“We’re not a democracy,” U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) Tweeted Oct. 7 setting off a minor storm in an election season made up of almost nothing but storms.
The next day Lee followed up his first Tweet with another stating “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
Of course, what Lee means by the U.S. not being a democracy is pretty much the same as the Founding Fathers meant: Concentrating power into the hands of a property-owning and wealthy aristocracy. Of course, Lee’s definition has probably expanded to include “evangelical Christians and whatever other group votes for the GOP” since that’s who that line tends to appeal to. In turn, that’s who Trump is leaning on to be the muscle in forcing through victory despite its his ever-narrowing path.
Put simply, Lee wants people like himself to make decisions for the rest of us.
The vision they want to impose, much like the one that troubled Plato and other Greek philosophers in their criticism of democracy, is a form of tyranny. Tyranny rooted in power that is handed over to them by using the framework of the system they’ve made their careers in. It’s not unimaginable, many democracies have voted themselves into autocracy several times in history. You can see this with modern Russia, Turkey, Venezuela and potentially Brazil. All countries where leaders were voted into power upon populist waves.
People like Lee may not have the same vision as many other autocratic regimes. They may not censor criticism, throw the opposition in jail or carry out assassinations of journalists. No, their vision is working within the bounds of the US Constitution to simply ignore their opponents and concentrate power back into the hands of their particular elite. It would be like living under an unfettered Trump, less scary and more stressful and frustrating as science, fairness and welfare are simply ignored … ignored until a critical mass gathers and the US itself just explodes.
Of course, Lee simply ignores the 232 years after the Constitution was ratified. Like many Republicans, who call themselves “originalists” he’s decided that time should have stood still in 1788.
Knocking down authoritarian aspirations
Luckily, 2020 provides the opportunity to knock down the authoritarian ambitions with a wrecking ball for at least a few years. The reason you’re hearing Lee and, in turn, other Republicans and right-wing “intellectuals” disparaging democracy is because it’s working against them. If they fail to hold on to power this year, they may not have the chance to come back to power.
For years Republicans have been warned about the demographic changes in the U.S. Before 2012, they tried and usually failed to court minorities and more women in the US, changing little from their mostly white male and evangelical base, even losing minorities that had traditionally voted Republican. According to Pew, 74 percent of the 2018 electorate was white and Republicans won 54 percent of the white vote, the same percentage they won in 2016. But unlike 2016, they lost. That loss was thanks to the increase of the US minority vote as well as the white Democratic vote climbing from 39 percent in 2016 to 44 percent in 2018. This year, it looks possible that the Republicans may lose white women and white college-educated voters, which means that their already demographically narrow base is getting more narrow.
Fight the future and lose
There’s no telling what 2022 and 2024 may sow if Republicans lose the House, Senate and Presidency. The next federal election in 2022 doesn’t have a lot of opportunities for them to pick up seats and they could face even more devastating losses depending on how Trump handles what looks like an electoral defeat. If they line up behind him despite a clear-cut victory for Joe Biden, they will likely doom themselves and bring about their demise faster than demographics. If the current trend continues, they are looking at becoming the rural party, representing large districts with low densities, still clinging to the national county map that shows them “ruling” America. They’ll still long for the old days of the Republic’s founding when gentlemen farmers who owned large amounts of property and slaves held the most power in government and keep working to circumvent the popular vote and eventually the electoral vote (which Trump looks prime to do this year if that doesn’t go his way). Over time and census by census, you’ll probably see their numbers shrink as more rural young people pack the cities and older urbanites choose to find slower lives past the suburbs. The Republicans will see their districts get bigger but their numbers grow smaller.
Lee and other Republicans know this. Trump also knows this and that’s why he’s pulling out all the stops to combat what’s looking like a defeat that even the electoral college can’t save him from, even if he does get the Pennsylvania state legislature to appoint its own electors.
For this to happen, though, people are going to have to vote. For many, that means braving the pandemic to vote early or on election day. It means possibly seeing, even being harassed by, armed militia who are hiding behind the title of “poll watchers.”
When the day comes that Republicans are no longer an obstacle to democracy, there’s other challenges facing it. Democracy in the long-term functions because of a lot of small factors outside of the framework which it exists. Democracy is dependent on education, interest in participation and self-interest of those voting. Trump and the Republican Party are a short-term obstacle in the scheme of things. They are small compared to the coming challenges of democracy like climate change, human-replacing technology, social media, globalization and many other factors that the will of the people may not be that good for the species. No matter how educated humans are, they are not good at thinking beyond their own temporal existence. Eventually, the day may come that humans can go no further with democracy or technology brings us to a point where humanity no longer thinks about being governed.
Who’s to say that’s a bad thing?