are about as original as any Constitutional principles come. Joe Biden is not in a position to tell Wisconsin that its citizen by the name of Ron Johnson cannot serve in the senate, but conversely, neither Ron Johnson nor Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz can lawfully contest Pennsylvania's electors. It may be a weird system to choose a president, but it's the one our founders invented.
Even if it were true that the Pennsylvania election was warped by the existence of tens of thousands of illegal votes, it's not entirely obvious that the federal courts (and certainly not the president) could force Pennsylvania to change its results in some specific way. Presumably, definitive evidence of such violations could lead to a federal court order based on the concept of One Man One Vote, but that is what fact finding and collection of evidence is about. And even then, the procedure would be to audit the votes, one by one. (Remember Florida?)
So, on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, about 150 elected members of the national legislature will be abusing the oath of office they have taken. Instead of defending the Constitution against its enemies domestic and foreign, they are about to become the domestic enemies in our Constitutional republic.
There are a lot of people who are referring to these Republican senators and House members as traitors, or as being guilty of sedition, or some variation of this theme. As somebody who believes in freedom of thought and in freedom of speech, I suggest that what these elected officials are about to do is probably not something that is quite definable according to these terms. If nothing else, it is probably not prosecutable. But it is slimy beyond belief.
What do you call it when a national leader and members of his party try to overturn a national election and install a pretend winner? This would be the clear endpoint of the machinations that Donald Trump is continuing to attempt. It's not quite fascism, in the sense that the Republican Party is not trying to put business and manufacturing under total government control. Maybe it's just dirty politics raised to the ultimate level.
But I think that we have to be clear about the members of the House and Senate who are about to attempt what is best described as a coup. We can't just absolve them as members of an opposition who play the political game roughly. The attempt to destroy the mechanism of the democratic process of holding elections goes far beyond that.
Perhaps the word for these elected officials is unamerican.
Yep, that's exactly what it is. They are unamerican. These politicians have selfishly chosen to serve the most improper desires of their party by attacking the foundational document of the American republic, the Constitution.
There needs to be a remedy
Calling them names is not enough. What they are doing (even if it is 99.9% destined to fail) has to be punished. The appropriate method would be for the House Democrats and the President to treat them as the pariahs they will be making themselves into. The Democrats in the House who are in charge of writing appropriations bills should quietly begin to cut funding to the districts and even states represented by these folks. Curiously enough, many of them represent states that take much more from the federal government than they pay in taxes -- they have even been referred to as "mooch" states. Let them -- and their constituents -- recognize the risks of carrying out their little war against civilization. Soon enough, their constituents will be visiting them, asking them to tone down the rhetoric and more importantly, trading a few liberal-pointing votes on health care and climate recovery for the federal funding that they have depended on for so long. And they have to agree in advance not to oppose any Supreme Court picks that the Democratic president gets.
Of course the cooler heads will warn us that this kind of behavior has its negative payback. Mitch McConnell will (if he wins even one senate seat in Georgia) shut down the government, just as he and his cronies have always done. But this time, we need to be ready and willing to say, "Do your worst, but you're not getting a nickel until we have a deal." And while we're waiting for that deal, red state residents will be feeling the pain just as the rest of us feel it right now.
And if the Democrats win two senate seats in Georgia?
Why then the president and the rest of his party will be hearing all sorts of suggestions. The first, of course, would be for the senate to abolish the filibuster, the necessity if they want to get anything else done. I've already published lists of other useful aims, such as increasing the size of the Supreme Court to 15 seats and thereby making sure that meritorious legislation is not killed off by the reactionaries on the court.
But here's one more thought. The ability to form a union is difficult under the current laws. The alternative is something referred to as "card check." A law enacting card check would allow union organizers to (quietly, even secretly) collect signatures from a simple majority of a plant's work force, and upon presenting the signed cards, the union would come into existence as the bargaining unit. While they are at it, the legislature should outlaw the so-called "right to work" laws, which essentially work as an anti-union device.
Meanwhile, however the Georgia senatorial elections turn out, we get to sit back and watch the Republican Party go to war against itself. There must be some Republicans out there who aren't starkly authoritarian and overtly racist. The coming years will provide a chance for you to make yourselves known.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)