George Washington, for one, feared them. The Republican Party has now become what he famously warned against in his Farewell Address.
Alarmed at the partisanship already brewing during his presidency, Washington decried “the common and continued mischiefs of the spirit of party.” The words today look eerily prescient.
That spirit, he said, “(S)erves always to detract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions …”
The phrases I italicized could be Washington saying from the grave, “I told you so.”
Until recently, both major parties tried to be big tents. The Democratic Party of the racists James Eastland and Jesse Helms nurtured the future liberal president Joe Biden. The Republican Party of Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was big enough for Hugh Scott, Jacob Javits and Everett Dirksen, who provided the leadership and decisive votes to break Southern filibusters and pass that law and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ironically, those laws delivered the South to the GOP exactly as President Lyndon Johnson sadly predicted. And yet Republicans continued as late as 2006 to vote overwhelmingly for four successive extensions of the Voting Rights Act’s key provisions, including the essential pre-clearance requirement that the Supreme Court killed 5-4 eight years ago.
Those were the days.
Apart from their policy differences, Republicans and Democrats shared a devotion to the democratic — small d — institutions of republican — small r — government as expressed in the Constitution. The Watergate coverup offended enough Republicans to have impeached and removed Richard Nixon had he not resigned. It was Goldwater who led a Republican delegation to the White House to tell him it was time to go. He went, never attempting reprisals against those who had turned against him.
But now, in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency and his failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election (and with it, the Constitution) the Republican Party is acting remarkably like the Fascist and Communist parties that have fronted for dictatorships elsewhere.
It has become a personality cult of a ruthless leader who doesn’t bother to conceal his dictatorial instincts. Its lesser officials, following Trump’s lead, are attempting to purge anyone, like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who put their duty to the Constitution ahead of their fealty to him. Even though Sen. Richard Burr is retiring next year, the North Carolina Republican Party hastened to censure him for voting to convict Trump in the second impeachment case.
Most Republicans in Congress voted in effect to overturn the results of the cleanly run election that the leader had lost, giving a symbolic victory to the insurrectionist mob that Trump had incited to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6. Three Republican members of Congress, including Madison Cawthorn, our 11th District representative, had helped feed the mob’s frenzy.
Now, as if Trump had been telling the truth rather than lying about losing the election, Republicans in more than 40 states are vigorously promoting legislation that would make early voting and absentee voting more difficult for many people.
Georgia’s new law is so vicious that it would be a crime to hand out water to people waiting in lines made longer by other parts of the legislation. One has to wonder whether the real purpose is to distract attention from the worst parts of the bill.
Those would allow the partisan Republicans in the Legislature to pre-empt state and local election boards if the vote counts aren’t going their way. That’s as brazen as anything ever foisted on the people of Ukraine, Belarus or Russia. Once that happens, the United States can no longer pretend to be either a democracy or a republic. Meanwhile, Raffensperger already has drawn opposition for re-election next year, including a Trump toady congressman.
In the manner of dictators everywhere, especially the Russian who controls him, Trump can’t abide anything other than absolute obedience. His vice president debased himself to Trump for nearly four years until Jan. 6, when he had to decide between illegally trashing Joe Biden’s electoral votes and accepting them as the Constitution required. Trump called him out to the mob and didn’t follow up to see whether he had escaped the insurrectionists shrieking “Hang Mike Pence.”
Lately, Trump failed to mention Pence among the other Republicans he would bless in 2024 if he doesn’t run himself.
The Republican assault on voting can’t be stopped without enactment of HR 1, the Democrats’ massive reform bill. But one Democrat, the 50th vote critical to enacting it, hasn’t signed on to the Senate version.
That’s Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who insists it needs Republican sponsors for the sake of bipartisanship.
It’s hard to believe that someone who was governor of West Virginia could be so naïve. He’s unlikely to find more than one Republican senator to support voting rights, let alone the 10 needed to break Mitch McConnell’s filibuster.
So the world’s oldest continuous democracy is on life support. The party that controls half the Senate, nearly half the House and a majority of state capitols treats obedience to the law, faithfulness to the Constitution, and support for honest elections and voting rights as acts of treachery.
The term “subversive” unquestionably describes that party.