Tag Archives: GOP

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

If there was ever any doubt about the Republican approach to the 2020 elections, people like Scott Walker are dispelling them. As Talking Points Memo reported a few weeks back,  Walker, who was formerly governor of Wisconsin, currently runs a group called the National Republican Redistricting Trust. That organization is allied with the (misnamed)  “Fair Lines America,” which is suing Michigan in an effort to overturn a recently passed anti-gerrymandering referendum.

In a preview of the coming war over redistricting reform, Republican politicians and operatives in Michigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s new, voter-approved redistricting commission.

Behind the lawsuit is Fair Lines America Foundation, which, according to the Detroit News,is affiliated with the Scott Walker-led National Republican Redistricting Trust.

The Republicans allege that the independent commission violates the Constitution’s First Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause by imposing certain requirements on who can serve on the commission. Specifically, individuals cannot serve on the 13-member commission if they, in the past six years, were partisan candidates, elected officials, political appointees, lobbyists, campaign consultants or political party officials.

There is a Yiddish word that fits this lawsuit perfectly: chutzpah. (Google it.)

Conditions like the ones imposed for serving on the Michigan commission are common in states where independent redistricting commissions are in place. The new GOP lawsuit alleges, however, that these conditions–imposed to ensure a lack of partisan bias on the part of citizens drawing district lines–are unconstitutional.

“Plaintiffs have been excluded from eligibility based on their exercise of one or more of their constitutionally protected interests,i.e., freedom of speech (e.g., by the exclusion of candidates for partisan office), right of association (e.g., by the exclusion of members of a governing body of a political party), and/or the right to petition (e.g., by the exclusion of registered lobbyists),” the lawsuit alleged.

The article predicts that the Michigan lawsuit is only the first of several that will be filed in states that have addressed the anti-democratic effects of partisan redistricting (aka gerrymandering) by establishing nonpartisan commissions.

Before Mitch McConnell and Trump succeeded in adding numerous right-wing ideologues to the federal judiciary, I wouldn’t have worried about this lawsuit. I would expect its patently ridiculous argument to be given short shrift. But given the caliber of people elevated to the federal bench (several nominees even refused to affirm that Brown v. Board of Education is good law…), all bets are off.

With the Supreme Court ruling last month that federal judges cannot rein in partisan gerrymandering, voting rights advocates will be only expanding their efforts to implement redistrict reform via independent commissions.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the conservative majority in the case, name-checked Michigan’s ballot initiative specifically to argue that there other avenues besides the federal judiciary to address the problem of extreme gerrymanders.

How his court will handle the coming wave of lawsuits challenging those commissions remains to be seen.

It has become glaringly obvious that the GOP cannot win a national election unless it can gerrymander districts and suppress minority votes. In their desperation to keep control of the mechanisms that ensure a non-democratic result favoring Republicans, party functionaries aren’t even giving lip service to majority rule. They aren’t even pretending to care about democracy and/or the integrity of the electoral process.

The midterm elections pointed to the only available remedy: turnout so massive that cheating can’t carry the day.

It Isn’t Just “Moscow Mitch”

Dan Coats–the last remaining adult in the Trump Administration–has been on thin ice with Trump for a long time. After all, he refused to tailor Intelligence reports to Trump’s fantasies. Perhaps the timing of his departure would have been the same in any event, but I found it intriguing that his “resignation” was announced almost immediately after the announcement that he was creating a new position dedicated to election security.

As a patriotic Republican, Coats was vastly outnumbered.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, blocked a bill authored by Sen. Mark Warner that would have required campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance to the FBI. As the Tennesseean reported,

The bill from Warner, D-Va., known as the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act, required unanimous consent in order to move forward, meaning that Blackburn’s decision to object stopped the legislation in its tracks.

The GOP as a whole has refused all efforts to implement security measures to protect the 2020 election against Russian hacking. Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) has quashed all legislative efforts to protect the franchise–leading frustrated observers to dub him “Moscow Mitch.”

As the Washington Post reported,

As President Trump’s own FBI director warns that Russians are planning to try to undermine American democracy in the next presidential election, Republican lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are blocking bills aimed at blocking foreign hackers from states’ voting systems.

The obvious question is: why? Why would American lawmakers refuse to protect America’s election system?

McConnell justifies his refusal to move the legislation forward with claims that the federal government is already working with states to address election interference, and that additional legislation would be “too heavy-handed,” since elections are run by the states.

