By Seán Cahill
On January 6th this year, rioters stormed the United States Capitol in Washington DC. Their goal was to overturn the result of the 2020 Presidential election so that former President Donald Trump would remain in office. This was the culmination of months of Trump, and his fellow Republican politicians, casting doubt on the validity of the election’s result; falsely claiming that Democrats stole the election with fraudulent mail-in votes. These delusional claims were also spread on social media and by right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and One America News Network. At the “Save America” rally that day, Trump told the crowd to “fight like hell” and march to the Capitol. Among the crowd were far-right militias and white supremacists. These rioters vandalized the Capitol and attacked the police officers who were defending the building and the politicians inside it. Pipe bombs were found at the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters but were fortunately detonated in a controlled explosion by bomb disposal squads. The mob called for the hanging of the then-Vice President Mike Pence for presiding over the certification of the election’s results. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that she feared she would be raped and killed by the rioters if they found her. This is not how a healthy democracy handles a transfer of power.
The Capitol attack is just one particularly dramatic display of Republicans’ disdain for democracy, however. Republicans rely on an ever-decreasing number of voters for support and must rig the rules in their favor to win elections. For example, they have gerrymandered Congressional districts to give themselves an artificial electoral advantage so that the share of the seats they win is much higher than the share of votes that they received. They have also tried to make it as hard as possible for likely-Democratic voters to vote. In several states, Republicans have closed polling stations in predominantly black areas, which are more likely to vote for Democrats, and opened more polling stations in predominantly white areas, which are more likely to vote for Republicans. They have engaged in mass removals of voters from voter rolls as well as placing restrictions on early voting and mail-in voting which were more likely to be used by Democrats in the 2020 election. As of March 2021, there are 361 bills across 47 states that have been introduced to restrict access to voting. It is clear that this is so Republicans can retain power. As Trump admitted in 2020 if there were higher levels of voting “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again”.
There is a desire for bipartisanship among Democrats […] which is based on the naive idea that Republicans are acting in good faith.
Given the scale of Republicans’ attacks on American democracy, one might assume that Democrats are strongly resisting these anti-democratic measures. However, this is not the case. While Democrats did impeach Trump and tried, but failed, to convict him in the Senate for inciting the Capitol Riots, since then they have not acted with the urgency required to preserve or strengthen American democracy. They did try to pass the ‘For the People’ Act which would have given every American citizen the right to a mail-in ballot, required 15 days of early voting in federal elections, ended gerrymandering and brought more transparency to political donations, among other measures. However, this bill was blocked by Republican Senators. After the For the People Act received no Republican support, Democrats announced a compromise bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, which removed the ending of gerrymandering provision and added a voter ID requirement. However, this bill also received no Republican support.
The consequences of inaction are catastrophic. Republicans will continue to disenfranchise voters in an effort to cling to power.
Although both bills were blocked by Republicans, Democrats can still pass them simply by removing the filibuster. The filibuster is a Senate rule that allows a minority of Senators to block legislation and was first used on a regular basis to block civil rights legislation. It is inherently undemocratic that the minority can block the will of the majority. This rule could be removed with a simple majority vote, meaning they could pass voting rights legislation if they really wanted to. Its removal would also allow for the easier passage of Biden’s democratically mandated agenda. However, there is a desire for bipartisanship among Democrats such as Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema which is based on the naive idea that Republicans are acting in good faith. Republicans have continuously shown that this is not the case. For example, Republican and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that it is his goal to block all of President Biden’s agenda, showing he has no interest in cooperating to pass legislation in the interest of the American people. Obstructionist Democrats, such as Manchin and Sinema, must accept that what matters most is the substance of the legislation and not who is passing it. The lack of recognition of the urgent action required shows that Democrats are complicit in the erosion of American democracy. It is not just the Senators who oppose the abolition of the filibuster who are responsible, it is also other Democrats who are not demanding that they abolish it and pass voting rights legislation.
This must be the number one priority of Democrats. They say the right things about defending voting rights but their actions clearly do not reflect this. The consequences of inaction are catastrophic. Republicans will continue to disenfranchise voters in an effort to cling to power. It is imperative that Democrats recognize the seriousness of passing legislation that protects democracy and acts now while they still can. Otherwise, they too will be responsible for American democracy’s collapse. Some may argue that this is an overly dramatic prediction but all the evidence suggests otherwise. We have already seen an attempt to overturn an election with the attack on the Capitol, the demonization of the media and a rejection of the truth, the rigging of electoral rules in Republicans’ favor, and the violence of police against Black Lives Matter protesters exercising their right to free speech. How much worse must it get? The Democrats must act to defend democracy now.