Conservatism’s long war against democracy

Families are unhappily alike in many ways, one of which is boasting a relative who will corner you at a dinner to lecture, eyes gleaming with the knowledge he screenshot on Wikipedia, about the United States being a republic, not a democracy. The relative will place the last word in scare quotes or emphasize it with the italics reserved for “raw oysters.” Insofar as the writers of the Constitution had not intended to extend the suffrage to any man without property, the relative is correct.

Then events, as ever, fray the sturdy pages of that putatively sacred document. Earning the support of the Democratic-Republican caucus, comprising the congressmen he’d known in decades of public life, William Crawford lost the nomination and thus the presidency to John Quincy Adams. The caucus system dissolved four years later, making Andrew Jackson, the true winner of 1824, the president. The head of a new party renamed the Democracy, Jackson would stand for states rights and racial demagoguery in ways that Jefferson, who loathed him, and the rest of his long-dead brethren would’ve fought like hell to keep out of office; also because Jackson swore and let supporters trash the White House. The People had spoken. To listen to modern Republicans, the heirs to the Democrats and Dixiecrats no more than sixty years ago, embrace a solecism like “strict constructionism” is to remember Emerson’s phrase about hobgoblins and foolish consistencies: the Constitution before 1828 would not have allowed the majority of them to vote.

Which is the point. “The American right has never fully accepted the legitimacy of democratically elected majorities setting economic policy,” Jonathan Chait writes in “Is Ron DeSantis the Future of Trumpism?” When Democrats and conservative Republicans represented the right in the 1870s they rolled up their sleeves and got to work eviscerating the Reconstruction amendments. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, let us recall, altered our relationship to the federal government forever, despite subsequent SCOTUS decisions. This is not the post in which I will debate procedural versus substantive due process; nevertheless, for the first time the Constitution rescinded the clause “The United States are” and replaced with “The United States is.” We live in states; we’re not citizens of states. When conservatives snarl over what liberals have done to mangle the Constitution, ask them: which Constitution — the 1787 Constitution or the 1866 one?

Arguing over unborn fetuses, gay marriage, trans rights, and Black voter disenfranchisement distract from the conservative mission. Scott Lemieux’s conclusion makes sense:

This is why control of the federal judiciary has been the dominant goal of Republican elites for a long time — it will allow them to win even if the other anti-democratic mechanisms working in their favor (some in the Constitution, some of their own making) allow Democrats to assemble a functioning governing majority. The overarching view of Republican elites is that democracy is problematic because their policy agenda is massively unpopular, and when it was clear that Trump strongly agreed with this view elite Republican opposition to him was always going to disappear

Look no further than the career of Bill Barr. Or Mitch McConnell, who parts company from his fellow ghouls only with his open, apparently genuine loathing of Donald Trump; there’s a sense in which his contempt for Democrats is boundless because their enfeebled governing posture precipitates the re-election of the ex-president he genuinely loathes and must work with again. But, as Chait wryly notes, “The prospect of Democrats winning elections poses a graver threat to the Constitution than Republicans stealing them.”

I can’t believe street fighters like Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer don’t recognize the threat. There is no bargaining with a party whose members believe Democrats must be destroyed because we’re pedophiles Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recognizes the threat. It can only mean Democratic satraps have financial stakes in stasis.

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