“Blocking an inquiry into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, making it easier for partisans to tamper with the process of counting votes: These are not the actions of a party committed to the basic idea of open, representative government.
It’s common to call this GOP behavior “anti-democratic,” but the description can only go so far. It tells us what they’re moving America away from, but not where they want to take it. The term “minority rule” is closer, but euphemistic; it puts the Republican actions in the same category as a Supreme Court ruling, countermajoritarian moves inside a democratic framework rather than something fundamentally opposed to it.
It’s worth being clear about this: The GOP has become an authoritarian party pushing an authoritarian policy agenda.”
“When people think of authoritarian governments, they typically think of police states and 20th-century totalitarianism. But “authoritarianism” is actually a broad term, encompassing very different governments united mostly by the fact that they do not transfer power through free and fair elections.”
“competitive authoritarian systems survive in part by convincing citizens that they are living in a democracy. That’s how they maintain their legitimacy and prevent popular uprisings. As such, they do not conduct the kind of obvious sham elections held in places like Bashar al-Assad’s Syria (he won the 2021 contest with 95 percent of the “vote”).
In competitive authoritarianism, the opposition does have some ability to win a bit of power through, well, competition — even if the scope of their possible victories are limited.
It’s a tricky balance for the regime to pull off: rigging elections enough to maintain power indefinitely while still permitting enough democracy that citizens don’t rise up in outrage. Many competitive authoritarian regimes have collapsed under the stress, either transitioning to democracy (like Taiwan) or forcefully repressing the opposition and becoming a more traditional autocracy (like Belarus).”
“Happily, the United States still passes the most basic test of whether a system is democratic: whether the public can vote out its leaders. But it is hard to deny that the Republican Party has begun chipping away at that baseline principle, using the flaws in our political system to entrench their power.”
“In a speech on voting rights delivered on Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned that “the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers” is a threat to the country’s democracy.
Garland is right to be concerned. A new survey released by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 17 percent of local election officials in the United States have faced threats because of their job. The same survey, which was released alongside a larger report by Brennan and the Bipartisan Policy Center on threats to America’s elections, found that nearly a third of these officials — 32 percent — have “felt unsafe because of [their] job as a local election official.”
The survey was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, and it included interviews with 233 election officials “from across the country.”
The Brennan Center’s survey quantifies a phenomenon that appears to have emerged from former President Donald Trump’s conduct during the 2020 election, and his subsequent defeat in that election. Just hours before Garland pledged to prosecute individuals who target election officials in that same speech, Reuters published a long article cataloging some of the threats faced by election administrators and their families.”
“State and local election offices fear they are set to face a wave of retirements and resignations after confronting the dual burdens of a pandemic and a rise in conspiracy-fueled threats.
A new survey of over 200 local election officials — the people responsible for running polling places, maintaining voter rolls and counting and certifying the results of elections — found that roughly one-third were either very or somewhat concerned about “being harassed on the job” or “feeling unsafe” at work during the 2020 election cycle. Nearly 4-in-10 respondents in the survey, which was conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice and Bipartisan Policy Center, reported the same level of concern about “facing pressure to certify election results.””
““What is normally a fairly obscure administrative job is now one where lunatics are threatening to murder your children,” said Al Schmidt, one of the three members of Philadelphia’s city board of elections. Schmidt, a Republican, announced in January that he will not seek reelection to his post in 2023. “That is not something anyone anticipates or signs up for.””
““It’s a big challenge and, I think, a potential crisis for democracy,” said Lawrence Norden, the director of the election reform program at the Brennan Center, a left-leaning think tank. “The real question is: Who replaces them when they leave?””
““I think that the big danger here is especially if those positions — which, again, are typically pretty obscure — are targeted to replace those professional election administrators with partisan political operatives whose job it is to undermine confidence” in the electoral system, Schmidt continued.”
“Election administrators are also concerned about new laws in several states that exposed election officials to more criminal and civil penalties for wrongdoing. A bipartisan pair of prominent election attorneys warned in a New York Times essay that the laws could be used to intimidate election officials or punish them for honest mistakes.
“The people that are involved in elections are civic-minded individuals who just want to be part of a democracy, to make it fair and equitable. Nobody’s there for the pay,” said Roxanna Moritz, a Democrat who recently retired early from her position as Scott County, Iowa’s chief elections official, citing a lack of support. “I think that the criminalization in these states are going to cause people to say ‘Okay, it’s time for me to leave. I could make a mistake.’””
“In order for democracy to work, competing parties must accept that they can lose elections, and that it’s okay. But when partisans see their political opposition not just as the opposition, but as a genuine threat to the well-being of the nation, support for democratic norms fades because “winning” becomes everything. Politics, in turn, collapses into an all-out war of “us against them,” a kind of “pernicious polarization” that appears over and over again in democratic collapses, and bears a striking similarity to what’s currently happening in the U.S.
