I spend so much time dissecting the nonstop torrent of conservative bad-faith politics that I find myself crying and shaking and dry heaving when I come across conservative good faith, which is – without fail – viscerally frightening.
And when that nightmarish good faith bubbles to the surface of mainstream Republican politics and becomes part of the party's platform, well, my bowels move and I shit all over myself. I'm OK. Stop asking if I'm OK.
Several state-level Republican Party platforms now include identifying the United States as a republic, not a democracy. The latest developments come from Texas and Indiana, where Republicans saw fit to clarify that our country is not, by any means, a "democracy." This is good faith. They mean this shit.
You may recognize "we're not a democracy, we're a republic" as the domain of college campus political nerds in the early 2000s. Fashy little shits wearing golf shirts and pleated khakis would push their glasses up the bridge of their nose and make the grand pronouncement: "Actually, we aren't a democracy, we're a republic." Back then, this was usually meant as a brutal own of whoever they were debating and as a clarification – a resetting of the debate. The US, they charge, has never had – and will never have – a majoritarian system of governance. The argument that we are in fact a republic is in itself a justification for permanent minority rule, that people don't know what's good for them, and Republicans should not have to court voters and earn their support in order to rule the nation.
It's a concept as old as intellectual conservatism itself, and the worst part is that it's correct (more on that later).
Some of this drive to re-label America as a republic is probably an idiotic conservative need to strip "democrat" from any identifying markers of the US, as recently pointed out by New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, who has written incisively about the country's twilight of democracy. Another interpretation is darker and far more consequential: American conservatives simply do not believe that a Democrat can be legitimately elected – an animating force of the American right since Bill Clinton improbably snuck out a win in the 1992 election. Twenty-eight years before Joe Biden's victory was deemed illegitimate, Clinton's win was dubbed a farce. It was a raw deal, as the dearly departed Rush Limbaugh said every day for eight fucking years.
Republicans should stick to bad-faith arguments they don't mean: More guns will stop mass shootings, abortion is dangerous, prayer has been removed from schools, a teacher with blue hair made my kid gay, things of that nature. It's when they veer into good faith arguments – shit they actually mean – that I find myself flustered, utterly unable to process what is happening and why it's happening. The poop: It's filled my pants.
I'm once again begging the American right: Stop being earnest. Stick to trying to trick me.
Take This Shit Seriously
The Texas Republican Party platform has a bunch of Republican boilerplate nonsense like calling gay folks unnatural and lauding lower taxes as a panacea for our every economic ill and calling for unfettered access to guns designed to eviscerate the human body.
It also has this fun little side note: Repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That right there is good faith Republican politics injected straight into the bulging forearm vein. That shit is pure conservatism rocketing straight to the brain. Sit back and let it take you to the darkest corners of 21st Century dystopia. That's the stuff.
These people want to do away with the landmark federal legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in voting. The law had to be passed because the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution were not enough. For a century, white Americans had devised myriad ways to stop folks of color from voting. And, of course, those discriminatory efforts didn't end with passage of the Voting Rights Act. Republican-held state legislatures have invented more devious ways to deny the vote to historically oppressed people, from voter ID laws to legislation limiting the days and times for voting to onerous requirements for registering as a voter to purging voter roles for no eason at all.
The unadulterated evil of the American right – and its unquenchable thirst for absolute power – can best be seen in its multi-pronged assault on Americans' ballot box access. If you think "evil" is a bit strong, if you're urging me to calm down, consider what elections expert Rick Hasen told The Washington Post: The goal of Texas Republicans could be to kill the VRA and reinstitute "literacy" tests for voters, a vile tactic used for decades to curtail voting in communities of color.
