Friday, January 14, 2022

THE STATE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

 You can tell it’s an election year.  Democrats, divided among themselves and in near panic over the likely loss of control of both houses of Congress in the upcoming November elections are searching for an issue to counter both the historic trends of mid-term presidential election s and the collapse of President Biden’s approval ratings across a wide range of issues. Vice President Kamala Harris’s poll numbers are even lower than Biden’s.

Their struggle is complicated by reality.  The chaos of the Afghan withdrawal; the millions of illegal aliens who have crossed Biden’s open southern border; the year long contradictions in messaging and the unpopular Covid 19 vaccination mandates; high levels of consumer price inflation especially in food and energy, are all real.  They have happened and can’t be denied.  In one recent week the Supreme Ct. has found Biden’s vaccination mandate for private businesses with over 100 employees to be an executive branch overreach and Biden’s attempt to make “voting rights” legislation into a viable campaign victory has hit a wall with Democrat senators Sinema and Manchin refusing to provide the 51 vote (including VP Harris’s tie breaking vote) majority to remove the Senate filibuster rule that requires a 60 vote majority to pass legislation in that body. What to do?

At the presidential level Biden is still campaigning against former President Donald Trump.  Of course Trump isn’t running for anything at the present time but Biden apparently thinks that the 2022 mid-term voters are still thinking about Trump and can be convinced that he’s the root of all the current problems.  But Biden’s poll numbers indicate that voters are focused on Biden, not Trump.  So Democrats in Congress and the media have adopted a different  two pronged strategy.  Why not spend trillions of dollars in an attempt to buy votes and at the same time add a level of fear with a hypothetical systemic threat that they can lay at the feet of the Republican opposition.

The first effort has failed to gain much political traction.  Over the objections but eventual acquiescence of the Progressive, far Left wing of the Democratic party congressional caucus, a 1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill was passed.  But it was passed with bipartisan support and the basic “roads and bridges” out in the future theme didn’t generate much excitement and hasn’t overcome the angst and anger of many voters which are driving Biden’s low job approval.

The second half of the “see how much of your money we can spend to help you” vote buy, was the 2.6 trillion dollar “Build Back Better” social welfare legislation that hit a monstrous speed bump also with the defection of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate. 

Ignoring the fact that all 50 of the Republican senators also opposed the bill on sound economic reasoning, the Democrats have demonized their own Senator Manchin with the 

nonsensical claim of “the injustice and undemocratic position of one Senator defying the will of the Democratic Party and the people’.  Of course the Republican Senator’s votes count just as much as Manchin’s  and they believe that they represent the preferences of their constituents who are also “the people”.  While the size of the bill has been trimmed to around 1.75 trillion dollars it still lacks the necessary support to pass intact. Portions of the bill will probably eventually pass in pieces of separate legislation or in a further much reduced collective version but it may be “too little, too late” to have much effect on the November elections.

This leaves the Democrat election strategists with the “change the subject” option. The primary focus of this charge being made by Democrat politicians, “cherry picked “ liberal college professors, and the ususal far Left opinion writers, is the January 6, 2021 riot and assault on the U.S. capitol by President Trump supporters responding to his claim that Biden and his supporters in various states, “stole the 2020 presidential election’. While the now labeled “Big Lie” has indeed found no credible supporting evidence it remains a mixed dynamic for Trump’s credibility and that of his supporters in the Congress and a convenient target of attack for Democrats.  Engaging in common political hyperbole and activating the new election strategy,  Biden characterized the riot as Trump personally holding “a dagger at the throat of democracy.” 

While the nearly year long Democratic House committee investigating the events of January 6th, has not yet found any specific ties of Trump to the actual assault,  the Department of Justice has recently announced that a charge of “seditious conspiracy” has been filed against eleven members of the Oath Keepers, a far right extremist group with a few members present at the insurrection.  The leader of this group had outlined a plan for the use of armed force and military like tactics to attack the capitol.  He went on to talk about the necessity of “civil war” in opposition to federal government policies.   This is serious language and should not be taken lightly.  However, the proposed military tactics did not materialize and while force was used armed force was not.  This is not entirely surprising since the rhetoric employed by small extremist groups typically exaggerates their capabilities.  

Even before the revelation announced by the Dept. of Justice, Biden’s theatrical “dagger” meme had been seized on by numerous media types to explore the “possible ‘end’ of democracy” in America. Giving the threat a somewhat broader base, the Democrats have incorporated a claim that Republicans in control of state legislatures are rigging election laws to deprive voters access to the ballot box. In a recent interview a Harvard professor portrayed these revised election regulations as Republicans “legally stealing” upcoming elections. The obvious contradiction of the terms “legally” and “stealing” aside, the solution for Democrats would seem simple; win more elections in these states but they seem to be focused on winning more elections in “toss up states” by stereotyping all Republican candidates as “undemocratic”.

Republicans claim that voting regulation changes are intended to support voting integrity. This claim is not without justification.  The “handwriting is on the wall”. There are two separate “voting rights” bills in the Democrat controlled Congress which would give a “one size fits all” federal control of elections in the 50 states. Included in these bills are a variety of loose standards for voter registration and identification and procedure and reinstatement of the provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Bill that required federal approval of an changes to voting procedures in specific states mostly in the South, with a history, no matter how distant, of discriminatory voting procedures.  The Supreme Ct. struck down this provision in 2013 as unconstitutional and outdated. 

