It feels as though the Doomsday Clock for American democracy and stability took a swing in the wrong direction these past few days.
Two greed-driven Democrats whose campaign coffers have been swelling with special interest money even though they’re not up for reelection announced they would not support even temporarily modifying the filibuster to allow passage of voting rights legislation.
Thus, they joined 50 Republican Senators in effectively killing the bill. Sixteen of those lockstep-voting Senate Republicans, as President Biden pointed out, were participants in the unanimous 2006 Senate vote for voting rights legislation—signed into law by Republican President George Bush.
The irony is that by definition, a filibuster is “an action such as a prolonged speech that obstructs progress in a legislative assembly…”
When the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 came before the Senate, were there any long speeches? Nope. There were no speeches. The minority used the filibuster to cut off debate entirely. Protecting the right to vote wasn’t even worth talking about.
This time, due to an unusual legislative maneuver, when Senate Majority Leader Schumer brings the 2022 bill passed by the House to the Senate floor next week, there will be discussion and a vote.
At least we’ll get a historical record of those responsible for this shameful turn away from the cornerstone of our democracy.
I watched some of the televised discussion when House members were debating the bill. One Republican after another claimed there was no need for new federal voting rights legislation because the turnout in 2020 was the largest ever.
Huh? Why, then, have so many Republican state legislatures rushed to pass restrictive laws?
Republicans know they would not win if they didn’t suppress votes, gerrymander districts, and either lie or remain silent about their former president’s resounding defeat in 2020. As President Biden—and others—also pointed out, how did all these Republicans get elected on the same ballots that the former guy claims were fraudulent?
Their anti-democratic insurance policy in 2021 was to introduce more than 440 bills in 49 states to restrict voting access. These actions are accelerating this year.
And even more troubling, in what the Brennan Center called “a new trend…legislators introduced bills to allow partisan actors to interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely.”
It’s an ugly anti-democratic duo: vote suppression and vote subversion.
Knowing all this, how do I justify remaining hopeful that we won’t lose our democracy in 2022—or 2024?
I begin with the premise that if we assume we’re “doomed,” we’ve already moved toward that scenario. I’m not being Pollyanna here; our democracy is being tested as never before.
But as the iconic Mister Rogers advised kids when they were fearful, “look for the helpers.”
There are many, and they’re fully engaged. Michelle Obama’s new initiative is one of the most ambitious. When We All Vote is a coalition to register 1 million new voters before the 2022 midterms.
I’ve recently been spending some time on Twitter, where like-minded people meet virtually on Twitter Spaces. I listened in on a couple of discussions about voting rights run by a group of Black activists.
These folks aren’t wasting time bemoaning the setbacks. They are focused, upbeat, and pragmatic.
*Yes, it will be harder than it has to be—than it should be. So we’ll just have to work harder too.
*Yes, it will take time. It’s taken a long time to get to where we are, and this is one more roadblock.
*Educate more people. Get people registered. Counter the misinformation.
*Elect more democracy-loving Democrats to office at all levels.
*Support President Biden and VP Harris—not uncritically—but with appreciation for all the good they’ve accomplished in one year, and concern that those who continue merely to criticize them and the Democrats simply discourage people from voting at all.
If Black Americans, watching this systematic dismantling of their right to vote (which will also disenfranchise young people, disabled people, elderly people, and others) can remain so committed to protecting our democratic institutions, how can I not be hopeful—and work harder too?
Yesterday, I listened to another Twitter Space—this time, hosted by Marc Elias and his colleague at Democracy Docket. More than 850 of us spent part of our Friday afternoon to learn more.
I’ve written about Elias before. He’s the tireless voting rights attorney who’s been responsible for beating back many bad laws—and a number of the former guy’s bogus challenges—for decades.
He’s obviously a very talented lawyer, but equally important: he’s an upbeat person who believes that the courts can still be influential in protecting democracy.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that courts don’t matter,” he said. “Democracy is on the docket.” (Hence: Democracy Docket.)
One of his most crucial points was:
“It’s important to talk about naming VIOLENT INSURRECTION. Words have consequences.”
The US Constitution (14th Amendment, Section 3) specifically states that anyone found to have committed this act, having violated the oath of office, is prevented from future service in government. Criminal sanctions aren’t required.
Elias hopes the Department of Justice is investigating the members of Congress who have already implicated themselves. But, he says, if DOJ doesn’t do so, private litigation can commence. And I suspect he’s already planning next steps…
He stressed that timely action is needed to give Republicans whose candidates may be barred from serving the time to find new nominees—“so no one can claim at the time of election that they don’t have a candidate.”
Elias also spoke about how superb the new bill that the Senate will debate is.
“We can’t give up hope—have to keep pushing the Senators to pass this legislation.”
He sees the Electoral Count Act, which is now receiving bipartisan support in the Senate, as a distraction because it doesn’t address the vital protections against vote subversion in the state and county offices where the votes are counted.
Note: Manchin and Sinema are involved in these discussions. Even if the bill were to include prohibitions against vote subversion, it won’t address vote suppression—and there are concerns that time will fly by and it will never be enacted.
Elias reported good news about the Ohio Supreme Court’s striking down inequitable gerrymandering that had favored Republicans, and he expressed cautious optimism about positive results in North Carolina as well.
His group is suing Texas and Georgia for voter suppression laws and will probably sue Florida.
Okay. So if we’re imbued with hope, should we view the fact that the Department of Justice has charged 11 far-right Oath Keepers with Seditious Conspiracy as good news—because it shows that the DOJ is enmeshed in investigations of violent plots to take down our government…or as bad news—because it shows how deep and broad these plans are and how close they came to succeeding?
With a deep breath, I’m focusing on the four Oath Keepers who’ve already turned and are providing the government with information.
We have had violent plots in the US before. It’s unlikely the former guy will be charged with seditious conspiracy. But based on evidence that’s already publicly available, it’s become possible, maybe even likely, that he and his Congressional helpers will be barred from office.
And if that happens, perhaps we’ll have time to mend our tattered national fabric and stave off the unthinkable loss of our democracy.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it isn’t worth your time to register and vote. The biggest danger is apathy and an unwillingness to see that there’s only one political party in the US today that is working to protect our democracy. Many current and former Republicans agree.
“We have met the enemy and they is us,” said Pogo. We Americans must prove Pogo wrong.
Are you with me? I sure HOPE so!