One reason this election feels so apocalyptic is that both sides suspect the other of trying not only to win but also to rig the rules so the other side can never win again.

The looming fight over a Supreme Court vacancy will intensify those fears.

The Republican nightmare looks something like this: Democrats gain control of the White House and Congress and end the Senate filibuster so they can work their will. They expand the Supreme Court and pack it with a young left-wing majority. They muscle through statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, bolstering their Senate majority. They mount an effort to circumvent or even abolish the electoral college, empowering California and New York at the expense of small, Republican-leaning states in the heartland.

Meanwhile, the left-wing lock on Silicon Valley enforces censorship and a “cancel culture” that deprives the right even of a platform to complain about their relegation to permanent minority status.

To which the left replies: Oh, please. The digital platforms are merely (belatedly) trying to block your lies and conspiracy theories, not your point of view.

And: Expanding the court would be entirely justifiable if Republicans fill the current court vacancy on the eve of an election after refusing to even consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

And: If you are accusing us of favoring majority rule, we plead guilty.

Why shouldn’t the popular vote determine who is president?

Why shouldn’t D.C.’s 700,000 residents have representation in Congress just like Wyoming’s 600,000?

And why amplify the Senate’s anti-majoritarianism — with those 600,000 Wyoming residents having equal say to California’s 40 million — with the anti-majoritarian filibuster?

Democrats have a nightmare of their own, and in many ways the country is already living it. They watched a Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court weaken the Voting Rights Act in 2013, paving the way for Republican state governments to disenfranchise poor and minority (read: Democratic) voters in all kinds of ways in recent years.

They see a Republican administration seeking to undermine this year’s census — most recently by trying to suspend the count before it’s complete — which guarantees that poor and minority (see above) voters will be undercounted. That would leave those same voters underrepresented in Congress and state legislatures for a decade.

They see an administration manipulating immigration rules and procedures to block hundreds of thousands of should-be citizens from voting this fall.

And all of that is before you get to President Trump’s preposterous scaremongering about phantom voter fraud, validated by a recklessly partisan attorney general, with the apparent goal of claiming victory even if he loses.

Now, Republicans are preparing to ram through a Supreme Court confirmation that could guarantee a conservative majority for a generation — and be in place to ratify a disputed Trump victory in January.

The nightmares, in other words, are not equivalent. Having yoked themselves to a leader who plays on bigotry and division, Republicans are unable to appeal to a majority of Americans, especially as America becomes more diverse. Rather than expand the tent, they try to keep people out of it, both as citizens and as voters, and to cement in place rules that can preserve their minority reign.

And if Democrats want to use the rules to change the rules, would that be undemocratic? The Founders built an amendment process into the Constitution so the system could evolve.

Today’s Republicans like to see themselves as oppressed and endangered, even as they control the White House, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate. They take refuge in aggrievement rather than trying to appeal to a majority — witness their failure even to adopt a platform at their convention last month.

Now we are six weeks from an election. This mutual sense of endangerment is perilous, no matter how unequal the reality.

We have long taken for granted something that other countries watch with envy and amazement: a regular, peaceful transfer of power.

That can happen only in countries where the losing leader need not fear revenge and retribution — which is why Trump’s casual, cynical encouragement of the “lock her up” chants was so corrosive.

And it can happen only where the losing side knows it will have a fair chance to compete to regain power in two or four years.

Lose that assurance, or convince yourself that it is at risk, and suddenly the stakes become much higher. Politics goes from hard-fought competition to contest for survival. Previously unthinkable methods become justified and then essential. Rivals become enemies.

And we no longer have a democracy to be envied.

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