There’s no shortage of plausible explanations for why U.S. politics has become so polarized, but many of these theories describe impossible-to-reverse trends that have played out across developed democracies, like the rise of social media and the increased political salience of globalization, immigration and urban-rural cultural divides. All of these trends are important contributors, for sure. But if they alone are driving illiberalism and hyper-partisanship in the U.S., then the problem should be consistent across all western democracies. But it isn’t.
What’s happening in the U.S. is distinct in four respects.
First, the animosity that people feel toward opposing parties relative to their own (what’s known as affective polarization in political science) has grown considerably over the last four decades. According to a June 2020 paper from economists Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, the increase in affective polarization in the U.S. is the greatest compared to that of eight other OECD countries over the same time period.
Second, the change in how Americans feel about their party and other parties has been driven by a dramatic decrease in positive feelings toward the opposing party. In most (though not all) of the nine democracies, voters have become a little less enthusiastic about their own parties. But only in the U.S. have partisans turned decidedly against the other party.”
” Third, more so than in other countries, Americans report feeling isolated from their own party. When asked to identify both themselves and their favored party on an 11-point scale in a 2012 survey, Americans identified themselves as, on average, 1.3 units away from the party that comes closest to espousing their beliefs”
“This gap is the highest difference Rodden found among respondents in comparable democracies. This isolation matters, too, because it means that parties can’t count on enthusiasm from their own voters — instead, they must demonize the political opposition in order to mobilize voters.
Fourth, and perhaps most significant, in the U.S., one party has become a major illiberal outlier: The Republican Party. Scholars at the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have been monitoring and evaluating political parties around the world. And one big area of study for them is liberalism and illiberalism, or a party’s commitment (or lack thereof) to democratic norms prior to elections. And as the chart below shows, of conservative, right-leaning parties across the globe, the Republican Party has more in common with the dangerously authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey than it does with conservative parties in the U.K. or Germany.
The U.S. is truly exceptional in just how polarized its politics have become, but it’s not alone. People in countries with majoritarian(ish) democracies, or two very dominant parties dominating its politics like in the U.S. — think Canada, Britain, Australia — have displayed more unfavorable feelings toward the political opposition.
In fact, in a new book, “American Affective Polarization in Comparative Perspective,” another team of scholars, Noam Gidron, James Adams and Will Horne, shows that citizens in majoritarian democracies with less proportional representation dislike both their own parties and opposing parties more than citizens in multiparty democracies with more proportional representation.”
“there is also something particular about what’s happening in the U.S., even compared to other majoritarian(ish) democracies. For example, the major parties on the right in Canada and Australia have not become as illiberal as their American counterpart.”
“While it is both easy and appropriate to criticize Trump and fellow Republicans for their anti-democratic descent in service of the “Big Lie,” it takes more work to appreciate how the structure of the party system itself laid the groundwork for the former president’s politics of loathing and fear. A politics defined by hatred of political opponents is a politics ripe for hateful illiberalism.
The new scholarship on comparative polarization is crucial in understanding this dynamic. In one sense, it offers a very depressing view: Given the current binary structure of American party politics, this conflict is mostly locked in. No level of social media regulation or media literacy or exhortation to civility is going to make much of a difference. But it also offers a kind of master key: If the structure of a party system is as crucial as these studies suggest it is, then the solution is obvious: The U.S. may want to change its voting system to become more proportional.”
“Senate Republicans spent months praising Joe Manchin for his insistence on cross-party compromise. Next week they will almost surely end his hopes for a bipartisan deal on elections.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed all 50 Republicans would oppose Sen. Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) slimmed-down elections compromise, which focuses on expanding early voting and ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections. And it’s not clear there’s a single Republican vote to even begin debate on the matter, potentially dooming Manchin’s proposals before they can even make it into the bill.”
“Right, but we can’t say, “Republicans are going to call us socialists no matter what, so let’s just run as out-and-out socialists.” That’s not the smartest thing to do. And maybe tweeting that we should abolish the police isn’t the smartest thing to do because almost fucking no one wants to do that.
Here’s the deal: No matter how you look at the map, the only way Democrats can hold power is to build on their coalition, and that will have to include more rural white voters from across the country. Democrats are never going to win a majority of these voters. That’s the reality. But the difference between getting beat 80 to 20 and 72 to 28 is all the difference in the world.
So they just have to lose by less — that’s all.”
“You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like “LatinX” that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like “communities of color.” I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a “community of color.” I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language.”
