Editorial: Democracy under dire threat

January 25, 2024

As the U.S. enters its next major election year, the right to vote (and for that vote to count for something) continues to be curtailed. At the same time, Trump and his allies are promising extreme violations against human rights, bodily autonomy and free speech; to begin during a second Trump term they don’t envision as the last.

“We are going to win four more years, and then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”

It is not as unlikely as it sounds, given that if Trump wins in November, he will come into office with few, if any, remaining moderate Republicans in Congress, and having a more conservative Supreme Court. The Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 has been vetting candidates to create a database of 20,000 potential appointees loyal to Trump. It also has a firing list of administrative civil servants who were not cooperative enough in Trump’s first term.

After disposing of those detractors who might be inclined to follow their oaths to the U.S. Constitution, Trump plans to indict his political opponents personally and go after freedom of speech generally. While campaigning in November, he said: “[T]he threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within.”

Anti-Trump protest in 2020 in D.C. Photo: Joe Flood, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Trump’s lawyer even argued in court that, as President, he was immune from prosecution for ordering the assassination of a political opponent, as long as the surviving members of Congress did not impeach and convict him.

When the White House was handed to Trump, we warned about normalizing his counterrevolutionary extremism. Now he rules the entire Republican Party, commands a cultish following, and is treated by the media as a ratings-boosting attraction in an exciting horse race despite his aim to muzzle them.

Kash Patel, a loyalist who is likely to be appointed to a post in the defense and counterintelligence sector, remarked: “We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media. Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections—we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.”

Trump’s likely next attorney general Jeffrey Clark, who is currently battling criminal charges in Georgia, agreed with false statements regarding claims of election fraud. He has written that “the U.S. Justice Department is not independent [of the President],” and he thinks it is fine to use the military for domestic law enforcement. Trump nearly did that in 2020—he wanted to gun down the protesters infuriated by the murder of George Floyd. The order was written out but never signed, with Trump worried such a move might destroy his chance of reelection. After this situation was re-editorialized in the New York Times in 2023, candidate Ron DeSantis began using it as a talking point in order to cast Trump as too gentle.

Consciously or not, DeSantis’ role in the 2024 campaign has been to make the prospect of fascist dictatorship look ever more normal. He, as well as Trump lackey and advisor Stephen Miller, said the military should be deployed to the border. Trump and Miller, along with House Republicans who drafted and passed an authorization in 2023, plan to build hundreds of jails and prison camps along the U.S.-Mexico border to incarcerate undocumented people, not only those presently coming across, but those who have lived in the U.S. for many years or decades.

In 2022, Trump had called for removing homeless Americans to “large parcels of inexpensive land in the outer reaches of the cities.”

For political reasons, Trump tries to hedge his anti-abortion record—he knows if there were a countrywide vote, abortion rights would win, hands down—by nominally supporting exceptions to abortion bans. However, the Republican legislatures in many red and purple states are not shy about flouting his supposed pragmatism, or about silencing and thwarting the vast support for abortion rights.

This they did in Ohio by attacking the very concept of ballot measures, as well as raising the percentage of votes needed to pass amendments to the state constitution, banning petition gatherers from doing their job in front of government buildings, and putting lying language in ballot proposals that claim abortion rights would cost states billions (for more, see “Woman as Reason: Authoritarians try to nullify Ohio vote for abortion”).

In Texas, the state legislature passed a bill to remove elected district attorneys who decline to prosecute “alleged abortion-related or election crimes.” Elected Florida state’s attorney Andrew Warren, who pledged not to bring criminal cases against people seeking or providing abortions, was fired by Gov. DeSantis, a legally dubious move that is being disputed in federal court.

When New Orleans city prosecutors refused to arrest and prosecute women in the wake of Louisiana’s total ban on abortion, the Republican governor-elect pulled strings in order to prevent the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board from receiving bond money for needed infrastructure repairs. This happened during a drought and a spate of extreme heat that raised the demand for clean drinking water, as the ebbing Mississippi River mixed with tidewater brine from the Gulf of Mexico.

Republican Wisconsin state legislators threatened to impeach newly elected judge Janet Protasiewicz, who was honest about her support of abortion rights, voting rights and non-gerrymandered maps. Her election flipped a seat on the state Supreme Court, which led to last month’s ruling overturning legislative maps at the state level in Wisconsin. Almost half of the electoral districts in the previous map were non-contiguous. Despite Democrats winning 14 of the past 17 statewide elections in Wisconsin, the party has not held a majority in the state legislature since 2010.

At the federal level, U.S. House district maps in at least five states are under litigation to challenge racial gerrymandering. The Supreme Court ruled in February 2022 that Alabama would have to redraw their map to create a second Black-majority district. Only by the end of September 2023 did Alabama come into compliance with the ruling, after a court-appointed official drew the compliant map legislators refused to draw. A nearly identical case in Louisiana has been dragged out so long by stalling maneuvers that its current map might be able to slide through the 2024 election. Ditto in Florida, where Governor DeSantis vetoed the first Republican map so that he could install one that eliminates the Black-majority 5th district in the northern part of the state.

The Republican-dominated legislature in Florida is also hostile to the voting rights of people who have served their sentence for a felony. In 2018, Floridians voted to restore the voting rights of most of them. Then the legislature passed a new law to say all fines and fees must be paid off before voting rights are restored. Putting aside the issue of this being a form of poll tax, the legislature declined to ever set up a method for people to find out if fines are owed and how much. And yet they increased the budget of the state office that watches for and prosecutes ineligible voters who cast a ballot.

The petty gamesmanship of modern Republicans can be seen from the ploys and tactics of state legislators to the polished gaslighting of Trump and those who learn from him. They have ascribed phrases like “fake news” and “disinformation” to their opposite. Those who try to combat the lies are accused of bias and censorship, simply because mainly right-wingers are spreading the most outrageous lies.

And yet there are times when they tell the truth about what they plan to do once they achieve power, though all the offered justifications be false. It is truly a retrogressive vision. The means: taking power at all costs, even with a minority of votes. The intended ends: complete evisceration of human rights and the shattering of human solidarity.

–Buddy Bell

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