December 22, 2021
While our nation has, from its earliest days, aspired to a noble vision, it continues to struggle to make its words real. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson declared that we were separating from Great Britain because we believed that “all men are created equal.” In the same year, Congress chose to name their new nation the UNITED States. In 1782 the United States Congress declared “E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One” as this nation’s motto.
Well past our bicentennial we are still fighting to ensure that “all” means “all” and “one” means “one.” In 1861, as the Civil War loomed before him, Abraham Lincoln asked that we “at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.”
As 2021 ends, we still contend with those hell-bent on proving that Lincoln was wrong and that we have been lying about what this nation has been for all of those years. Rather than see us as the UNITED States we are being told again that we are not one nation but rather just a collection of States in order in order to ensure that inequality can be protected and increased.
If we are to be one nation, one Democratic nation, then the voice of the people must be allowed to speak and be protected equally. We are now facing a determined national effort under the banner of Conservatism, to rebrand the country as the “Un-tied States,” a collection of fifty autonomous entities, each empowered to define the rights of those living within its borders. The Conservative Republican goal is to reduce the power of all three branches of the Federal Government, maximize the power of each of the fifty states and enforce their vision of an unequal country. The goal is to retain power even when their beliefs and policy objectives do not agree with most Americans. They must protect their status, power, and wealth that they feel is being threatened by calls for fairness and equality.
Conservative Republicans know that they are currently the minority party. In the 2020 election, 7 million more voters chose the Democratic Presidential Candidate than the Republican. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump became President although Democrat Hilary Clinton won the popular vote. Democrats have carried the Presidential popular vote count all but one election since 1992. Republicans also know that their candidates for the House of Representatives received almost 5 million fewer votes than did Democratic candidates. They know that, according to data gathered by Steven Wolf, “Senate Republicans have neither won more votes nor represented more Americansthan Democrats since the late 1990s.”
To retain power and protect their interests, Conservatives Republicans have recognized that by controlling State Governments and weakening the effectiveness of the Federal Government they can impose minority rule. The Constitutional structure of the Senate and the Electoral College gives them a running start. As noted by VOX, “the 25 most populous states contain about 84 percent of the population, and Democrat senators have a 29-21 majority in those states. Republicans, meanwhile, have an identical 29-21 majority in the 25 least populous states.”
Controlling the other branches of the Federal Government requires more effort and manipulation.
I have previously looked at Republican efforts to draw legislative maps to maintain the power of the majority at the state level and to control the House of Representatives (“gerrymandering”). “Yet the Republican-controlled redistricting process has established maps, as reported by the New York Times, ‘lopsidedly favor Republicans. According to PlanScore.org, a nonpartisan website, if the North Carolina vote under the new maps were split 50-50 between the two parties following recent voting patterns, it would give Republicans a 64-56 edge in the State House and a 32-18 margin in the State Senate. The new congressional map is even more tilted, giving Democrats an advantage in only three of the state’s 14 House seats, down from the five they hold now.’”
Gerrymandering allows some votes and voters to be more powerful than others; it allows those in office to choose the voters they want rather than allowing voters to choose who will represent them.
In states where those in power fear the will of the people there is an effort to use that power to restrict who can vote and control the way we conduct our elections to meet their liking. Joanna Lydgate, CEO of the States United Democracy Center, in a statement to Salon, described what is taking place at the state level. “For decades, our elections have been run by trusted professionals who are dedicated to protecting the freedom to vote. Now, a handful of politicians are trying to hijack our elections and intimidate election officials by criminalizing routine and minor aspects of their work.”
The Brennan Center for Justice states that “twenty-two bills with restrictive provisions have already been enacted. In addition, at least 61 bills with restrictive provisions in 18 states are moving through legislatures: 31 have passed at least one chamber, while another 30 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).”
Controlling access to the ballot box and the mechanisms of our elections provides the tools needed to control the results. If successful, these efforts will ensure that a minority of voters can control the nation. These efforts make it more likely that houses of Congress can be controlled even when that result does not reflect the vote count on a national basis. And, as we are seeing, even if control is not achieved, the margins can be kept small enough to ensure that Congress can be stalemated. As we are already seeing, winning the Presidency and the Senate in 2016 with a minority of voters was enough to allow controlling the third branch of the Federal Government – the judicial branch – by packing it with young, very conservative judges who were ready and willing to support this conservative agenda.
Recently State legislators and representatives from 24 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming) gathered under the banner of the Conservative Partnership Institute to coordinate their efforts to use state power to override the Federal Government and the people’s voice. “Building Freedom Caucuses in every state, composed of principled, America-First conservatives, will help better protect our liberties and American values in communities nationwide. From election integrity, critical race theory, school choice, vaccine mandates, and police reform — our nation’s most important battles are taking place in state legislatures.”
As we end one year and begin the next, we find how effective this minority rule strategy has been. On issue after issue, Americans want actions that clash with the values and objectives of Conservative Republicans. Consider that
- In Gallop polling, 56% of the public think the government should be responsible for health care costs.
- As reported by Forbes, “Gallup polls show Americans’ support for abortion in all or most cases at 80% in May, only slightly higher than in 1975 (76%), and the Pew Research Center finds 59% of adults believe abortion should be legal, compared to 60% in 1995.”
- According to an NPR poll, “By a 56% to 41% margin, survey respondents said making sure that everyone who wants to vote can do so is a bigger concern than making sure that no one who is ineligible votes.”
- As reported by The Hill, “Fifty-six percent of registered voters in the March 5-8 survey said wealth inequality is a significant problem facing the country and billionaires paying a wealth tax is a part of the solution. By contrast, 44 percent said it is unfair to impose an additional tax on people who already pay income taxes because it becomes a penalty for being successful. “
- According to the findings of the Pew Research Center, “Overall, 64% of U.S. adults say reducing the effects of climate change needs to be “a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations, even if that means fewer resources for addressing other important problems today.”
With a neutered Federal Government each state has been empowered to go its own way, defining public policy idiosyncratically. The rights and privileges of citizens become a variable, not a standard. States are left to compete among themselves. Those most in need of society’s help are most at risk. States which wish to serve all of their citizens, and which accept the cost of doing so, risk losing those with wealth and power to states that choose to ignore the needs of all of their citizens.
Are we one nation or 50? Are we a nation that sees all people as equal?
These are the questions we are facing as the new year approaches. Can we pass voter rights legislation that will ensure all can vote and all votes count equally? Can we overcome Senate rules that prevent the will of the people from being heard? Can we ensure that every citizen, wherever they live have equal rights under the law? As the spiritual says: “Which side are you on, Lord? Which side are you on?”