Forget abortion. Forget health care. Forget taxes and pretty much every other hot button issue too. For the time being, none of those issues matter. With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on partisan gerrymandering, it is now clear that there is only one issue at stake in 2020: ensuring, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The ruling — Rucho v. Common Cause — will undoubtedly go down as a historic defeat for the idea of representative government, even more dangerous than Citizens United. Armed with this precedent, Republicans will cement their hold on power and effectively nullify the voting power even of a majority of voters in states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Missouri, that have substantial liberal voting blocs concentrated in large cities, who frequently succeed in electing statewide officials, but who are regularly relegated to minority status in state legislatures, and incapable of translating their large share of the statewide vote into an equally large share of their state’s Congressional delegation.
Rucho is just the last of a series of canaries to keel over. I’ve already mentioned Citizens United, which effectively legalized corruption, and I could add Shelby County v. Holder, which neutralized the Federal government’s ability to protect the voting rights of racial minorities in states that have a sordid history of racist voter suppression. In each of these cases, it was the Republican-appointed judges who hammered nail after nail into democracy’s coffin.
On the other side of the Capitol, Republicans in Congress have also been doing their best to undermine democracy. Though fully apprised of the threat posed to our elections by countries like Russia, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring a bill to the floor that would help states safeguard their elections from foreign interference. And in the executive branch, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is still attempting to use a citizenship question to scare Latinos into silence, even after the daughter of a former Republican operative revealed that the genesis of the question lay in a nakedly partisan attempt to shift the electoral balance in the GOP’s favor.
At the state level, millions of Americans are disenfranchised because of felony convictions, and because many of the laws that give rise to these convictions — laws against drug possession and distribution, for instance — are disproportionately enforced against people of color, the effect of felon disenfranchisement is also tainted by racial bias. To their credit, the voters of Florida approved a constitutional amendment last year that would restore voting rights to ex-cons who had completed their sentences, but no sooner had the people spoken than GOP state legislators, and the newly elected Republican governor, announced that “completing their sentences” would also have to include paying thousands (in some cases tens of thousands) of dollars in various fees.
In Missouri, GOP lawmakers are working to repeal a ballot measure passed last year that would require legislative districts to be drawn in a nonpartisan manner. In one of the most cynical ploys imaginable, the party that has been responsible for disenfranchising so many black voters over the last generation is pinning its hopes on the Legislative Black Caucus, arguing that the nonpartisan districts will dilute the black vote. “All of a sudden Republicans are looking out for the best interests of African Americans in Missouri?” state Senator Jamilah Nasheed told the Kansas City Star. “For years they’ve been working to disenfranchise individuals by putting barriers in the way of voting, but now they pretend like they want to protect minority voters. I don’t believe it.”
Neither should any of us.
Republicans are well aware both of the unpopularity of their economic agenda and the substantial demographic headwinds coming their way. In January of last year David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, warned that “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” My only quibble with that statement is that it doesn’t belong in the future tense, for the GOP has long since abandoned its allegiance to representative government. If it is not to die out completely, then we must abandon them. We must vote for politicians who will pledge to support a constitutional amendment to ban gerrymandering, who will repeal laws designed to disenfranchise and deter voters, and who will safeguard the integrity of our election from the threat of foreign interference.
These are threshold issues, having priority over any disagreements we may have on other policies. Until the Republic is secure, the Republicans have to go.