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The House passed Wednesday an upgrade of the old Electoral Count Act in an effort to prevent another criminal president from staging another attempt at a procedural coup. The Senate has its own version with sufficient sponsors among the Republicans. All signs point to reconciliation before the measure goes to the president.
Nine House Republicans were for the bill. All the others were against it. Their rationale appears to be that if Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney is for something, as she was for this legislation, then the Republican conference is against it – out of spite for her high-impact role on the committee investigating Donald Trump’s attempted coup.
In another time and place, voting for a bill that protects democracy from democracy’s enemies – anti-democrats – would be easy, as easy as voting for an anti-crime bill. No member of Congress wants to be seen on the other side, looking like they’re pro-crime. Voting for an anti-crime bill is a twofer. You can look tough while paying nothing.
The same should have been the case for this pro-democracy bill. But as Jonathan Bernstein said Thursday, even mainstream Republicans (so-called, I’d say) are as extreme as the Republicans on the margins, including, as Bernstein quipped, “Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Mark Levin and the other leaders of the Republican Party.”
“So the problem isn’t just the extremists,” Bernstein said. “It’s the rank-and-file Republican politicians. It means that there’s just not much of a difference between a House Republican conference with a few more radicals and one with a few more mainstream members.”
With last night’s vote, perhaps we’re witnessing a kind of clarity that has eluded us on account of the GOP leadership laboring mightily to make sure that it keeps eluding us. That clarity is this: With nine exceptions, there’s no daylight among the House Republicans.
Now that we know beyond a doubt that one House Republican stands in for another, the next question is: what does being an extremist mean. Last night suggests that it’s sticking it to Liz Cheney. But since sticking it to her means appearing on the other side of democracy – anti-democracy – what could the House GOP be thinking that would overcome the reluctance to appear on the other side of democracy?
In a word, contempt.
Contempt for democracy has a long, rich and complex history in the United States. It goes all the way back and beyond the founding. The framers were patricians – noblemen in all but name. They didn’t trust democracy any more than they trusted the plebs to be enlightened enough to run a republic. So they built into the system all the encumbrances to democracy that modern-day democrats chafe at.
The late Sheldon Wolin, a political philosopher, put it this way: “‘Constitutional democracy’ is … an ideological construction designed not to realize democracy but to reconstitute and, as a consequence, repress it.” Jacques Rancière, a French philosopher, sharpened that when he said that a “new hatred of democracy can be succinctly put: there is only one good democracy, the one that represses the catastrophe of the democratic civilization.”
With contempt baked into the cake of American democracy, you can see why the GOP – or anyone (ie, “conservatives”) who stands with the top-down orders of power that are threatened by democracy – have the advantage over democrats, who must fight on two fronts: against the anti-democrats as well as the system that favors them.
The top-down orders of power that are threatened by democracy is white power – the homegrown version of the right to rule by blood otherwise associated with monarchies or dynasties. While colonial Americans did free themselves from the British crown, they never abandoned hereditary privilege. They just stopped calling it that.
From the colonial era to the present day, white power, or the right to rule by blood, has been passed down, as if it were property that compound in wealth and is transmitted to descendants who neither earn that wealth nor deserve it. Previous generations of white people, who’d established immutably white power as America’s superstructure, in effect grant future white people their hereditary privilege, depriving anyone born without it of political equality.
Seen in this light, we can imagine the imperceptible hand of history reaching across time and space to force Republicans who’d ordinarily avoid being on the other side of democracy to expose themselves as such. The House Democrats dared challenge the “natural order” with a pro-democracy bill. You can imagine the Republicans, even before Wednesday’s vote, curling their lips in contempt of democrats defiling the right to rule by blood with sordid appeals to the plebs.
The “natural order,” of course, isn’t natural, because nature itself holds inherited white power in contempt. It can’t be otherwise. The proof is evident in every mediocre white man who’s born and borne up by the superstructure of white power (failing upward, in other words). That’s nature’s way of telling white people who stand with the “natural order” to get the word “nature” out of their mouths.
Nature is predisposed to political equality, Tom Paine argued in Common Sense (which is where I’m drawing the ideas for this piece). The proof again is mediocre white men who are born into the riches of white power and borne up every time they fail spectacularly. If nature affirmed political inequality, a central tenet of conservative ideology, future generations of white men would possess equal merit to the previous generations that established the white-power order.
And they don’t.
Indeed, they are worthy of “democratic contempt.”
According to Mario Feit (whose chapter on Paine is in Democratic Moments, an anthology), that’s the thrust of Common Sense – democratic contempt for the right to rule. Paine meant monarchy, but the idea applies widely. “The intergenerational injustice of creating a hereditary title to rule to Paine ultimately rests on an intergenerational injustice, namely, to assume that there could be politically significant, natural hierarchies among humans,” Feit said.
Paine asks democrats to “resist the structural forms of inequality that undermine present-day democracies. Paine’s democratic contempt militates against economic inequality, especially when poverty and wealth are inherited,” Feit said. “Paine, in other words, demands that we do not rest on the laurels of having democratic political processes and institutions; we must also democratize our way of life.”
