It turns out there’s nothing like a pandemic to illustrate just how fundamentally hostile to democratic values and basic decency some Americans can be. And let me be clear: By “some Americans,” I’m referring mostly to those populating the modern Republican Party. That party is, by virtually any objective measure, the greatest threat facing both the United States and the world today.
One doesn’t need to look far to see the damage Republicans are doing to American democracy. They repeatedly place power over principle, such as with the reversal of their always disingenuous argument about filling Supreme Court vacancies. They exploit their positions to pursue bogus investigations, such as the recent one of Joe Biden by the Senate Homeland Security Committee. And they turn a blind eye to widespread corruption in the White House, preferring instead to offer apologia after apologia for the president’s ethical and legal shortcomings.
But the Republicans’ anti-democratic impulses are perhaps most apparent in their war on voting rights. To be sure, Democrats are hardly innocent in this regard. Most obviously, they have worked assiduously in states across the country to deny the Green Party a place on the ballot, fearing that progressive-minded voters might seek an alternative to a Democratic establishment that long ago abandoned the left. Yet the Democrats’ relatively modest efforts pale in comparison to the Republicans’ full-scale assault on this most elemental of American rights. From outrageous abuses of gerrymandering and the passage of state-level voter-ID laws to the recruitment of intimidating poll watchers and President Donald Trump’s delegitimizing of mail-in ballots, the onslaught has been relentless and, as with most Republican positions, utterly devoid of empirical justification.
Republican assertions about scores of illegal voters are, quite simply, lies. As the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice put it, “Extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators.” It is no secret why Republicans continue to put up barriers and peddle falsehoods. As a number of party officials have occasionally admitted, they believe it will discourage presumptive Democrats from taking to the polls. Greater democracy, in other words, is a threat to some in the Republican Party.
If only the Republican threat remained domestic. When it comes to the gravest crisis facing the planet today, global warming, the party remains hellbent on precluding action that might save our future as a species. Science, like facts and logic more broadly, seems hazardous to Republican priorities. They have thus done everything in their power, it seems, to minimize, dismiss, or deny the global scientific consensus.
As with voting and ballot access, there are ample grounds on which to criticize both major parties on this issue. But Democratic failures, while contemptible, seem minor in the face of the appalling Republican determination to block meaningful reforms and increase fossil-fuel extraction.
Countless Americans have understandably grown disillusioned with the Democrats. They see a party that has cozied up to Wall Street, pushed “free-trade” agreements devastating to workers, embraced imperial war, and, at the highest level, offered up anemic candidates who ooze “Washington establishment.” And yet, given recent positive developments, some disaffected Democrats may just return to the fold.
But millions of people will remain wedded to the Republican Party, which, at least since the 1960s, has appealed to the worst instincts of the white electorate. While there are some well-meaning and decent people among them, they are a distinct minority. Most Republicans reside in a right-wing echo chamber allergic to dissenting views. They dismiss criticism — as they will this commentary — as the work of “libtards,” arrogant “elites,” or “ivory tower” types intent on indoctrination, not education. Despite their own backgrounds, many Republicans view immigrants as leeches and invaders, they embrace outlandish conspiracy theories about satanic pedophiles leading the political opposition, and, in a bizarre inversion of demonstrable reality, they herald Trump as a great truth teller.
In short, as a nation, we’re screwed. These folks may represent a numerical minority, but there are still tens of millions of them, and they’re angry, organized, and often well armed. They have rallied around a president reportedly derided by his own appointees as a “moron,” an “idiot,” and a “dope,” and they believe he somehow represents their interests.
What a tragedy. As the record clearly shows, the current Republican standard-bearer has turned over the nation’s regulatory agencies to corporate interests, has attempted to strip the health insurance of tens of millions of people, has cut the already-too-low taxes of the 1%, and has bungled beyond comprehension the nation’s response to COVID-19. Many of those waving their Trump flags may one day wake up to just how dangerous the Republican Party has become. But, by then, it will be too late.
Scott Laderman teaches history at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He wrote this for the News Tribune.