Asymmetry: When one side cheats

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.

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  • Let's not be asymmetrically polite.

    “…Democrats essentially respect democracy and government and too many Republicans do not.”

    I would have said Republicans, categorically, do not respect democracy. It’s time to stop giving a free pass to Republicans who have given their consent by their silence.

  • Sens. Hypocrite and Brown Nose

    Just last week, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Join Ernst proved the point by castigating Rita Hart for “exploring all of her legal challenges” to win the 2nd Congressional District — a seat she is six votes shy of winning. Yet neither had any problem w/ President Trump doing the same to overcome a 7 million margin.

  • The goalposts have been moved

    Democrat or Republican, greed and the control that power creates knows no affiliation in the strictest sense. Remember Charlie Rangle,Rod Blagojevich,Dan Rostenkowski? That said, the list of corrupt republican is indeed longer. Entitlement that too often comes with tenure is part of the problem. Polarization is not the problem, it is a byproduct of the overwhelming desire for control of the levers of government to exert social and cultural power often unrelated to good government. Republicans have been the poster child of late for that. Fiduciary and stewardship values are not rewarded when administrative appointments doled out to the party faithful is paramount regardless of political affiliation.

  • GOP's weak commitment to ethics

    This is a well-done piece -it really gets to the heart of the “divisiveness” of our current politics. One side is interested in governing and cooperating with the party across the aisle in the old-fashioned, collegial ways. The other side is solely interested in accumulating as much power as possible, civility be damned. The Dems always take the high road and play nice, thinking that the GOP will take pause and change their ways. It never works. I always compare it to a game of pickup basketball: the Dems are playing by the rules, the Republicans are throwing dirty elbows.

    No party has a monopoly on ethical behavior but the GOP is currently experiencing a period of historic corruption. In addition to Trump’s (and family’s) problems with ethics -his cabinet has been notoriously corrupt and several members resigned under ugly scandals: Price, Pruitt, Zeinke, Acosta (and others who came under scrutiny: Pompeo, Barr, Ross, Mulvaney). Congressional Republicans have also had an incredible run the last few years, from misusing campaign or taxpayer funds (D. Hunter, Schock, Fahrenthold) to aiding Russia/running interference for Trump (Nunes, Rohrabacher, Gaetz, J.Jordan), to #MeToo (Franks, Meehan) to the ever-popular STOCK Act (Loeffler, Perdue, Burr, C. Collins (+5 other House members)). That doesn’t even include Reps. Grimm and Gianforte, known for threatening and assaulting reporters. It’s incredible and sad.

    And now that they’ve abandoned their commitment to ethics, they’re also waning on their commitment to democracy. It’s scary and let’s hope they don’t continue down this path.

  • Remarkably....

    it was a number of Republicans at local/state levels administering and certifying results that held the decisive votes of slave descendants that saved our democracy’s ass this time. LeBron in 2020 had a greater impact on the outcome than did Vlad. But Vlad was focusing his mischief elsewhere. Gonna take awhile to understand it all.

    But the massive scale at which national Republicans now fully embrace disinformation as a primary tool is alarming. In the national GOP, the lines are blurred among the lawfully competent malevolents, the criminal, the insane, the criminally insane, and the stupid. Fidelity to the concept of public service for public good? That’s for chumps and Democrats.

    The recent vote maybe says we reject a possible turn to European experiences like this:
    Across The Street

    Or this. Born in Nazi Germany, John Kay was five years old when his cough triggered an adult’s admonishment to “Please don’t make a sound!” (Bitte machen Sie kein Geräusch!) This as his mom led him through barbed wire fence into West Germany from the East. After he’d entertained us with “Born To Be Wild”, “Magic Carpet Ride”, and “Rock Me” he got serious and wrote about that escape to freedom with the song “Renegade” (linked above.)

    There is hope. Resist. After Trump is dead and buried in the ground, I’ll think about maybe getting my hair cut again. Soon after, I’d like to be enjoying on television or internet a comedy series about the time of Trump. Think “Hogan’s Heroes.”