Congressional lawmakers validated the need for the Voting Rights Act again and again over the years, extending its main anti-discrimination provisions in the 70s, the 80s, and and 90s. Hell, it was extended in 2006 with huge congressional majorities. This included the legal concept of pre-clearance: White-dominated southern states, having shown they are incapable of governing themselves in a fair and humane way, had to gain approval from the federal government before they made even the slightest change to voting policies. (As unapologetic Yankee scum and someone who loves Neil Young's "Southern Man" and hates Young's subsequent apologies for "Southern Man," I think white southerners should have permanently lost their right to self governance as a post-Civil War punishment, and that Reconstruction should have never ended. This would have sent a clear message to any future southerners who so much as thought of fucking with the union, and given political power to black majorities that were subjugated for generations)
John Roberts and the Supreme Court's far-right justices lit pre-clearance aflame in 2013, tearing down any and all barriers for Republican-controlled states to pass horrifyingly discriminatory laws designed to suppress voter turnout in heavily-Democratic regions. In Texas alone, Republicans have barred election officials from sending voters unsolicited vote-by-mail applications, created hurdles to obtaining absentee ballots approved, and targeted populous Democratic counties by outlawing measures officials had taken to make voting slightly less difficult. It's hardly a coincidence that Republican-majority legislatures implemented anti-democracy measures mere minutes after the Roberts Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. This is the plan. It always has been. The Republican Machine is well oiled, perfectly organized, and ready to fuck you up.
This good-faith effort at undercutting the power of the popular will should be taken seriously not just by unhinged leftists doom scrolling 15 hours a day, but by anyone who desires a future in which a small but powerful minority of right-wing politicians and judges don't control every last aspect of public policy.
Filmmaker and author Astra Taylor, maker of the excellent 2018 documentary "What Is Democracy," said in October 2020 – while Republican members of Congress talked incessantly about the US as a republic – that the right's strategic linguistic shift is an admission that Republicans can no longer capture majorities. And that, to Republicans, does not matter.
I think you’re seeing a real shift in conservative rhetoric because they are giving up on winning majorities. If you go back 50 years, books like The Emerging Republican Majority, and even around the period of George Bush, there was this idea, “OK, well, if Republicans want to keep winning majorities, we need to appeal more to the conservative Latino vote.” And the party has just gone in the opposite direction of that. It’s figuring out how to maintain dominance with a minority of support. And so, in that sense, I think the rhetoric is really telling. It’s a way of rationalizing the further entrenchment of minority rule. And the thing is that there’s something to their perspective. Political institutions in this country are not majoritarian. There is a long history of exclusion. And there are quite a few veto points in the political system that obstruct majoritarian policies. So they have a lot to draw on and it’s not a novel political philosophy. It’s a reversion to the American norm in some way. Because we haven’t really been a fully inclusive democracy, ever. And to the degree that we have, it’s been for just a generation—since the Voting Rights Act—and they’re already giving up on that.
When one of our two major political parties admits, in both word and deed, that they are finished seeking public approval for their wildly unpopular agenda, we have to take it seriously. It's not a fading alarm somewhere in the distance, it's not a far-away voice crying out from over the mountains, but a bullhorn pressed straight to your face, begging you to wake the fuck up.
It reminds me of the first months of the Trump administration, when so-called resistance libs – "shit libs," as right-wing performance artist Glenn Greenwald might call them – repeated the line: When they tell you who they are, believe them. As a connoisseur of right-wing bad faith, I had (major) reservations about this warning, that one could tell what a Republican wants when a Republican speaks. This had never been the case. It couldn't possibly be the case now.
I dismissed this call to believe conservatives when they supposedly tell you who they are until I read essays from journalists who had documented (or lived through) countries that had slid quickly into autocracy – Hungary foremost among them. These writers said with the force of experience that Hungary's autocrats, led by dictator Viktor Orban, had stormed into national politics and been clear about what they wanted: An illiberal nation that did not accept democracy as a viable form of governance and the rolling back of hard-fought progressive victories that had expanded human rights for oppressed groups.
Hungarians handed power to Orban and his cohorts, and that was the ballgame. Hungary has lost democracy and all its trappings for at least one generation, maybe several. Republicans, naturally, flocked to Orban's home country to hold their annual CPAC conference, taking notes from a man who had just recently dismantled a democratically elected government (Orban's best pieces of advice to American fascists were to crush LGBTQ rights and to inundate every home, every public space, with nonstop media dedicated to the fascist cause – something the U.S. right has done for 30 years).
