There are other dates in history that live in infamy.
Exactly 160 years ago yesterday, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina’s legislature voted to withdraw from the Union known as the United States. That Union had been enshrined in a document replete with compromises about slavery and popular representation, among others, and called the Constitution.
Over a short period of time, ten other states joined the Palmetto State in the act of withdrawing from the Union. The act of secession was, in fact, a decision to refrain from governing the country under the provisions of the Constitution. The seceding states elected the alternative to rule their jurisdictions without acceding to the compromises and agreements undertaken at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
On December 7, 2020, 18 states filed suit challenging the election results in four sister states (GA, MI, PA, and WI). Nine of the plaintiffs were also among the 11 (not GA and VA) Confederate states in the 1860s. The gravamen centered upon a refusal to accept a Constitutional process for the election of president and vice president. The 18 states were joined in an amicus brief by 126 Republican members of the US House of Representatives. In essence, the complainants sought to withdraw from governance of the nation under its laws.
The transition of the national and state GOP political objectives from governance to rule occurred over time, most notably as the party has failed to appeal to a broader electoral constituency.
The transition of the national and state GOP political objectives from governance to rule occurred over time, most notably as the party has failed to appeal to a broader electoral constituency. If there exists any more potent inflection point in this transformation, it is likely that of the elections of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 by sizable popular vote margins. Even in 2016, when a Republican succeeded to the White House by a 77,000 popular vote margin for the Electoral College, the Democrat scored 2.8 million more popular votes. The Democratic margin in 2020 was 8 million popular votes.
Consent of the governed is essential in any form of government or society as a prerequisite to exercising authority. It, at once, confers legitimacy and moral right to employ the resources of the state to the ends representatives are chosen. Consent of the governed nullifies the divine right of kings and most authoritarianism. It is not a nuance to distinguish ruling a polity from governing one. The nexus is power.
In October 2010, the GOP majority leader of the Senate, in an interview, characterized that relationship, saying:
The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president. I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.
McConnell, more than most elected leaders, understands the power and authority he wields. That role has been amply displayed as he has ruled the process and progress of congressional legislation and delivered choice candidates for the federal judiciary, including three Supreme Court justices, notwithstanding long-established custom. The GOP flip-flop on the Barrett nomination, following the Merrick Garland steal, is the most notable.
Traditionally and reasonably, obtaining the consent of the governed is reflected in the formation of a platform of goals and objectives, debated and vetted by the national political party. In 2020, the GOP decided to forgo that feature, thereby further focusing the presidential choice as one between personalities rather than choices about policies. A winning candidate appeared to be more appealing than a collection of ideas.
The presidential popular vote results since 2008 (one might also include 2000, Gore v. Bush) have not favored the Republican party although it has continued to perform well in state and down ballot federal elections. Traditionally and reasonably, obtaining the consent of the governed is reflected in the formation of a platform of goals and objectives, debated and vetted by the national political party. In 2020, the GOP decided to forgo that feature, thereby further focusing the presidential choice as one between personalities rather than choices about policies. A winning candidate appeared to be more appealing than a collection of ideas.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul (KY) recently grieved about the state election process in Georgia, where an appeal to vote early and by mail has been undertaken. Paul worried that attracting citizens who might not ordinarily vote could change the outcome. This is not the sole commentary by a GOP official on the danger of facilitating voting. He simply expressed the fear that more popular vote participation is antithetical to Republican interests. The gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Shelby County v. Holder, 2013) by a libertarian SCOTUS, akin to the Citizens United decision (2010), enhanced the Republican electoral advantage.
The Republican putsch to invalidate the 2020 election results will have continuing consequences. Eighteen states are likely to institute increased voting restrictions. A Republican House cohort of would-be rulers will stymie legislative initiatives from the new president. Should the GOP succeed in defending the two Georgia seats, that ruling mentality will be exacerbated. Should the defeated White House incumbent survive the many pending legal problems he faces, the path for the GOP in the midterms and 2024 is set to focus on ruling versus governing.
A war decided the conflict in the 1860s. An ardent few zealots today are raising voices for the outgoing President to invoke martial law to remain in office. The brute debate about governing versus ruling has already succumbed to a democratic decision by the governed upon their consent.
The pervasive question is never answered by the hawkish right wing. What is to fear from voting by the electorate?