A friend who’s not all that interested in politics asked me the other day why, if President Biden ran on bipartisanship, everything he’s proposing is now being rejected by the Republicans. I responded that the American Rescue Plan, which will soon pass the Senate and be signed into law, has nationwide bipartisan support: 75% of the public support it, including 60% of Republicans.
But it will be passed by Democrats alone because the Republicans in both chambers have not been willing to legislate for some time.
Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times opinion columnist who I find generally hews toward the center politically, minced no words in a recent essay titled: ”What Trump, San Francisco and the Deer in My Backyard Have in Common.”
The subtitle was “Democracy depends on understanding the connection.” (emphases mine throughout)
Friedman is fond of metaphors, and he sees a similarity between the deer rummaging in his backyard unafraid of predators and the San Francisco School Board’s “self-parodying political correctness” in trying to rename 44 schools because of what they regard as racist behaviors on the part of the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Paul Revere, and Senator Dianne Feinstein.
They are acting in this way—instead of focusing on trying to get kids back into school—because they have no opposition, no “political predators.”
Then he extends the metaphor.
“That is a lot like Trump and his followers, whose attachment to him has become so cultlike that every other Republican leader knows that challenging Trump is potential political suicide.
“The result: He, too, has no serious predators (I don’t count a waffling Mitch McConnell). This reality, plus Trump’s warped character, made him so reckless that he believed that he could shoot a whole branch of the U.S. government in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and his base would stick with him. And he was right!”
But, Friedman argues:
“My deer and San Francisco’s school board are local problems. The fact that one of our two national parties would stick with a leader who dispatched a mob to ransack the Capitol in hopes of overturning our last election is an acute national problem — a cancer, in fact. And like any cancer, the required treatment is going to be painful for the patient.
“For me, that starts with getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate, granting the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico statehood (they each have more U.S. citizens than Wyoming) and passing a new Voting Rights Act that forbids voter suppression. While that may sound hyperpartisan, it’s the necessary, but not sufficient, remedy for America to regain its political health.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find him emphatically stake out a position on issues that many on varying points of the political spectrum increasingly agree are necessary.
Friedman briefly reviews what the Republicans said they were going to do after Romney’s defeat in 2012. They called it the Growth Opportunity Project (GOP, get it?), and it was a plan to make the party more inclusive by reaching out to minorities, gay people, and women—presumably with positions on issues that would appeal to their interests and needs. “Comprehensive immigration reform” was a central tenet of that approach.
“But instead of adopting that plan, the party doubled down on its old ways: It tried to gain and hold power one more time with a guy named Trump winking at white supremacy, defending Confederate statues and using every voter suppression trick in the book to protect a predominantly white Christian America.”
“Why not, it asked? More and more, Republican members of the House were being elected from gerrymandered districts drawn up by Republican state legislators from gerrymandered districts. Meanwhile, the Senate overrepresented sparsely populated red states, meaning the Electoral College favored Republican presidential candidates, who could then stack the court system with conservative judges who would allow Republican politicians to suppress the votes of Black and other Democratic-leaning constituencies.”
This political strategy long predated Trump. Friedman quotes Gautam Mukunda, whom he identifies as a presidential expert and contributor to Naadaq World Reimagined:
“[A]n American system of government that was meant to preserve minority rights has instead ended up enabling minority rule.”
This is a critical issue. I have been informed on Twitter that I don’t understand American history and government because we have a republic, not a democracy. The founding fathers designed it that way, said my critics, because they feared the “tyranny of the majority.”
The stance of those twitterers echoes that of many elected Republicans today—on both the state and national levels. If “we’re a republic, not a democracy,” voting rights don’t matter (except for their overwhelmingly white constituents), gerrymandering is essential, and the rights of a minority of the population allow the blockage of programs and legislation that the vast majority of Americans want.
Pointing out that Democrats have won a plurality of the popular vote for President seven times since 1989, while Republicans have won it a total of once, Mukunda also told Friedman:
“Governing effectively enough to win a majority is hard. Appealing to the grievances of a minority is easy. Is anyone surprised the Republicans keep choosing the easy path? If we want to revive American democracy, we have to close off that easy path for them once and for all.”
To do that, Friedman reiterates his call to end the filibuster, enabling President Biden to succeed in reviving the economy and revitalizing our infrastructure.
And by granting statehood to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, we add four senators who’ll likely be Democrats.
“That will tell the G.O.P. that if it wants to hold power it has to once and for all abandon its fantasy of minority rule based largely on white voters — and take up the “growth and opportunity” strategy of that 2013 R.N.C. report.”
“For America to be healthy, this white-grievance, QAnon-embracing G.O.P. has to die. It is not a governing party.
“Can you imagine how much healthier American politics would be if we had a center-right conservative party that was embracing diversity, inclusion, climate change mitigation, and common-sense health care and immigration reform — based on conservative, small-government, more market-oriented solutions — competing with a center-left party?
But that party is nowhere in evidence today. Every one of the issues Friedman cites has been either ignored or denied by the Republicans. Friedman underscores the dearth of ideas we’ve seen from Trump and former Senate Majority Leader McConnell over the past four years, as they’ve held onto power just for the sake of holding onto power.
And he didn’t even discuss the elephant in the elephant’s room that fueled the insurrection: the continued adherence to The Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump, which pollutes, divides, and endangers our democracy.
But Friedman was surely thinking of it when he wrote the following:
“This Trump-cult G.O.P. is sick and must be kept away from power until it heals and broadens itself.”
“We cannot and will not realize our full potential as a nation unless we have both parties working to forge a new sense of shared association that can enable a much more diverse America to journey together into the 21st century.
“Today, sadly, only one party is in that business.“
To add an exclamation mark to Friedman’s message, this is historian Heather Cox Richardson’s summation from her February 28th message. She’s discussing the American Rescue Plan, discussed above, that passed the House and is awaiting final passage in the Senate (still powerful legislation, despite changes made to ensure moderate Democrats’ votes).
“[It] will likely pass–without the increased minimum wage–but it will do so only because the Democrats won both Georgia seats in January, giving them an equal number of senators to the Republicans.
“The Democrats will be able to pass a bill popular with more than 3 out of 4 of us only because they have a slight majority in the House and can use a special budget measure to work around the Republican senators who represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than the Democrats do.
“The coronavirus relief bill illustrates just how dangerously close we are to minority rule.”
UPDATE: The bill just passed the Senate and will return to the House for final vote. Looks like it will reach President Biden’s desk before March 14, the critical date in terms of expiration of unemployment assistance.