This isn’t democracy. It’s the heartbeat of authoritarianism

By | October 6, 2023

Joanne Freeman writes:

Without a doubt, the Republican ousting of Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy is a banner of dysfunction. Sifting through the chaos for its meaning is more complex. It certainly signals that something is broken, but what? It’s not the Republican Party’s fracture in and of itself. Fractured political parties are hardly new; the 19th century was the great age of splintering parties. We’ve had contentious speakerships before (though a party ousting its own speaker is something special). Extremism runs throughout American history. Even election denial isn’t new — though mostly congressional elections have been challenged. History teaches that much of the ugliness of the current moment has … well … a history.

More noteworthy is the willingness — even eagerness — of some Republicans to abandon democratic standards, norms and practices. This isn’t an ethereal matter of a broken spirit or wrong-headed ideals. It’s a brass-tacks reality, a strategy in motion throughout the nation: election denial, contested voting rights, denouncing any and all opposition as illicit and un-American. For the most part, fellow Republicans have allowed this extremism to flourish unopposed.

But it’s not an extreme faction of the Republican Party at fault, at least, not alone. The party’s unity is the problem, its shared focus on ends (uncontested rule) over means (democratic practices). Norms and rules be damned, they feel entitled to maintaining power. This isn’t democracy. It’s the heartbeat of authoritarianism.

At its core, democracy is governance by contestation. Debate and compromise, free and fair elections, are contests that test policies and leadership, reflect public interests and foster change. Kevin McCarthy’s seeming sin — negotiation — is the lifeblood of democracy and Congress.

The Republican attack on democratic give-and-take has exposed a hard truth: Democracy doesn’t go of itself. Americans have taken it for granted. We’ve assumed that it’s ours by right. It isn’t. It’s a process, not an endpoint. It must be bettered and defended, or it fails. So the answer to the question: what’s broken? Our commitment to democracy is broken; many of us can’t see — or refuse to see —that yawning abyss; and Republicans are seizing that advantage and damaging democracy in the process. [Continue reading…]

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