Right. It’s all about states’ rights…..

The New Republic has a different theory.  It says this is another case of “follow the money”– that the GOP’s real reason for blocking security measures is financial.

The entire suite of Democratic proposals to improve election security are of course a nonstarter in a Republican-run government, and not just because Republicans have chosen to strategically believe or disbelieve in Russian election interference depending on the president’s moods and ever-shifting statements. Many of the Democratic proposals involve barring candidates and people associated with campaigns and political committees from receiving contributions, monetary and otherwise, from foreign nationals, and Republicans principally oppose most attempts to interfere in any form of influence-peddling.

Monetary influence-peddling comes in many forms. Newsweek recently reported that a Russian oligarch is funding a major factory in Kentucky, where Mitch’s re-election campaign is contending with his 36% approval rating.

Rusal, the aluminum company partially owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, announced plans to invest around $200 million to build a new aluminum plant in Kentucky just months after the Trump administration removed it from the U.S. sanctions list.

The new aluminum plant, slated to be built in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be the biggest new aluminum plant constructed in the U.S. in decades. Rusal will have a 40 percent stake in the facility.

McConnell reacted angrily to Dana Milbank’s column characterizing him as a “Russian asset.” (Andy Borowitz–who, like other satirists, has found the Trump administration a bonanza–countered with a column headlined “Putin denies McConnell is a Russian asset–says he’s never been an asset to any country.”) Milbank was blunt–and accurate:

This doesn’t mean he’s a spy, but neither is it a flip accusation. Russia attacked our country in 2016. It is attacking us today. Its attacks will intensify in 2020. Yet each time we try to raise our defenses to repel the attack, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocks us from defending ourselves.

We can speculate about McConnell’s motives, but one thing is clear: Mueller, Coats, the head of the FBI and numerous other officials have warned emphatically about Russian interference. They have characterized it as ongoing, sophisticated, and effective.

And far from working to avert that interference, the Republicans–led by Moscow Mitch– are facilitating it.

Proving Nick Hanauer Right

I have previously cited Nick Hanauer, the billionaire who has repeatedly pointed out that the belief–embraced by the GOP–that raising the minimum wage depresses job creation is a fallacy.

As Hanauer has emphasized, this economic theory has cause and effect backwards: jobs are created by demand. (If you aren’t selling your widgets, you aren’t hiring more people to produce greater numbers of them.) Pay workers a living wage, putting disposable income in the hands of people who hadn’t previously had any, and increased demand will boost both job creation and the economy.

I get an email newsletter from Axios, (link unavailable) and a recent one included a report on fast-food industry earnings that certainly seems to confirm Hanauer’s thesis.

Between the lines: The fast-food industry’s biggest tailwind is coming from a surprising source — the increased pay of low-wage workers.

After trailing higher-paid workers for years since the financial crisis, earnings for the bottom 25% of workers have been growing at a rate much faster than the national average, and weekly earnings for the bottom 10% of full-time workers have grown even faster, data shows.

Generally, rising wages would be seen as a negative for the industry, but coupled with stable gas prices, the increasing paychecks of low-wage workers means more money spent at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants.

Be smart: Goldman’s research team estimates 70% of the industry’s sales growth over the past 5 years can be explained by rising wages, lower gas prices and a boost from third-party apps like GrubHub and Uber Eats.

Traditional economic theory says that if I have to pay employee A more, I will have less money available and I will thus be unable to hire B.  That makes all kinds of sense–all else being equal. What real life tells us, however, is that all else isn’t equal. As the Axios report shows, the increase in buying power more than compensates for the increase in payroll.

You would think that a political party devoted to the theory that cutting taxes will  generate revenue sufficient to pay for those cuts would understand this.

The theories may be similar, but reality can be a cruel mistress: when the issue is raising the minimum wage, real-world outcomes demonstrate that Hanauer’s approach works, but when the issue is tax rates, the Republican approach– cutting taxes on rich people– doesn’t.

As Paul Krugman has written,

In late 2007 the Trump administration pushed through a large tax cut, whose key component was a drastic reduction in the tax rate on corporate profits. Although most economists were skeptical about claims that this would do wonders for economic growth, conservatives were ebullient. Lower tax rates, they claimed, would give American corporations the incentive to bring back trillions of dollars invested overseas, and foreign corporations a reason to invest huge sums in the U.S.