In the critical 2020 senate elections in Georgia, some Democrats urged voters in safe “blue states” to take advantage of Georgia’s permissive registration residency requirements and travel to Georgia temporarily for the sole purpose of voting in this election and then move back home.  New York City has recently approved voting for non-citizens in their municipal elections. The only requirement being residency for at least 30 days.  This new “voting right” applies  to approximately eight hundred thousand immigrants.  

Democrats have long opposed such basic voter identity requirements as a photo ID even in states that issue such special voting versions for free. 

However, even if the Democrats voting rights legislation fails in the Senate it does not mean “the end of democracy”. Once again all evidence in support or opposed to the changes in the various Republican controlled states will be the subject of judicial review if Democrats feel their claims have legal merit.  Of course, the legislation passed in these states itself is “legal” according to the Harvard professor as well as the product of a healthy democratic process in both the election of the legislators and in the enactment of policies by majority vote in their legislative bodies.  Democrats are defining democracy not by process but by outcomes which only fit their ideological conformity and partisan advantage. 

This process is an obvious election tactic to try and diminish the focus on, and importance of the aforementioned policy and economic issues that loom over the Democrat’s probable failures in the November, 2022 mid-term elections. To evaluate the actual “threat to democracy” in the U.S.  a broad view and contextual approach is required.  First however, it is a simple fact that the January 6th, 2021 riot and invasion of on the U.S. capitol was in itself an egregious assault  on the institutions and democratic political processes of America. The peaceful transitions of U.S. governance at the highest level has been a fundamental principle of the American political experience and vital source of stability for our entire constitutional history. There is simply no way to legitimately diminish the seriousness and unacceptability of the assault. Those responsible, either as participants or provocateurs should face the full application of the law. Over 700 individuals have already been charged.  

But does this single irrational act of rejection of our democratic system represent a continuing process of diminution  of that system through violence and intimidation? Does it presage a nation wide acceptance of a general anti-democratic system based on a lessening of support for the core concepts of rule of law, separation of powers, and representative democracy? 

There are indeed,  polls that show a disturbing level of acceptance of violence in pursuit of policy goals.  In a December, 2021 poll, 34% agreed that violence against the government is some times justified.  While 40% of Republicans polled agreed, 41% of Independents and 23% of Democrats also agreed.  The bipartisan nature of this orientation is further demonstrated by the 25% in a second poll that agreed that “force might be justified to achieve” the mostly liberal goals of “civil rights”, “gun control”, “election results” and “labor” policies.  But polls are not “movements” which require dedication, organization and participation.  Also, solid majorities of Americans remain opposed to violence or the use of force against the government.  Despite rampant speculation and political posturing  the fact remains that in the face of the riot and invasion of the capitol and the fantasies of the eleven Oath Keepers, the democratic process actually worked.

The motive of the attack on the capitol was originally described as an attempt to stop the constitutionally required certification of the Electoral College results from the November 2020 presidential election.  While the motivation of the mob seemed to quickly change into one of general occupation and an orgy of vandalism and violence against authority, it failed in it’s original purpose.  It’s failure was inevitable.  The invasion was bound to fail as reserves of law enforcement were brought in.  The certification of the Electoral College results while disrupted, was only delayed a matter of hours as the Congress reconvened in the early hours of January 7 and carried out its duty. In other words, both the rule of law and the democratic process prevailed even in the face of profound and senseless hostility.  

Once again, law suits claiming that the election was corrupt have all failed and  do not represent broad based anti-democratic reality.  Judicial findings based on facts have represented the health of the democratic principal of the “rule of law”.

“The end of democracy” might sell books and stimulate opinion shows and journal articles but our democratic system is not defined by individual events in Washington or anywhere else.  Our democracy operates as a centuries old, extremely broad pyramid whose base is occupied by thousands of “free and fair” elections starting at the local level of school board membership and city councils, and growing through county commissions, state legislatures and governors, judges elected or appointed by elected officials, and finally reaching the top with elections of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the President. The American public overwhelmingly supports this system, the Constitution which protects it, and the Bill of Rights that guarantees our basic individual freedoms. 

Virtually all public elected public officials, members of the military, members of the judiciary at all levels and law enforcement personnel take and oath of office in which they swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and of the United States”.  

Unfortunately politically inspired violence hiding behind the protection of the claim of “peaceful protests” has become the “new normal” after a year of excess allegedly in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020.  This will probably continue until police forces are rebuilt and allowed to contain it.  The perpetrators have been small extremists groups on both the Left (Antifa) and the Right (Proud Boys) as well as some members of, or adherents to, the Black Lives Matter groups.  The violence was mostly carried out against businesses, empty government buildings and police forces responding to the ensuing riots. With the exception of a few enabling local politicians and district attorneys this violence has been widely condemned by the public and political figures. 

The major political crisis in the U.S. today is the uncompromising polarization of the Congress and the electorate. There is a profound sense of hopelessness, frustration and cynicism that citizens face with the apparent inability of government to deal with the challenges of the continuing pandemic, punishing inflation, spikes in crime and the constant drumbeat of racial hostility and environmental doom sayers.  Democracy doesn’t seem to be working well but the targets for American’s frustrations are the members of the political class not the democratic system.

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