With the Supreme Court soon to have a 6-to-3 conservative majority even though Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, Trump could again win the presidency despite being rejected by a majority of voters. Republicans might cling to their Senate majority even as millions more Americans vote to be represented by Democrats.
We are already in an age of minority rule. If Republicans manage to hang on to their power, it will get much worse.
Some of the most profound abuses of democracy in recent years have happened at the state level; what’s happening there now offers us hints of what is to come. Let’s look at Florida, a perfect example of how Republicans use the full range of their powers to make sure democracy doesn’t threaten their hold on government.
Like many states, Florida used to have a law that deprived people convicted of felonies of their voting rights. These laws are a racist relic of the post-Civil War era, a tool designed to help maintain white supremacy (even if they sweep up plenty of White people in the disenfranchisement).
In 2018, a ballot initiative amending the state constitution to eliminate this law got nearly 65 percent of the vote. But the GOP-controlled state legislature soon passed a law stating that ex-felons could only vote if they paid every last penny of every fine and fee they had been assessed. And the system for paying those fines and fees is so convoluted that even people trying to pay them find it almost impossible.
Some of those voters sued, but earlier this month, a conservative majority on a federal appeals court denied their plea to not be victimized by what is essentially a poll tax.
So everything was going according to plan: Despite what voters demanded, the GOP kept the disenfranchisement system in place. But then Mike Bloomberg, who has some extra money lying around, vowed to help former felons pay off their fines. Now the state’s attorney general — yes, a Republican — announced that she is investigating Bloomberg for possible violations of election law.
What this shows is a broad Republican mobilization — the state’s legislature, its governor, its attorney general and the courts — all teaming up to beat back an expansion of democratic rights the public overwhelmingly supported.
For the Republican Party, that kind of effort is a matter of survival — and in the coming years, it will become more important to them than ever.
Consider the political landscape of 2021 if Trump wins. It would almost certainly be because he once again assembled an electoral college victory that overcame the popular vote — and, in all likelihood, because the Supreme Court stepped in to shut down vote counting, disallow legitimate ballots, possibly rubber-stamp efforts by Republican state legislatures to reject their voters’ choice or otherwise save him from the will of the electorate.
Seeing the chaos engulfing the country, Republicans will look ahead to 2022 and foresee a Democratic sweep that decimates their power at every level of government.
In a different universe, they might consider altering their rhetoric and policies to appeal to a diversifying America. But with Trump leading them, it will not be possible. The only choice will be to double down.
Which would mean mobilizing all three branches of the federal government to fortify minority rule, a wide-spectrum attack on democracy to maintain Republican power in a country that with each passing day is less likely to support it.
It will require creativity and commitment, to make the attack on democracy not just defensive but offensive. They could pass an Anti-Voting Rights Act to make voter suppression easier across the country. The Justice Department, which under William P. Barr has already become Trump’s personal law firm, will devote itself to investigating elected Democrats — including potential 2024 presidential candidates.
The Supreme Court will join the effort, striking down nonpartisan redistricting commissions, gutting campaign finance laws to increase the influence of plutocrats over our elections and perhaps even validating Trump’s move to exclude undocumented immigrants from census counts used to determine congressional representation. State suppression laws such as the notorious one in North Carolina that an appeals court said targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” could get the thumbs-up.
Does this sound far-fetched? By now, the question is absurd. Ask yourself this: Is there any action you can think of, perhaps outside of literally dropping nuclear bombs on cities where Democrats live, about which you could say “Republicans would never go that far”?
If they win this year, more than ever before, democracy will be their enemy. And the more threatened and desperate they feel, the further they’ll go to destroy it.