Donald Trump governed as an autocrat. The insurrection he inspired was his last gasp attempt at creating autocracy in the United States. What is critical to understand, however, is that this desire for an autocrat state has been taken up by the Right, including state politicians, commentators, members of Congress, and the nonprofit world.
Techniques that autocrats have historically used to achieve their goal include gerrymandering, changing election and voter eligibility rules, and placing allies on electoral commissions. Sound familiar?
Most of the coverage of the rash of Republican anti-democracy legislation populating state legislatures has focused on voter suppression, i.e., making it harder for citizens of color to vote. While this is serious stuff, the real goal of these state laws are the provisions that allow partisan subversion of the vote.
Exemplary of this is Georgia’s subversion law, SB 202. It ensures that Republican state officials can replace the state’s election board in Fulton County, nullifying the actual vote. Fulton County, of course, has one of the largest Black populations in the state. Its voters were responsible for Biden wining Georgia and the election of senators Warnock and Ossoff. Georgia is not a “one off.” There are 216 bills across 41 states that would allow state Republican lawmakers to interfere, subvert, or, in some cases, criminalize local election administrations. Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota, and Tennessee have already passed laws that preempt local election polices.
This is being done so that Republicans in those states can control the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections, the 2024 presidential election, and, in the case of Georgia, its upcoming gubernatorial election, but it is not limited to near-term elections. It’s part of a well-funded and thought out right-wing movement aimed at replacing American democracy with authoritarianism.
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, is a leading source supporting this movement. It has granted more than $140 million since 2011 to conservative policy, media, legal, and advocacy groups. These have included the Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Federalist Society, and Freedom Works, which in turn are funding the development and passage of the anti-democratic, pro authoritarian, voting bills.
This strategy reveals a shift from trying to influence the federal government to concentrating on statehouses.
This mania for an autocratic state is fundamentally based on race.The 2020 Census showed the white population declined for the first time in history. The projection is that the country will be majority minority sometime between 2040 and 2050. Given voting projections, it’s likely that democratically held elections will not put, or keep, Republicans, a shrinking majority white party, in power. Therefore, they are embracing and working toward voter subversion and an authoritarian state as their preferred method of governing.
This in and of itself is frightening. What is really terrifying, however, is that neither the Democrats nor progressives have organized a viable response. The For the People Act (S1) and to a lesser extent the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (restoring parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act) would counter the voter suppression and subversion laws emerging throughout Republican-controlled state governments. As long as this right-wing agenda can hide behind the filibuster there is no antidote.
Democrats only have a Senate majority because of Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) said he “can’t imagine a carve out [of the filibuster] for voting rights.” Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) said, “We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster.” Really? Democracy is what we have to lose.
Those who have the capacity to mount an influencer campaign against the positions being taken by these two Democratic senators must do so. Those with the resources who care about democracy must organize a Paul Revere-like, “outside” the beltway campaign alerting Americans to this threat. If neither of these things happen, it will be up to us to act. Each of us can call both our own senators and Manchin and Sinema at (202) 224-3121. The calls make a difference. And, we can vote for democracy in 2022, and 2024, which now means Democratic.