Jim Chrisinger: Republicans’ disrespect for government and democracy makes it easier for them to suppress votes. And harder for Democrats to fight back. -promoted by Laura Belin
Our current political battles are asymmetrical because Democrats essentially respect democracy and government and too many Republicans do not.
At some point — with Newt Gingrich? — the GOP morphed from “too much government is a problem” to “government is the enemy.” In the last couple of decades, Iowa Republicans drove out of the party those following in the footsteps of Bob Ray, Jim Leach, and even an earlier version of Chuck Grassley, all of whom believed in the value of good government, albeit smaller government.
So “polarization” may not best describe our current dilemma. Polarization implies both sides moving to extremes. Here, one side steered over the edge.
Donald Trump turbocharged this trend, but he didn’t create it. Republicans’ attacks on democracy have for some time included gerrymandering and voter suppression in multiple forms. Now lame-duck GOP legislatures and governors strip incoming Democratic governors of powers (Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin). In Iowa, Republicans deprived Attorney General Tom Miller of the ability to join national lawsuits unless Governor Reynolds agreed.
Government is democracy operationalized; disrespecting government disrespects democracy. If you don’t like how government works, work to improve it.
Serious consequences flow from this lack of respect. Lack of respect makes it easier to gerrymander and suppress votes. Easier to look the other way when the rule of law is subverted. Easier to dismiss norms and character. Easier to deprive a president of a Supreme Court nomination. Easier to be a hypocrite. Easier to choose personal benefit over community betterment. Easier to lie and spread lies. Easier to commit voter fraud in North Carolina’s ninth Congressional district in 2018.
Lack of respect makes it more likely that you will flaunt the law and ethics: see stock trading by U.S. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s indictment for abusing his office to benefit a friend and donor, and California Ex-Congressman Duncan Hunter’s conviction for using campaign funds for personal purposes.
If you disrespect government, you don’t need to let facts and science inform it. You know Republicans use science in their businesses when it makes them money.
Of course there have been examples of Democratic transgressions, but they are more likely to be personal failings than institutional predilection. No false equivalencies, please.
So what do you do when one side believes in and plays by the rules and norms and the other side bends, breaks, and ignores the rules and norms? What do you do, more bluntly, when one side cheats?
We could follow Michelle Obama’s advice and go high when they go low. We could appeal to their better angels. But that won’t work because so many Republicans appear to have no shame. Or we could go lower, doubling down on cheating and try to beat them at their own game. But our respect for democracy precludes that. In other kinds of contests, we can just refuse to play with cheaters, but that’s not an option either; the stakes are too high.
Better, we can take cheaters to court when their actions are illegal. For example, the Supreme Court overturned racial gerrymandering. Unfortunately, much of the cheating going on is technically legal while violating the spirit of the Constitution and democracy. For example, the Supreme Court refused to halt political gerrymandering. The courts’ rightward swing will also limit this remedy.
The best option is to vote them out, change laws, and codify norms to make it harder to cheat. But the very cheating — gerrymandering and voter suppression — makes it harder to change the laws. There appear to be no great answers at this point. May 2021 bring us better ones.
Jim Chrisinger is a retired public servant living in Ankeny. He served in Democratic and Republican administrations in Iowa and elsewhere.