The House Democrats did their part. They passed an upgrade to the old Electoral Count Act to prevent another coup attempt. It’s up to the rest of us to meet the GOP’s contempt for democracy with our own – a democratic contempt for the spoils of inherited white power.
"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver started off his show mocking Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) for being forced to steal migrants who came into Texas to deploy his plot to deport immigrants.
Both the Fox network and Republicans have desperately tried to turn immigration into a huge issue for the 2022 midterm election at a time when most Americans actually care about other things like democracy or women's liberty and rights.
"Yes, it certainly was a 'surprising scene on Martha's Vineyard,'" said Oliver. "Obviously, sending a group of migrants there was extremely reckless because Martha's Vineyard isn't set up with any key resources that migrants need. Unless, they're desperate for a fishmonger to over-describe what it was like to sell Jackie O. a pound of scallops in 1983."
He went on to say that if it seems like a stunt made for the Fox network, then you're correct, it is. Several months ago, right-wing host Tucker Carlson did a segment on the whiteness of Martha's Vineyard and he had a "fun" proposal. It was to send 300,000 migrants to the island. The island actually has under 20,000 people who live there year-round. It's a place where rich people "summer" after the Hamptons got too conservative.
"So, suggesting you send 300,000 people there is about like suggesting you let Tucker Carlson bring you to sexual completion," Oliver said. "It is just a disgusting idea. It's a logistically impossible one. But it seems DeSantis took the idea and ran with it. So, I guess it's like they say, good artists borrow, great artists steal and racist governors get their ideas yelled at them by the human equivalent of the boat shoe found at the scene of a hazing."
Oliver called it grim and cynical," talking about the ways in which they were lured by fake brochures lying to them about where they were going and what would be available for them when they arrived. The brochure was so poorly designed that it didn't even have the real flag of the state of Massachusetts on the front. It was a flag that a guy on Imgur, who posted it saying, "The current one blows so I made this one."
Ironically, Ron DeSantis lived in Massachusetts for at least three years when he went to Harvard. So, "you would think that Ron DeSantis would have caught that error."
A San Antonio sheriff announced that he'd be launching an investigation into DeSantis for kidnapping the migrants from Texas and lying to them about where they were going.
"And if you're thinking, hold on, why a Texas sheriff and not a Florida one?" Oliver continued. "Well, it turns out for all DeSantis' talk about the urgency of this issue for his voters, these migrants didn't even come from his state. Why not? You know what? I'll just let him explain."
As it turns out, DeSantis said that there's not a huge flood of migrants coming into Florida. On the whole, it might just be a few.
"That's not enough to stop the mass migration if it's just coming in onesie-twosies," said DeSantis.
"It seems this huge problem for his state, mass migration, is actually so little of a problem he had to borrow 50 migrants from a state halfway across the country," said Oliver. "But, credit where it's due. Nothing says, 'I'm against illegal immigration and human trafficking quite like making fake documents to smuggle people across a border."
It was also reported by the New York Times on Sunday, that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who is also up for reelection, is furious at DeSantis for the plot. It's not clear, however, if Abbott will try and get DeSantis back by sending a bus of migrants to Disney World.
Oliver also noted that DeSantis always looks like he's wearing his suit over another suit.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver 9/25/22 FULL | HBO Last Week Tonight Sep 25, 2022 youtu.be
In 1994, the Republican Party announced a "Contract with America" which was not only a list of promises but a "blueprint for governing," wrote Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty.
In 2006, when Democrats were about to take over the House they announced their own list of promises, which was a list of 10 laws they promised to pass if enough were elected to take over the House.
This year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced his own list, complete with a video showing families that were actually from Russia and Ukraine. But his list is more of a list of MAGA conspiracies and promises that the GOP can never keep. McCarthy, for example, announced that any parent who was on the terrorist watch list for threatening a member of a school board would be removed. McCarthy and Congress has no control over the terrorist watch list.
"The Pittsburgh-area event was a telling indication of the difficulties that lie ahead for McCarthy if he is given the gavel he has so long coveted — and, with it, the responsibility to actually govern at the head of a fractious, fragile majority in which the most extreme members are determined to call the shots," explained Tumulty. "The hard-right Freedom Caucus has indicated that its support for McCarthy will hinge on rules changes that would curb the speaker’s power and make it easier to oust him."
Tumulty called McCarthy's list of promises nothing more than a bunch of slogans like “curb wasteful government spending” and “fight inflation and lower the cost of living.” They also pledged to “defend fairness by ensuring that only women can compete in women’s sports." They have no real hope of achieving any of the promises, but the everyday voter doesn't fully understand.
McCarthy's top priority, he said would, on its “very first day,” “repeal 87,000 IRS agents,” which is a conspiracy theory about a bill that hired more staff able to go after millionaires and billionaires who refuse to pay their taxes. The IRS has been in desperate need of funding for decades and as a result, many wealthy taxpayers have gotten away with dodging their part of the economy.
McCarthy went on to address abortion, saying they'd “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers," but didn't clarify how.
It's just a few of the GOP examples, including the impeachment of Biden and various investigations.
"McCarthy, for all his challenges, knows there is at least one situation in which House Republicans will stand together, and that is when they are on the attack," said Tumulty. "It’s a 'Commitment' they can be counted on to keep."
Read the full column in the Washington Post.