When leaders of the American conservative movement and U.S. senators tweet shit like, "Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that," we should take it quite literally. We must believe they will deny the popular will if they are allowed to do so. I take no pleasure in saying this, as it makes me sound like a baby boomer resistance lib with a Twitter avatar of Donald Trump in a tiara fucking a lipstick-wearing Vladamir Putin.
The Right is Right About Being A Republic
It's now time to undermine myself and admit that the United States was indeed founded as a republic, and that the founders – those deeply flawed and fallible human beings – crafted a system in which the economic elite would have total power over the nation. The resurgent conservative tradition of shouting about America being a republic stems from a deep fear that actual democracy – Athenian democracy, you might call it – would lead to a vast redistribution of wealth and a just society in which economic rights are human rights.
As Washington state's Republican gubernatorial candidate said in 2020, democracy leads to socialism. Yeah. It does. Let's fucking go.
Astra Taylor, the author and filmmaker, acknowledged that Republicans are technically correct when they dismiss the idea of America as a democracy. Like Taylor, I don't give a shit what the founders intended. Fuck the founders. May they rest in piss.
This is why it’s important to understand the history of this country. The Founding Fathers were very concerned with protecting minority rights. They didn’t understand the phrase minority rights as we understand it today—protections for trans people, immigrants, et cetera. But they were very concerned with the rights of the opulent. And that’s one of their words, right? Madison said that it’s very important to structure the Senate as they did to protect the rights of the opulent minority against the landless masses. John Adams wrote at length about how terrible it would be if you had a system where there’s rule of the majority, because the impoverished masses would vote to redistribute wealth. That is a fact of this nation’s history. And that is the history that these Republican figures are actually conjuring when they talk about the United States being a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Mike Lee is an economic libertarian, and in his tweet he emphasized liberty and prosperity. He didn’t say equality or prosperity broadly shared, right? So it’s all about protecting property from the masses who would seek redistributive reforms, and John Adams warned of that.
Against the founders' wishes, Americans have outlawed discrimination in schools, government, housing, and employment. Americans have expanded voting rights to non-land owners and black and brown folks and women. Against the founders' wishes, Americans have allowed LGBTQ folks to marry each other and for people to end a pregnancy without permission from a dude or the state or anyone else. Every positive development in American history has come when we buck the poisonous wisdom of the nation's founders, a violent and morally reprehensible group of elitists, rapists, and white supremacists who cared not for the American people, but for themselves.
Today's Republicans can't just be content with their built-in advantages. The Electoral College, a favorite of our nation's slave owning class two centuries ago, is inherently anti-democratic, ensuring that conservatives do not have to appeal to majorities in order to capture the White House. A Republican Party that had to contend with a presidential contest based on a strict popular vote would probably look something like today's Democratic Party, while the Democrats would resemble socialist parties in western Europe. The US would be unrecognizable: We would have had universal health care for a century, bridges and roads that didn't crumble on our heads every few years, high-functioning school systems and free college, a real transit system, a prison system that didn't put someone in a cage for twenty years for smoking pot once, and a social safety net that did not allow Americans to fall below a certain economic floor.
But no. The Electoral College ensures none of that is possible. It is an institution that will deliver a future in which a Democratic presidential candidate beats their Republican opponent by 25 million votes and fails to win the White House. Not even that is enough anti-democracy for these cretins. We must have less democracy, they say. For we are a republic.
The grand right-wing project over the past half century has been centered on an unbreakable Supreme Court majority that would steadily roll back the rights and freedoms gained via the democratic process, re-establishing what the founders wanted. As we see every Tuesday morning this spring and summer – when the Court releases its rulings and opinions – the plan is working fabulously. A few more years of a 6-3 right-wing SCOTUS majority and we'll be back to the nation's founding. Maybe they can exhume James Madison and reanimate the motherfucker so he can take a look around the place. Maybe he can go see a play on Broadway or some shit.
The right may be right about the US being a republic, but that does not mean we must accept an undemocratic fate. Americans who see the darkness creeping into view, more and more every election cycle, have to take the right's good-faith arguments seriously. Failing to do so will one day leave us with nothing left to lose. Republic or democracy, that's no place to be.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter @CDCarter13 for maximum alienation.