The Republican Party has been dominated by Donald Trump and it still appears that his followers continue to dominate its ranks. A Trump dominated Republican Party is dangerous because it’s not dedicated to democratic government, norms or rules. We survived Trump, barely, but would we survive another term with someone like Trump intent on becoming dictator and tearing down all the democratic structures, restrictions and barriers to dictatorship and despotism? Political scientists like Kim Scheppele see a path to a nondemocratic takeover after the ground has been broken by an unsuccessful first try. Therefore it’s crucial that the Republican Party emerge from the Trump nightmare. It’s not enough that the rest of the country rejected him. We all have a stake in a loyal opposition – not one dedicated to pulling down the pillars of the temple.
How. It’s critical to change the election laws so that a party loyal to a would-be dictator like Trump cannot emerge. His victories have depended on strengthening the extreme wings of the Republican party by gerrymandering legislative seats and excluding voters from the polls who would vote for more moderate candidates at all levels – federal, state and local.
The Supreme Court could have solved those problems, much like the Warren Court did with its decisions on reapportionment, the Voting Rights Act and poll taxes. But the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts have refused to support structural supports for fair elections, supporting instead the exclusion of legitimate voters from the polls, gerrymandering at all levels of government, and emasculating the Voting Rights Act so that states have a clear path to excluding opposing voters from the polls.
That means the Biden Administration and its friends in both houses of Congress have to do it by statute, as allowed by Art. I, sec. 4. It may take heavy lifting but no sacrifice is too great. If they can do that, the Republican Party will have to respond to a broader electorate and its Trump voters won’t have clear shots either to nomination or to victory.
I don’t want to bury the Republican Party; I want to reform it so that it can perform its proper functions, serving as watchdog and providing alternatives. A disloyal party, however, cannot and must not be tolerated.
I don’t know whether the path to those reforms requires ending or changing the rules regarding the filibuster but I’m all for it. The filibuster blocked Civil Rights legislation for years, protected segregation, lynching, the violence of the Klan and their allies against Freedom Riders and people trying to register to vote. Anti-lynching legislation was still being blocked last year after being introduced more than a century ago.
The filibuster could be procedurally weakened, the requirements for filibustering could be made more onerous, election laws removed from its clutches, or the filibuster could be eliminated completely.
Whatever it takes, Schumer, Harris and Biden have to create a path through the filibuster’s roadblock – a path to more democratic election laws that will help to make American democracy reliable, opposition parties loyal, and our constitutional system something we can be proud of again.
This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on the WAMC Northeast Report, on January 26, 2021.