Republicans are “radicalizing against democracy” because they rely on our constitutional process when governing. This is the essence of Chris Hayes’ recent Atlantic piece contending that the GOP is descending into authoritarianism.
The MSNBC host notes, without any suggestion of self-awareness, that “the Constitution puts a wind at the backs of Republicans and makes them more competitive than they would be otherwise.” What does “otherwise” mean here, exactly? A return to the British Empire? Or does it mean functioning as the centralized direct democracy that progressives covet, but that’s never existed in this country? There is no “otherwise.”
The idea that the Constitution allows “minoritarian control” might be popular in certain quarters, but it remains a faulty way of looking at our system. The American republic is democratic, yes; but it also protects the rights of the individual, the power of the states and the dignity of the minority, and it does so openly and deliberately. Federalism, far from representing a modern plot, has existed from the start as a means by which to diffuse power and prevent the subordination of smaller states — read: communities — by bigger ones. There is nothing preventing California from passing whatever laws it wishes at the state level. There are provisions making it hard for California to pass whatever laws it wishes in West Virginia. That’s not a bug; it’s the point.
To bolster the claim of this minoritarian autocracy, Hayes is impelled to create the impression that the overriding national consensus is being thwarted. “Democrats have established a narrow but surprisingly durable electoral majority, holding control of the House, winning back the Senate, and taking the presidency by 7 million votes,” he argues. This is wishful thinking. Voters are fickle and mercurial, and the fleeting vagaries of public sentiment are constantly changing.
Four years ago, Republicans controlled everything, too. What has changed? Not much, really. Even in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic and subsequent economic downturn; even with Donald Trump’s boorishness and self-destructive behavior; even with a sloppy election that showered paper ballots on nearly everyone in the country — even then, Republicans came somewhere within 45,000 to 90,000 votes of controlling all of Washington’s institutions once again. There is a good chance that the GOP will take back the House in 2022; the Senate is tied; and nobody has a clue what will happen in the presidential election of 2024. 1932 this was not.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about anti-constitutionalists such as Hayes is their inability to comprehend their own authoritarianism. Hayes asserts that, in the future, the national fight will revolve around “whether the United States will live up to the promise of democracy.” “On that crucial question,” he suggests, “we’ve rarely been so divided.” But he doesn’t really mean “democracy” so much as he means “things I personally like.” Rest assured, Hayes wasn’t a fan of majoritarian “democracy” when the vast majority of Americans opposed gay marriage. He’s not really a fan of catchall “democracy” when it doesn’t serve his philosophical interests.
As for “authoritarianism” — well, that also seems to depend upon whose ox is being gored. One can only imagine the kind of raging screeds we’d be subjected to if Republicans were talking about a national domestic-terror act — a Patriot Act for Americans — that was explicitly designed to weed out the left-wing extremists that burned their way through last summer. And how many Hayes-approved protestors do we think would hit the streets if the Biden administration had instructed the military to stand down so it could ferret out thought-crimes?
Forget the hypotheticals: Where are Hayes’s passionate objections to President Biden’s having signed a slew of acutely undemocratic executive orders — including international agreements — without the consent of the legislative branch? How loud has he been in criticism of Chuck Schumer’s imploring the executive to strip Congress of its power? Where was he when the Obama administration went after the conscience rights of nuns? Clearly, for many left-wingers — and, no, it is no longer accurate to call them “liberals” — “democracy” and “authoritarianism” are wholly situational ideas. I won’t be lectured by them any longer.
To believe the “Biden era of American politics is shaping up as a contest between the growing ideological hegemony of liberalism, and the intensifying opposition of a political minority that has proved willing to engage in violence in order to hold on to power,” one has to ignore reality — starting with the endless supply of leftist riots that broke out across the country last summer to unfailingly rave reviews — and, in concert, to pretend that the Capitol rioters were not only magically “different,” but represented the core of the conservative argument.
Well, I won’t do either. I’m for the rule of law — as it actually exists, not how others would like it to exist. I am for the Constitution. I am for both houses of Congress. I am for the states. I am for the Bill of Rights. I’m for all those things because I reject authoritarianism.
David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review and the author of the book “First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History With the Gun.”