The Broken Promises of Democracy

That sound you hear in the background every time you turn on the TV news is the creaks and cracks of the noble American experiment being exposed, stretched, broken, and deliberately wrenched apart by a group of right-wing ideological foes of liberty.

This unique and noble experiment, described in his 1863 Gettysburg Address by our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, was “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

A lot has happened to this country in the intervening 159 years. We finished—and won—the Civil War; slavery was abolished; voting rights were gradually extended, again and again, to all those who had been disenfranchised by the White, property-owning, northern European Founding Fathers. Slowly the Constitution and laws guaranteed the poor, the Native peoples, formerly enslaved people, and women the right to vote. Along with that right others were recognized (not bestowed, as the GOP would have it), and acknowledged to belong to the people, as specifically stated in the Ninth Amendment, part of the original Bill of Rights written by the founders and ratified by the states.

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

And the Tenth: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

It is clear to anyone with eyes to see that those founders, as flawed as they were, understood that the Constitution could not cover everything; it could not address every problem or every issue, and it could not foresee what the future might bring. They themselves considered it an imperfect and incomplete document, and they deliberately wrote it so that it would be amended, updated, corrected, changed, and improved as time and new generations demanded. Even its preamble, which explains why it was written and what its very purpose should be, is crystal clear on this point:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

In case that isn’t clear, the founders knew that their Constitution, like their union, was NOT perfect, and never would be. They wrote it to form a MORE perfect union, one that would improve over time.

Second, justice is listed immediately after the formation of this imperfect union, followed by the imperative of domestic peace and a shared responsibility for security against any enemies. Then comes the summing up: that the general welfare—in twenty-first-century terms, “the overall, universal well-being”—of the people of the United States be ensured. Finally, they made very clear that these blessings are not for then, for them alone, but for future generations—for posterity.

Well, we are that posterity. We are the people to whom the blessings of liberty belong. These blessings are not the property of the government, of Congress, of a president, or of a state or its legislature: they are OURS! And yet they are quickly being taken away by a group of ideological foes of liberty—and they will continue to be stripped from us unless We. Fight. Back.

What are the most salient and important freedoms being stolen by the Authoritarian Republicans?

1) Abortion rights for all women to have control over themselves, their bodily integrity, and their health. The extension of this right is the freedom to have economic, educational, and entrepreneurial liberty as well—for if a woman is forced to bear children against her will, or when she cannot afford them, or in the midst of her college or even high school education—she is no better than anyone else who is enslaved by the desires of someone who owns her, body, soul, and spirit

2) The right to privacy, in our daily lives—choosing our life, love, and sexual partners—and in our public existence—the right to the same benefits of tax, inheritance, and medical laws that are bestowed on married couples, for example. Note that, under some of the state anti-abortion laws recently passed, even apps that women download to track their menstrual cycles would be subject to state invasion, so that the male-dominated legislature could determine if she missed a period and therefore might be pregnant. Her other online visits, phone calls, research for out-of-state women’s health and abortion providers could also be tracked by, literally, Big Brother—ninety percent of whom are indeed White male state legislators.

3) The right to vote, which faces new barriers and hurdles every day in the form of legislation passed, and approved, by the Republicans on the Supreme Court. (See Nelda Holder’s article, “Looking for Justice in All the Wrong Places”).

Rise Up, and Raise Hell

The former president called on his devoted private militias, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, to “stand down and stand by” before and during the illegal invasion of the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. This invasion was no different in kind from many that have come before throughout modern history:

  •   the invasion of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, to overthrow the Czars in 1917;
  •   the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 by Adolph Hitler’s stormtroopers;
  •   the storming of the Cuban presidential palace on New Year’s Eve, 1959;
  •   the overthrow of the government of Iran on behalf of Ayatollah Khomeini in January 1979

There is only one difference between those illegal movements (illegal regardless of whether one prefers the Czars or Putin, Castro or Batista, or Shah Pahlavi or the Ayatollahs) and the storming of the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Donald Trump’s attempted overthrow of the government of the United States did not succeed.

But he, and his supporters, will try again. And indeed, they are setting the stage for the next attempt, in large part through takeovers of state legislatures, stripping state courts of their constitutional roles, and approving laws that will allow the GOP to choose the next president of the United States no matter what the will of the people may be.

