The Shield, #4 – This is How Quickly Democracy Can Slip Away

2024 is the new 1984

The Shield is Franklin Project’s guidebook in the fight against authoritarian forces. Weekly, we’ll give you the knowledge, tools, and talking points to get you engaged.

Authoritarianism is this:

1. Fearing and rejecting diversity, embracing division

2. Centralizing power to keep whoever’s in power … in power

3. Eroding the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of the press, and worst of all, our faith in democratic voting

Sound familiar? It should. That’s Trumpism. Authoritarianism = Trumpism. All you have to do is look at his record as president and he’s all of those things and more. And so are his minions in Congress and State Houses and Governor’s mansions.

Democracy is this:

1. Freedom of assembly, association, and speech

2. Embracing inclusiveness, equality, minority rights, and diversity of people and ideas

3. Free and fair elections that the people can trust

Which one do you want? If it’s Democracy, you can kiss it goodbye if you don’t get involved right now, stay involved, and vote in the November, 2022 midterm elections.

Wait … midterm elections? Really? Seriously?

Yes. Midterm elections. I know, I know, next November is a year away. I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t bug me about voting next November until next October at the earliest.” Sorry, that’s too late. You’ve got to understand the game the authoritarians are playing right now and start playing it yourself if you give a damn about Democracy.

Before we take a look at what our future could be, let’s start with some basic facts:

+ The midterm elections are one year away when all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 34 Senate seats are up for grabs

+ The Democrats control the House of Representatives with a super slim majority: 221 Democrats to 213 Republicans with one vacant seat. Redistricting (see below) means the Republicans are likely to take over without breaking a sweat

+ In the Senate, it’s an even closer 50-50 split (48 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 50 Republicans). It’s controlled by the Democrats because as Vice President, Kamala Harris can vote when there’s a tie. So for all intents and purposes, it’s 51 Democrats and 50 Republicans

+ The party that doesn’t control the White House (Republicans this time) almost always does better in the midterm elections than the party that controls the White House (Democrats)

+ The census. The Constitution says that every ten years a national census must be conducted. That happened in 2020. One of the outcomes of the census determines — based on population shifts — how many Representatives to Congress each state gets. Some states lose seats and some gain seats

+ Once a state knows their new number in Congress, it’s up to them to redraw district maps. If a state, for example, gets two more Representatives, they redraw their map to account for the two new Members of Congress

+ For example: California and New York (controlled by Democrats), lost seats due to population decline. Florida and Texas (controlled by Republicans) gained seats due to population growth

+ Even states that don’t gain or lose seats redraw their district maps to reflect population movements within the state

+ Gerrymandering. Sometimes a state will redraw their Congressional district map to favor one party over another, making it almost impossible for the party not in power to win

+ Republicans control remapping in most swing states

+ There are also 36 gubernatorial elections, 30 attorney general elections, and every state’s legislature is up for grabs except Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey

+ President Biden has some of the lowest approval ratings at this point in his presidency than any of his predecessors and we have the highest inflation rate in 30 years

+ The Democrats in Congress (both the House and the Senate) seem intent on division among themselves — progressives vs. moderates — driving the perception that they cannot govern

+ Trump is the uncontested power-broker of the GOP. Trump-endorsed Republican candidates tend to win over non-Trump Republican candidates

+ If Trump runs again in 2024 the nomination is his for the taking

Okay, now what?

Everything points to Democrats losing control of both the House and the Senate in next November’s midterm elections. Perhaps in a very big way. That means the GOP takes over Congress.

Then ….

Speaker Pelosi hands her gavel to the new Speaker of the House who’s picked by the Republican Congressional delegation. The current Republican leader in the House is Kevin McCarthy of California. He’ll want the Speakers’ gavel for himself. But he’s not the only Republican who’ll want it. And Trump will definitely have a favored candidate. Some people view McCarthy as not “Trumpy” enough for Trump. So who might Trump prefer to McCarthy?

Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio comes to mind.

He’s been a fierce defender of President Trump through thick and thin. He’s proven his loyalty time and time again. If Trump says he wants Jordan to get the Speaker’s gavel, it would be suicidal for any Republican Congressman to cross Trump and vote against Jordan. Hell hath no fury like Trump scorned. He holds grudges and dispenses punishment. Just look at the few — very few — GOP Members of Congress who dared to defy Trump even after he left office. He publicly endorsed the Republican running to unseat fellow Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming. And following Trump’s lead, the Republican party of Wyoming just kicked her out. Is this because of Cheney’s political positions? No way — Liz is as conservative as they come. It’s to punish her for speaking out against Trump over the insurrection at the Capitol last January.

Remember, authoritarianism isn’t about policy; it’s about power. Cheney is about policy and democracy. Trump is about power.

Regardless of which Trump-approved Republican becomes Speaker of the House, that person will control the legislative agenda. If you’re opposed to President Biden’s agenda, and you’re controlling the House, you can stop anything the President wants to do that needs Congressional approval. Oh, and just for fun, let the baseless impeachment proceedings and Justice Department investigations begin. Count on it.

Now, on to the Senate. Current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York will have to hand power back to former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky if the GOP wins next November. Unless, of course, Trump doesn’t want McConnell to get the job again. McConnell is viewed by some in Trumpland as also not quite Trumpy enough. And just like in the House, if a Senator votes for a new leader that Trump doesn’t like, you can count on Trump making that senator’s life hell.

McConnell has tied himself into knots a few times to get back on Trump’s good side. He even said he’d support him in 2024 if he ran again. Still, if Trump doesn’t want Mitch to get the top job again, who’s Trumpy enough for Trump? Think Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley or Lindsey Graham. Yikes.

So, with the House and Senate both firmly in Trump loyalist hands, let’s look ahead to 2024 and Trump decides to run again. As we said earlier, if he wants the GOP nomination, it’s his. If he wins, the authoritarians control everything.

make-america-great-again-baseball-cap

But what if Trump loses — again — what happens?

With the nightmare scenario of the House and Senate run by authoritarian suck-ups who owe everything to Trump, they will do everything in their power to gum up the works to prevent the rightfully-elected person from taking office. There are all sorts of crazy things that could happen. For example:

1. Congress could jump through procedural loopholes to ensure that the required 270 electoral votes to declare a winner isn’t met

2. They could sow enough chaos so that the 12th Amendment to the Constitution comes into play and the House votes on who will be the president — a House controlled by authoritarians. I can’t imagine who they’d pick ….

3. Who knows … it’s never gotten this crazy before … anything’s possible

No way, you say … too far-fetched. Yeah, well, we used to think it was impossible that a president could get millions of people to believe a total lie just because he wanted a different truth. We used to think it was impossible that a president would weaponize the Justice Department against his political opponents. We used to think it was impossible that a president would undermine the importance of a free press in a free society. We used to think it was impossible that a president would make it harder for people who didn’t like him to vote. Crazy has already happened and it could happen again. But the next time we might not be able to turn it back.

Bottom line: if you want Democracy then you need to understand that this is a fight and you had damned well better vote — not just next November, but in primaries this spring and summer when nominees will be selected. The Trumpistas are well-funded, organized and willing to do anything and say anything to win. The time for sitting back and taking Democracy for granted is over. The time for doing nothing has passed. The time for you to step up is now.

Whether we keep our Democracy or lose it is completely up to you and no one else.

Get smart, get tough, get going, and keep going.

Greg Jenkins, Franklin Project Co-Executive Director


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