A few months ago, I wrote a commentary about the grave threat posed by the modern Republican Party (Local View: “Republicans’ anti-democracy most apparent in war on voters’ rights,” Sept. 29). The version that was published differed from the one I originally submitted. In the original version, I referred to the “cranks, scoundrels, sycophants, and know-nothings” that constituted today’s Republican base. While I acknowledged the party still contained some well-meaning and decent people, the News Tribune’s editorial page editor responded that my “ranting list of disparaging names” was uncivil and would need to be excised.
I disagreed with his characterization. Based on the history of the last half century, I believed those terms both defensible and appropriate. But I understood why he requested their removal and, in the interest of moving forward, agreed to his request.
In hindsight, I should have pushed back. The Republican behavior we have witnessed since the November election, both locally and nationally, has only underscored why.
What better way is there to describe the crass opportunism of Rep. Pete Stauber; the antipathy to free elections of failed Duluth candidates Donna Bergstrom, Tom Sullivan, and Art Johnston ("Losing Duluth legislative candidates unsuccessfully challenge election results," Jan. 4); and the slow-motion coup attempt of presidential loser Donald Trump? And is there any better illustration of the appalling ignorance of most of today’s Republicans — the same folks who have claimed to see in Democrats a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles operating a child-trafficking ring — than the fact 77% of them, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, believe, without a shred of credible evidence, that the 2020 election was rife with voting fraud?
The Republican Party has effectively ceased being a political party. It is much too serious, however, to be dismissed as a bad joke. For all intents and purposes, today’s Republican Party constitutes a growing fascist threat to the nation’s basic democratic order. We saw this on Jan. 6 with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The dilemma facing the party is simple: Republicans are a numerical minority who want the power associated with a majority.
Fortunately for them, hostility to popular democracy was baked into the U.S. Constitution. The nation’s founders, for example, decided to have the Electoral College, not the popular vote, determine the presidential victor. As such, the two most recent Republican presidents — Donald Trump and George W. Bush — both entered the White House after receiving fewer votes than their Democratic opponents.
Likewise, the founders sought to ensure continued rule by elite, responsible men in creating an intentionally unrepresentative legislature, with the Senate granting sparsely populated states just as much representation as their densely populated counterparts. As a result, the 580,000 residents of Wyoming today enjoy the same Senate power as nearly 40 million Californians.
But these nods to unrepresentative governance are not enough. To overcome the fact that most Americans do not support the Republicans’ commitment to concentrating wealth and power at the top, the party has spent recent decades distracting voters while figuring out how to ensure minority rule.
Gerrymandering has been essential to this project. Republicans in neighboring Wisconsin, for example, have managed to retain roughly 60% of the state’s assembly seats despite consistently receiving less than half the popular vote. In addition to partisan gerrymandering, Republicans in Wisconsin and nationwide have purged voter rolls, instituted voter ID laws, eliminated polling locations, pressed for intimidating election monitors, resisted universal voter registration, or put up numerous other barriers that make voting more difficult.
They have justified these antidemocratic efforts by citing an alleged problem — substantial voting fraud — that simply does not exist. Such baseless claims are possible, however, in the alternate universe created by the party, whose adherents blissfully inhabit a world unburdened by evidentiary standards.
By now, many readers will have interpreted this commentary as a partisan attack. It is not. For years I have been — and, with the Biden administration, expect to continue to be — highly critical of the Democrats. But as a historian who stresses to his students that arguments are only as good as the evidence that supports them, the rank dishonesty and anti-intellectualism of the modern Republican Party offends me.
As it should you. And it is deeply worrisome. That millions of cranks, scoundrels, sycophants, and know-nothings continue to prop up the Republican menace is a damning testament to how far we still must go in creating a decent United States.
Scott Laderman teaches history at the University of Minnesota Duluth.