The Republican Party has been dominated by Donald Trump and it still appears that his followers continue to dominate it’s ranks. That makes the party dangerous because it is not dedicated to democratic government, norms or rules. We survived Trump, barely, but would we survive another term with someone like Trump intent on becoming dictator and tearing down all the democratic structures, restrictions and barriers to dictatorship and despotism? Political scientists see a path to a nondemocratic takeover after the ground has been broken by an unsuccessful first try. Therefore it is crucial that the Republican Party emerge from the Trump nightmare. It is not enough that the rest of the country rejected him. We all have a stake in a loyal opposition – not one dedicated to pulling down the pillars of the temple.
How. It is critical is to change the election laws so that a party with loyalty to a would-be dictator lke Trump or a Trump lookalike cannot emerge. His victories have depended on strengthening the extreme wings of the Republican party by gerrymandering legislative seats and excluding voters from the polls who would vote for more moderate candidates at all levels – federal, state and local.
The Supreme Court could have solved those problems, much like the Warren Court did with its decisions on reapportionment, the Voting Rights Act and poll taxes. But the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts have refused structural support for fair elections, supporting instead exclusion of legitimate voters from the polls, gerrymandering at all levels of government, and emasculating the Voting Rights Act so that states had a clear path to excluding opposing voters from the polls.
That means the Biden Administration and its friends in both houses of Congress have to do it by statute, as allowed by Art. I, sec. 4. That may take heavy lifting but no sacrifice is too great. If they can do that, the Republican Party will have to respond to a broader electorate and its Trump voters won’t have clear shots either to nomination or to victory.
I don’t want to bury the Republican Party; I want to reform it so that it can perform its proper functions, serving as watchdog and providing alternatives. A disloyal party, however, cannot and must not be tolerated.
I don’t know whether the path to those reforms requires ending or changing the rules regarding the filibuster but I’m all for it. The filibuster blocked Civil Rights legislation for years, protected segregation, lynching, the violence of the Klan and their allies against Freedom Riders and people trying to register to vote. Anti-lynching legislation was still being blocked last year after being introduced more than a century ago.
The filibuster could be procedurally weakened, the requirements for filibustering would be made more onerous, election laws removed from its clutches, or the filibuster could be eliminated completely.
Whatever it takes, Schumer, Harris and Biden have to create a path through the filibuster’s roadblock – a path to more democratic election laws that will help to make American democracy reliable, opposition parties loyal, and our constitutional system something we can be proud of again.
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.
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