BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“The facts won’t matter. Your votes won’t matter. They [the Republicans] will just decide what they want and then do it. That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.”
President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Atlanta, Jan. 11, 2022
American democracy first. Maybe.
It may come in last unless enough people care enough about one goal so that both moderate Democratic and Republican lawmakers could successfully create legislation that would pass both houses of Congress. The goal: Keeping our democracy intact.
The Democrats appear to be giving up on changing or deleting the Senate’s filibuster rule because Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona object to monkeying with the political tool that requires 60 votes instead of a majority to pass legislation, budget bills aside.
President Joe Biden, who has much on his plate, from dealing with new variants of COVID-19 to Russia threatening a new Cold War missile crisis, from 7 percent inflation to shortages of masks and home tests, couldn’t persuade those two Senate Democrats last week to kill the Senate filibuster rule in order to rescue voting rights from the abyss of Republican racism.
Maybe Biden has too much to do and not enough energy to handle it all. Where’s Vice President Kamala Harris? Thinking about her political future? She won’t have one unless she is more engaged publicly in the political present.
No wonder Biden was frustrated and angry when he spoke briefly with reporters following a meeting with his party’s senators and after he was denied his hallmark $2 trillion Build Back Better legislation.
He’s losing his early FDR image as a savior of his people to looming as a handicapped leader, trapped by events that have slipped beyond his control (e.g., failure to prepare for the Omicron variant) and criticized mercilessly by GOP politicians who describe him as a “radical socialist,” which he is not. But they’ll say anything less than true, more than false.
The president finally did get up the steam to do what he should have done ages ago: he condemned the 19 Republican-led states that have curtailed voting rights for minorities to reduce the number of potential Democratic voters.
“The state legislative bodies continue to change the law not as to who can vote, but who gets to count the vote — count the vote,” Biden said. “Count the vote! It’s about election subversion, not just whether or not people get to vote. Who counts the vote? That’s what this is about. That’s what makes this so different from anything we’ve ever done.”
This is how Donald Trump tried to subvert the 2020 election that he lost and lies like a 5-year-old that he won. He said falsely, for example, that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to change the electors who voted for Biden instead of him.
To try to ensure this can’t happen again, moderate Democrats and Republicans are working in two separate groups to update the Electoral Count Act, adopted in 1887, in an effort to protect the administration of elections and the counting of votes.
They seek to prohibit the removal of nonpartisan election officials without cause, to set penalties for intimidating election officials and how Congress legitimizes election results to prevent discarding state electoral votes, as Trump’s congressional allies tried to do, according to New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman Saturday.
One of the voter suppression issues, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Weisman, “is voting administration, where you get into substituting partisan people for nonpartisan administrators, purging voter election boards, allowing election boards to eliminate polling places and also the whole mechanics of counting.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who condemned Trump for instigating the Capitol siege and no longer speaks with him, seemed to accept changing the Electoral Count Act. “It obviously has some flaws,” he told reporters. “And I think it should be discussed.”
What this kind of procedural change doesn’t affect, if it becomes law, is the actual voting restrictions such as no mail-in voting, shorter voting hours and, in Georgia, even prohibiting food and water being served to people waiting in line to cast ballots. But there are some who believe the administration of an election — who runs it and how — is far more significant than limiting voting, Weisman reported.
I’m reluctant to criticize Biden because he and his party are our last best hope for saving us from the biggest bull artist that occupied the White House in modern times and from his backers in Congress who unconscionably spread the Big Lie that the big blusterer won reelection.
“No country had ever attempted democracy on this scale, over such a large territory, where so many people would rule themselves,” wrote Barbara F. Walter in her new book, “How Civil Wars Start.” She is a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego.
The horror of slavery and the lack of rights for women and white workers who couldn’t own land aside, the founding fathers could have created any political system they wanted, from a monarchy to dividing rich lands to make themselves lords, she wrote.
But “Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay [the first chief justice] tried to anticipate all the challenges the new nation would face: state versus federal power; how to prevent the tyranny of the majority; the threat of destructive factions. They knew that such a country would be raucous, unwieldy, and prone to conflict. And yet they persisted, believing a better, freer world was possible,” Walter wrote.
This is what today’s Republicans, unlike their ancestral brethren who fought slavery, are trying to destroy.
It seems as if we’re falling apart as a country, that more and more is getting beyond our control, that we’re losing our democratic experiment in a laboratory where the poison of autocracy slowly is being developed by the likes of a Stephen K. Bannon and supported by millions of Trump voters who may not care or understand what’s going on.
We’re depending on Biden and his Democrats to get us out of this, to bring us together and restore America to its unified greatness.
If the British had given up, as we seem to be doing, during their darkest hour in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1940, when Hitler was conquering France, Belgium and the Netherlands and Britain stood alone during the Blitz and considered surrendering, the Nazis would have taken over.
But America and what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” came through and was a major savior in the fate of Europe and Asia. We can’t let that greatness die.
Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.