And Republican politicians bought this argument. Even Susan Collins, the most moderate Republican in the Senate (although that isn’t saying much) declared herself convinced that the tax cuts would pay for themselves.

Krugman followed those opening paragraphs with graphs and statistics demonstrating rather dramatically that the tax cuts did not pay for themselves.  Not even close.

For example,Krugman says

Business investment was 13.2 percent of G.D.P. before the tax cut went into effect. It’s now … 13.5 percent. That’s a rise of around 0.3 percentage points, or less than a tenth of what the tax-cut advocates predicted.

As a result of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts, deficits and the national debt have ballooned. Republicans would have marched on Washington with pitchforks if debt levels this steep had been generated by a Democratic Administration.

Real-world evidence says: pay working people a living wage, and everyone benefits.

Give the rich a tax cut, they sock their savings away in a tax haven, and no one else benefits.

Republicans Ask: Should The Majority Rule?

Last month, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s refusal to protect its previously articulated principle of “one person, one vote” by limiting the degree to which Congressional districts can be dishonestly drawn, Talking Points Memo published an essay about the GOP’s embrace of an explicitly anti-democratic philosophy.

Josh Marshall identified the issue, and emphasized that it is separate from the Founders’ well-documented concern about the “passions of the majority.”

Much of American constitutionalism is bound up with protecting the rights of minorities against untrammeled majorities. Here though, I’m focused on something distinct and separate: the creation of anti-majoritarian ideologies, fully articulated arguments for why democratic majorities should not in fact, as a matter of principle, hold political power.

Marshall quotes Scott Walker, the former (sleazy) governor of Wisconsin, who now heads up a GOP committee defending gerrymandering (because of course he does); Walker claims that what Democrats call “fair” maps aren’t really fair because they advantage urban areas where more voters live. He argues that counting each vote equally gives urban areas “too large an influence.”

This is a bracingly candid statement of the position: We need to reevaluate how we define “fair”. Because if “fair” means whoever gets the most votes (i.e., proportional representation) then Republicans are at an inherent disadvantage “because of their national popular vote edge.” I don’t think my explication really goes beyond Walker’s statement really at all: what Democrats call “fair” is the candidate with the most votes winning.

As Marshall says,

Beyond the opportunism and the fact that city vs non-city has a deeply racial dimension, at a basic level Walker wants to see city and non-city as two contending entities which deserve to contend on equal terms. But of course these concepts, city and non-city or city and rural areas have no existence in American law. Nor does the idea even have a factual grounding. There are plenty of Republicans in cities and Democrats outside the cities. It is simply a broad brush way of capturing a political division in American society which Walker – and a growing number of Republicans – has formalized to explain why laws and districts should be changed to ensure that his preferred candidates win even when they get fewer votes.

Given the fact that twice in the last 16 years, the candidate who lost the popular vote–in the case of Trump, massively–became President, Americans have increasingly focused on the anti-democratic elements of our Constitutional system.

Thanks to the Electoral College, and population shifts over time, it currently takes four urban votes to equal three rural votes.

The composition of the Senate is equally undemocratic: every state has two Senators, irrespective of the state’s population. Today, a majority of Americans live in nine states that collectively have 18 votes in the Senate. The rest of the country–with a minority of the population– has 82.

These anti-democratic elements have been around a long time. What’s new, as Marshall points out, is that “the big state/small state divide has seldom lined up so clearly with the broader partisan division in the country.

All of this is part of the central dynamic of our time: Republicans increasingly turning against majority rule and a widely shared franchise because majorities, when not sliced up into gerrymandered districts or state borders, increasingly favor Democrats. That’s why we have voter ID laws. It’s why we have resistance to early voting, felon voting and basically everything else that doesn’t keep the voting electorate as small as old and as white as possible. Most of these strategies have focused on things like election security, or cost or convenience or whipped up fears about voter fraud. But that’s starting to change. The explicit embrace of special advantages for Republicans outside major urban concentrations, the explicit embrace of majority rule not being the essence of electoral fairness, is coming to the fore.

Defenders of anti-majoritarianism protest that we are not and never have been a democracy; we are a representative republic. That’s accurate as far as it goes. Certainly, as Marshall notes, the Founders had a well-grounded concern that minority rights would suffer if popular majorities were left unrestrained. Even if we must close our eyes to some of the less laudable concerns that prompted creation of the Electoral College and the composition of the Senate, the protection of minority opinion justifies a degree of anti-majoritarianism.