“Republicans care a whole lot about election security these days. Fueled in part by the “Big Lie,” the baseless claim that there was widespread fraud in last year’s election, Republican lawmakers around the country have made an aggressive push to pass new laws to prevent what they saw as a nightmare scenario from happening again. While the motivation to improve election security is spurious, the ostensible goal isn’t — everyone would agree that a secure election is important for democracy. Experts say there’s one very effective way for state legislatures to make the voting process more secure: pass legislation to update voting machines. But instead of prioritizing this effort, many Republicans are instead focused on limiting voter access.”
“The gold standard for voting security is hand-marked paper ballots, according to security experts. That’s because a paper ballot eliminates the risk of technical difficulties or certain kinds of malicious acts (think hacking) that could change or destroy your vote, and any concerns can be addressed with a recount. Because of that, most states currently use hand-marked paper ballots or have voting machines that generate paper records for verification.
But in six states — Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas — some or all voters still cast ballots on machines that have no paper record whatsoever, according to data from Verified Voting. While there’s no evidence that these machines have ever been hacked during an election, it’s technically possible, and they’re also prone to all kinds of undesirable malfunctions, including losing votes. With no paper backup to audit, these machines are the kind of election security liability that politicians say they’re invested in fixing.
Yet according to FiveThirtyEight’s past reporting and additional calls I made for this story, in five of those six states there has been little or no effort in the past six months to prioritize updating machines with a system that includes a paper record.”
“Instead, state legislatures have been flooding the docket with bills relating to the length of early voting periods, the placement of ballot drop boxes and whether volunteers can give voters waiting in line a bottle of water. Meanwhile, just a handful of bills about upgrading equipment — often without any funding attached — have trickled in, only to lose momentum and die before reaching a committee.”
““Unfortunately, I think the idea of security has basically been an excuse to limit access,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program. “If we really want to ensure that our elections are trustworthy and transparent, we can do that without limiting access.””
“After an intensive, months-long election, only one-eighth of the workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted in favor of a union. More than twice as many voted against. Roughly half didn’t vote at all.
The election’s losers are incredulous that they could have fallen short on the merits. Challenges are already underway, accusing Amazon of unfair labor practices such as positioning a mailbox improperly. And to be sure, Amazon appears to have behaved obnoxiously, and perhaps even unlawfully in some instances.
But when nearly 6,000 workers have two months to cast ballots, and the union secures fewer than 750 “yes” votes, the idea that it has what workers want looks a bit ridiculous.”
“Workers have shown that they dislike the hyper-adversarialism and political activism that American unions bring into their workplaces but are eager for more representation, voice, and support than they can achieve individually. What they want, and need, is a middle ground that neither side is offering.
Research has borne this out. In a landmark 1994 survey, Harvard professor Richard Freeman and University of Wisconsin professor Joel Rogers asked more than 2,400 nonmanagement workers whether they would prefer representation by an organization that “management cooperated with in discussing issues, but had no power to make decisions” or by one “that had more power, but management opposed.” Workers preferred cooperation to an adversarial stance by 63 percent to 22 percent, a result that held even among active union members.
In 2017, MIT professor Thomas Kochan conducted a similar survey and found that interest in joining a union had grown and workers wanted a wide range of services that a union could provide to them, including: collective bargaining; health, unemployment, and training benefits; legal assistance; input into work processes; and representation in management decision-making. On the long menu of options, the two that stood out as making workers less likely to join are exact the ones that seem to get union activists most excited: politics and strikes.”
“For the past few years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a far-right Hindu nationalist faction, have dominated national politics. Since coming into power in 2014, Modi and BJP have attacked the foundations of India’s political system, gradually undermining the guardrails protecting democracy.
But this weekend saw a notable setback for Modi: an electoral defeat by a larger-than-expected margin.
In local elections held in five states, the BJP lost the biggest prize: control of the Legislative Assembly in West Bengal. The defeat came amid gathering signs of trouble for Modi’s quest to dominate India — the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, attributable in no small part to government policy, foremost among them.
A large and diverse cultural hub ruled by a communist faction for three decades, West Bengal can roughly be understood as India’s California. The BJP under Modi is a bit like the GOP under Donald Trump, only far more popular and politically effective. This anti-Muslim faction winning control of the local government in a left-wing bastion would have been a sign that its efforts to snuff out the political opposition had been successful, and that Indian democracy was going further down the path of its deceased cousins in Turkey, Hungary, and Venezuela.
Pre-election reporting suggested the BJP had a real shot at defeating incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her left-wing Trinamool Congress party (TMC). The national party poured resources into the fight; Modi held a number of large campaign rallies in the state, while India’s Election Commission tilted the rules of the contest in its favor, scheduling the vote in a way that facilitated BJP campaigning and turnout in BJP strongholds.
Yet results released on Sunday showed that Modi‘s gambit had fallen short: The current count shows the TMC holding a supermajority in West Bengal’s parliament, around 213 seats out of 294. The BJP, which some exit polls suggested would win outright, will hold fewer than 80.”