A Parade of Horribles for the Democratic Party
The party of Donald Trump is poised to have more control over the levers of power than any political party in United States history. This is the absolute pinnacle of power that any political coalition has ever seen in since the founding of the Republic.
On the state level, Republicans now hold 68 of the 99 state legislatures, including control of both chambers in 33 states. They control 33 Governor’s Mansions. The number of states where Republicans control both state legislative chambers and the Governorship (known as a trifecta) currently sits at literally half of the Republic: 25 states. How many trifectas do Democrats have? Six. Six!
On the Federal level, Republicans command a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. The 4-4 Supreme Court will have its conspicuous vacancy filled from a nomination by Donald Trump – who will control the Executive Branch, replete with all the accumulated power the Presidency has scooped up over time through court rulings and congressional dithering.
This didn’t all happen in one election. The trend has been incremental but steady. Republicans took the House in 2010 by winning a whopping 63 seats at once. They took the Senate in 2014 and expanded their House majority. Over the course of the Obama Presidency, Democrats lost more than 900 state legislative seats. (!!) In the election that happened last Tuesday, there were a total of 93 state executive seats (state attorneys general, etc.) up for grabs – Republicans won a solid 56 of them.
A One Party Republic
In the 2018 mid-term elections, the situation becomes even more dire for Democrats, as they will be defending an incredible 25 of the 33 contested seats. That places them in a more substantial defensive posture than any party has experienced in modern Senate elections. They will be defending states like Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Florida, and Missouri. No easy hill to climb to regain a majority, and a grave threat that could potentially permit Republicans to pass the magic 60 mark – eliminating any odds of a traditional filibuster for the minority party.
Despite winning substantial Electoral-College and popular-vote majorities two times in a row, Presidential excitement never truly turned into success in down-ballot races. And now it seems that the “Demographics are Destiny” mantra that has been repeated ad infinitum the past 8 years is no longer a viable calming balm during election season for the Democratic Party. Especially when at least 7 million voters from the Obama coalition didn’t even bother to participate in the most consequential election in world history.
It’s is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the premise that the United States is a two party nation. Maryland and Massachusetts have Republican Governors. Even Bernie Sanders’s Vermont has a Republican Governor. For 8 years, the massive losses among Democrats were masked by having power at the tippy top. Now that this mask is being ripped off, the starkness of the devastation is more obvious. The Presidency, despite sweeping GOP control of other areas of Government, elicited from the citizenry a continued illusion that problems could be thrown at the President’s heels – and Republican opposition was more than happy to encourage such dramatics.
Republicans no longer have such a foil. They will have to govern whether they like it or not, and they will have broad leverage and mandate to govern good and hard. Even after replacing Scalia to restore the court to its previous 5-4 orientation, one must consider that Justice Ginsburg is 83 years old, and Stephen Breyer is 78 years old. In four years those ages will be 87 and 82. As another shrimp to the GOP gumbo, there does not seem to be any writing on the wall that could harm them in the foreseeable future. Certainly, control of this much government will demand accountability to some extent, with potential electoral consequences. But for 2 to 4 solid years, their control will be impenetrable, and with gerrymandered districts just to be sure. Even with a successful impeachment, the party of the Presidency does not change hands to a different party.
There have been other times when a political party had widespread power. But never this broadly based, and not in the information age – where coordination and communication is instantly possible and infinitely easier.
This scenario is bothersome. It’s not how we generally think of checks and balances, or even federalism. There’s a reason for that.
Federalist Paper #10
The constitution was designed in-part to “break and control the violence of faction.” James Madison conveniently proferred a definition for factions:
[A] number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
Re-read that one more time, and see if that definition doesn’t entirely apply to this situation, in your own estimation. Pay particular attention to the “…adversed to the rights of other citizens” phrase – and keep in mind all the policy proposals that Donald Trump has thrown around which meet the definition.
Mass deportations, higher suspicion for certain religions, callous indifference to a free press, disdain for speech and assembly, punishing women who terminate their pregnancies, bringing back waterboarding, illegal trials for Americans, bombing innocent families, a casual attitude toward misogyny and sexual assault, and on and on. Add to this, the existing platforms and proposals of his party – the privatization of Medicare, the un-funding of women’s healthcare, and bringing back the notorious HUAC committee specifically to investigate Muslims. None of these things are made up accusations of a liberal, they are the documented facts.
Madison laces Federalist #10 with other pieces of definition throughout the document. Do these look familiar?
- “…a zeal for different opinions concerning religion”
- “…much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
- “…enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
Madison goes on to say there only two cures for factionalism. One is to entirely destroy liberty, and so he quickly dismisses it as worse than the disease it cures. The other is to accept factionalism as a democratic reality, but to “control its effects.” Among those features that control the effects include the division of a central government with the various states, the implementation of representative democracy rather than direct, and finally – the maintenance of a large Republic so that through the sheer force of numbers and geographic distance it makes it difficult for a movement to obtain a majority. He intimates that in a large republic the voters will have a greater diversity of options and may thereby select more competent candidates for office. His actual words are striking:
Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.
The above paragraph describes, explicitly, what has happened. A political majority has been mustered in elective positions across the board – on the state and federal level – they share a national platform (common motive) – and in the information age they are empowered to act in unison and coordinate unlike ever before – and they are led by a man who wishes, by his own admission, to invade the rights of other citizens.
Madison wrote Federalist #10 to defend the Constitution, and to support ratification by explaining that this was unlikely to happen under the governance of the document he played such a critical role in drafting. He has been more or less right for the past 235 years.
On November 11, 2016 things changed. This is the most dangerous game, and we get to see it play out in real time.