PHOENIX — Make no mistake: Our democracy is facing its greatest threat in modern history.
The threat is not confined to the violent assault by thousands of former President Donald Trump’s supporters on the Capitol Building that left one police officer dead, more than 150 others injured, and temporarily stopped in its tracks a Congressional vote to certify the 2020 presidential election.
It is not confined to the failed vote in the U.S. Senate in support of the For The People Act, a sweeping piece of legislation put forth by Democrats aimed at protecting voting rights in the face of a torrent of bills proposed in Republican-led state legislatures that aim to do the exact opposite.
Nor is it confined to the steady but unsurprising stream of revelations since Trump left office that he had absolutely no qualms throughout his presidency of abusing the immense power he possessed to exact revenge on his political opponents.
The GOP’s now dogged push to dismantle our democracy also needs to be viewed through the lens of the Republicans’ mounting corruption that stretches back at least to the era of President Richard M. Nixon, our country’s most criminal modern-day president until Trump came along.
Trump’s public and behind-the-scenes role in pressing a completely fictitious claim, that President Joe Biden’s decisive November win was somehow fraudulent, is simply the latest evidence of Trump’s corrupting influence on the GOP.
The difference between the threats posed by Nixon versus Trump is that most Republicans in the 1970s were still willing to defend the rule of law, the norms underlying a representative democracy and our common understanding of what we know to be right or wrong.
Today, the courage and willingness to protect the idea that everyone who’s qualified to vote deserves a chance to vote has all but vanished in the GOP.
Instead of backing our country’s centuries-long struggle to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, Republicans, under the manufactured guise of “election integrity,” have regressed to a time not so long ago when both major parties treated voting as a birthright of the few, instead of the civil and political right of the many.
As Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reminded us in his defense of the For the People Act, at the birth of our nation’s independence, only white, land-owning men could legally vote.
But all of that was supposed to change with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the mid-1960s.
A great many white Americans and, yes, even some people of color, deeply resented the passage of those landmark bills by President Lyndon Johnson, passing on that enmity to their children, many of whom grew up to form the core of the Trump base that now has a choke hold on the GOP. The bills combined to spur a political realignment that saw many white Southern Democrats flock to the Republican Party, which then built a national political strategy of capitalizing on white Southern grievances.
The result is that today’s Republican Party is now inherently authoritarian in spirit and practice. The Cindy McCains, Liz Cheneys and Colin Powells of the GOP are a fading breed.
There is a rot at the center of the modern Republican party.
Donald Trump’s Big Lie has lit a wildfire of voter suppression laws sweeping across our country.
This Senate will vote today on moving forward on critical voting rights legislation.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 22, 2021
“There is a rot – a rot – at the center of the modern Republican party,” Schumer said after Republicans voted to block the For The People Act. “Donald Trump’s Big Lie [that he, not Biden, won the 2020 election] . . . has poisoned our democracy, eroded faith in our elections, which is so detrimental to the future faith people need to have in this democracy.”
The failure by a single Republican to back last Tuesday’s procedural vote simply to begin debate on the For the People Act is not just evidence of the party’s fear and unwillingness to challenge the Trump-anointed majority view in today’s GOP, but it suggests that, in their eyes, democracy as we’ve known it is no longer worth defending.
James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant based in Phoenix, AZ, the editor and publisher of the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America, and author of the upcoming book “Vanguardia: The American Latino Renaissance & the Future of Our Nation.” Twitter: @JG_Vanguardia.