The Independent State Legislature Doctrine

As of this month, the Supreme Court of the United States accepted a case that might be more effective in ending the United States as we know it than any other action. Moore v. Harper is built on the absurd claim that nobody in a state—not a state’s courts (whether appointed or elected), not the governor (elected by a majority of all the people), and not the people themselves—except the state legislature, has the right to choose who will be the president of the United States.

This doctrine is not built on any actual intent of the Founding Fathers, but on a political theory developed and espoused by the Republican Party beginning in the 1990s. That theory is simple: there are more independent and liberal voters in the United States than there are conservatives; the demographics of the nation are changing, with White people becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the population; those who have the least—everyone except that White population—are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. Therefore, in the long run, the GOP will not be the dominant party in the country.

How do you combat the future when it’s so clearly stacked against you? You change the rules, and to do that, you have to change your focus. So, beginning in the early 2000s, Republican party leaders began focusing on state legislatures. They knew it would take a while, but they were—and are—patient and persistent, and loaded with money.

(Remember, the Republicans and their billionaire backers are very good at this. They’ve been trying to get rid of Social Security since 1937, and to “privatize” Medicare since it was passed in 1965; they tried to take over the public schools in the 1980s with “stealth candidates,” and when they were outed for that, they changed tactics to establish private “academies” that could limit enrollment to White Christian students but still get public money for them.)

In 2010 they finally, for the first time in generations, took over both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly, and by 2011 they had begun redistricting the state so that they would NEVER be in the minority again. Yet over and over during the ensuing decade, the state Supreme Court and federal courts threw out their schemes, ruling that districts must adhere to the US and state constitutions and to fundamental rights guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.

So they challenged the Voting Rights Act, and their nascent majority on the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice and GOP activist John Roberts, gutted it. They then challenged the laws that stated that redistricting must not be racist in intent or outcome—and the Roberts Court ruled that even if the outcome is racially biased (since 90+ percent of Black voters are Democrats), it’s okay to disenfranchise Black voters as Democrats, not as Blacks. That is, partisan gerrymandering is perfectly all right, no matter if it benefits not just one party, but only one demographic group—White people.

And now that the state Constitution and the NC State Supreme Court have rejected, once again, the legislature’s attempt to draw district lines that would guarantee the GOP permanent control despite having permanent minority status, those Republicans have dreamed up a new idea of the Independent State Legislature—or, as it should be called, the Imperial State Legislature Doctrine.

To quote the former chairman of the NC GOP, Dallas Woodhouse, writing for the Carolina Journal, the question presented by the General Assembly to the US Supreme Court is “Whether a state’s judicial branch may nullify the regulations governing the ‘Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives … prescribed … by the Legislature thereof’ … and replace them with regulations of the state courts’ own devising….”

So far, Republican activists Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas have indicated both that A) the court should address the issue of state courts’ role in adjudicating state legislatures’ decisions about redistricting; and B) that they agree with the Independent State Legislature Doctrine—despite some very recent precedents that dismiss such a made-up doctrine out of hand (Smiley v. Holm, in which SCOTUS defined “legislature” in the Constitution to mean the state’s legislative process, including a governor’s signature or veto override; Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission v. Arizona Legislature, which held in 2015 that voters in Arizona could use the initiative process to create an independent redistricting commission to draw congressional districts).

Traditionally and historically the judicial system was viewed as a system of the rule of law—i.e., in which the interpretation of laws depends on the Constitution, the intent of Congress, the evolution of knowledge and other factors, and precedents are respected and important, only very rarely to be overturned. But Republicans view the Courts as a system of the rule of men—“If we can get enough of our partisans on the courts, they’ll rule our way.”

That’s why it was so essential to Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, and others that Amy Coney Barrett get placed on the court a few days before Trump was soundly defeated for election: now that they have a supermajority on the Supreme Court, they clearly expect that court to rule for the party they all belong to.

All VOTES Matter

You must register to vote SOON. As soon as possible. No later than the end of this month at the latest.

If you are already registered—or think you are—you must check your registration with the Buncombe County Elections Board. Make sure you have the “right” kind of voter ID, which could well be demanded of you again this year. Make sure your address at the Board of Elections is the same as the address on your ID—drivers license or passport or veterans card. Make sure your name is listed correctly.

Remember, GOP partisans are determined to keep you from voting—to keep you from determining your own fate, your own future, your own liberty that was fought for between 1861 and 1865, again from 1877 through the 1920s, and from the 1920s until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The fight is upon us again!


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