Links and Comments: Fear and Playing Dirty

Two items from about a month ago, both from The New York Times.

Why Republicans Play Dirty. Subtitled: “They fear that if they stick to the rules, they will lose everything. Their behavior is a threat to democratic stability.”

The writers are Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, political scientists and the authors of “How Democracies Die.”

“The greatest threat to our democracy today is a Republican Party that plays dirty to win.” They give examples, such as the refusal to hear Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia. And gerrymandering. And Republican state legislators passing laws to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governors. And Trump’s shenanigans.

Why is the Republican Party playing dirty? Republican leaders are not driven by an intrinsic or ideological contempt for democracy. They are driven by fear.

They review historical counterparts.

Republicans appear to be in the grip of a similar panic today. Their medium-term electoral prospects are dim. For one, they remain an overwhelmingly white Christian party in an increasingly diverse society. As a share of the American electorate, white Christians declined from 73 percent in 1992 to 57 percent in 2012 and may be below 50 percent by 2024. Republicans also face a generational challenge: Younger voters are deserting them. In 2018, 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Democrats by more than 2 to 1, and 30-somethings voted nearly 60 percent for Democrats.

Demography is not destiny, but as California Republicans have discovered, it often punishes parties that fail to adapt to changing societies. The growing diversity of the American electorate is making it harder for the Republican Party to win national majorities. Republicans have won the popular vote in presidential elections just once in the last 30 years.

Much of the Republican base views defeat as catastrophic. White Christians are losing more than an electoral majority; their once-dominant status in American society is eroding. Half a century ago, white Protestant men occupied nearly all our country’s high-status positions: They made up nearly all the elected officials, business leaders and media figures. Those days are over, but the loss of a group’s social status can feel deeply threatening. Many rank-and-file Republicans believe that the country they grew up in is being taken away from them. Slogans like “take our country back” and “make America great again” reflect this sense of peril.

Similarly, Paul Krugman: Republicans Don’t Believe in Democracy

Many examples.

What the stories have in common, however, is that they illustrate contempt for democracy and constitutional government. Elections are supposed to have consequences, conveying power to the winners. But when Democrats win an election, the modern G.O.P. does its best to negate the results, flouting norms and, if necessary, the law to carry on as if the voters hadn’t spoken.

What can Democrats do about this situation? They need to win elections, but all too often that won’t be sufficient, because they confront a Republican Party that at a basic level doesn’t accept their right to govern, never mind what the voters say. So winning isn’t enough; they also have to be prepared for that confrontation.

These issues remind me of the ways religious conservatives cut corners that would seem to undermine their supposed high morals, to get their way. (E.g., manufacturing fake or misleading tapes to undermine Planned Parenthood.) My impression there, and perhaps this applies to Republicans too, is that they have a sense of a ‘higher cause’ that must be served, and ordinary rules and standards don’t matter, at least when dealing with heathens. The continued support by evangelicals for Donald Trump is the most glaring example of this, and which completely discredits the religious right’s claim to any kind of moral standards. To me, all of this means, if you have to lie and cheat to get your way, your positions must be indefensible on their grounds.

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