The question is: how much?

The tension between individual rights and majority passions–the need to find the proper balance between the two– has been a constant theme throughout American history.

Too much majoritarianism threatens individual rights. Too little–as when a minority is empowered to elect candidates rejected by the majority– threatens government legitimacy.

Persistent rule by the minority is an invitation to revolution.

 

 

 

2020–A Vote On America’s Original Sin

I want to elaborate on yesterday’s post.

It has been fascinating–and infinitely depressing–to follow the reactions to Trump’s racist rants on Facebook and in the Twitter-verse. I’ve been particularly struck by comments defending him and insisting that his attacks “weren’t racist”–that he was just “expressing his opinion,” perhaps inartfully.

Right.

And Bill Barr’s refusal to indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death–despite DOJ lawyers’ contrary’ recommendation– wasn’t another not-so-subtle message to Trump’s white supremicist base.  Kellyann Conway’s response to a Jewish reporter’s question with a demand to know his “ethnicity,” was just an innocent question. And the troglodytes at Trump’s North Carolina rally chanting “send her back” were just patriotic Americans.

Nothing to see here.

We all know better. Those MAGA caps might just as well say what they have always implied: Make America White Again.

Yesterday, I characterized the upcoming election as a contest for the soul of America. Let me enlarge on that assertion: 2020 will force America to confront the country’s “original sin”–the persistent racism that once allowed some people to own others, that reacted to emancipation with segregation and Jim Crow, and that has responded to every movement toward civic equality by  doubling down on racist rhetoric and discriminatory behavior.

With the ascension of Donald Trump, the GOP has stopped denying its “southern strategy,”  abandoned its dog whistles, and publicly embraced white nationalism.

Denying Trump’s racism requires deliberately ignoring his long and consistent history of racist behavior, a history that David Leonhardt laid out in a recent New York Times newsletter.

His real estate company tried to avoid renting apartments to African-American tenants. He described “laziness” as “a trait in blacks.” He called for five black and Latino teenagers to be executed — and then insisted on their guilt even after DNA evidence proved their innocence.

He rose to prominence in the Republican Party by questioning the citizenship of the first black president. He launched his presidential campaign by saying Mexican immigrants were “rapists.” His political organization created a television advertisement that Fox News pulled for being too racist.

He frequently criticizes prominent African-Americans for being unpatriotic, ungrateful, disrespectful or unintelligent. He mocks Native Americans and uses anti-Semitic stereotypes. He retweets white nationalists. He said that a violent white supremacist march included some “very fine people.” He regularly appoints people with a history of racist comments.

And over the weekend, he told four nonwhite members of Congress — all citizens, of course, and three of them born in the United States — to “go back” to where they came from.

President Trump doesn’t just make racist comments. He is a racist. He’s proven it again and again, over virtually his entire time as a public figure. His bigotry is a core part of his worldview, and it’s been central to his political rise.

Paul Krugman didn’t mince words either.

In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political operative, explained to an interviewer how his party had learned to exploit racial antagonism using dog whistles. “You start out in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’” But by the late 1960s, “that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

Well, the dog whistle days are over. Republicans are pretty much back to saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”

What voters need to understand in the run-up to 2020 is that it isn’t just Trump.

Krugman points to the silence of prominent Republicans in the wake of Trump’s most recent racist outburst, to the administration’s dishonest conflation of immigration and crime, and to a proclamation just signed by the Republican governor of Tennessee honoring Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners and helped found the Ku Klux Klan. I’ll add the increasing coziness of the GOP with the alt-right, Neo-Nazis, and fellow-travelers like David Duke.

I’ll also reiterate–and update– my son’s analysis, which I shared yesterday.

A vote for Donald Trump or any Republican  in 2020 means one of only two things: The voter is a racist, or the voter doesn’t consider the GOP’s thoroughgoing embrace of racism/white nationalism disqualifying.

In 2020, no other issue matters.

If we resoundingly defeat the cancer that is Trump and Republican white nationalism in 2020, we can return to our  heated debates about public policy, left versus right, and the proper interpretation of various constitutional rights. If we don’t, none of those things will matter.

In 2020, we will find out whether a majority of Americans are ready to confront –and reject–America’s original sin.