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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Smith: Democracy in the balance

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With exceedingly few exceptions, the rational political choice in America is deciding whether to be a Republican or a Democrat.

I have frequently referred to myself as a “reluctant Democrat.” Indeed, I have often stated that my sole reason for being a Democrat is that the alternative is being a Republican. Yet, despite some strong disagreements and deep disappointments with the Democratic Party, my affiliation is not in doubt. However, my identity as an American is infinitely more important to me than being a member of a particular political party. It is in that context that I write.

I very much favor our two-party political system. America needs two strong, well-informed and, most importantly, sane parties. Yes, it is somewhat uncomfortable for me to hope that the Republican Party will continue to be a viable entity — albeit with substantial changes to its messaging, its demographics, its dogged efforts to suppress voting, its tolerance of conspiracy theorists and its relationship with white nationalists.

At its base, the primary conflict between the two parties is that one is focused on expanding rights versus the other party that is focused on contracting rights. In terms of bridging the gap between the two, this fact is more important than tax policy, environmental policy, etc.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the “Grand Old Party” should become the Democratic Party by another name. I am suggesting that the Republican Party should not continue to exist in its current iteration. To use a well-worn metaphor, that party has gone off the rails. Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” is the immediate precipitator, with antecedents in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and Ronald Reagan’s winks and nods at white nationalism (via his self-professed support of “states’ rights” in the South).

The most recent Republican president — who was actually a Republican — recently weighed in. George W. Bush said, “I know this — that if the Republican Party stands for exclusivity, you know, used to be country clubs, now evidently it’s white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, then it’s not going to win anything.”

The problem is that Bush is wrong, at least in the short-term. Ironically, he is the only Republican presidential candidate since 1992 who won the popular vote. (He did so in 2004.) Remarkably, since 1992, Republican presidents and candidates have lost the popular vote by roughly 36 million votes — yet we’ve had three Republican presidents in that span. (Much the same is true for Congress.)

That is not democracy; it is the subversion thereof. They can only do so via gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Yet, Republicans understand that they can’t continue these tricks forever. The demographic clock is too powerful — and time is running out. Further, not only are most of their 250 or so voter suppression bills doomed to fail when challenged in court, their moral obligation to change should be self-evident. We’ll see what happens in the next few years.

The fractionalization of America is profoundly intensified in the halls of Congress, not to mention statehouses across “the fruited plain.” The entrenched nature of our two-party system makes it very difficult to imagine that we would experiment with another type of government, such as a parliamentary one. (Americans have always favored a bifurcated system as our preferred political setup long before the Democratic Party and the Republican Party came into existence.) I’m not holding my breath that things will change in my lifetime.

Despite its myriad flaws, America is still the indispensable nation. We cannot let our hatred of said flaws overcome the love that we have for our highest ideals — and the relentless pursuit thereof.

The most powerful, and even radical, response to exclusionary jingoism and myopic white nationalism is for African Americans and other people of color to forcefully assert our citizenship. We have paid for that citizenship in blood. Our children and grandchildren have a stake in the direction that this nation takes.

One party would take us down a path of destruction because it is unwilling — and at some point will be unable — to control its basest instincts. Right now, the Republican Party is winning the loser’s game. Republicans must change their ways in order for us all to win.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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