Trump and the Threats to American Democracy

Image: Silvia Faustino Saes


From an abolitionist party to a party of electoral suppression, the evolution of the Republican Party expresses, in large part, the deep political crisis facing the US today.

Created in the midst of the greatest crisis in the history of the country, the Republican Party was born, in 1854, as a front of diverse political forces that came together to prevent the implementation of slavery in the new states being incorporated by the ongoing territorial expansion. In the same way, with Abraham Lincoln in the Presidency, in the following decade, the initials represented the greatest force of modernization in the country at that time. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, even having become the main representative of the great capital of bankers and industrialists, under the mantle of Progressivism, it nevertheless managed to implement important electoral reforms that guaranteed access to the vote for the white (and male) majorities. of the period.

In the postwar period, although they were not the ones who passed the Civil Rights Acts, Republicans were instrumental in their support of new legal reforms that guaranteed access to the vote for African-American populations in the southern states of the USA. In fact, even a clearly conservative president like Richard Nixon, in the early 1970s, understood that it would be important to guarantee everyone access to the vote and, at the same time, attract voters to his anti-reform agenda – even if by fundamentalist means that, in the 1980s, they would become central to their electoral strategies ever since.

In 1981, in the New Jersey gubernatorial election, the Republican Party began to implement a new pattern of suppression of minority voting by intimidating voters who would tend to vote for the Democratic candidate. By sending members, or supporters, to polling stations in the popular neighborhoods of the largest cities in the state, who presented themselves as election monitors (which is legal), but who acted aggressively in order to persuade voters to desist from voting (which is illegal), the Republicans managed to turn an election (by about less than XNUMX votes) and come to power.

The case of this neighboring state of New York was so clearly an electoral demonstration that the Republican Party was sued in 1982. federal courts.

In 2018, however, a new federal judge reversed the decision, making room for one of the central tactics of Donald Trump's re-election bid: sending his supporters back to precincts to question the right to vote of potential Democratic voters (in general, racial minorities), create riots and, thus, delegitimize an electoral process that, if in fact democratic, would tend to favor the opposition candidate, the Democrat Joe Biden.

While the most recent tactics of the republicans lead to physical and moral intimidation, it is good to remember that the party has used several other resources, over the last few years, to prevent access to the exercise of the right to vote to countless segments of the North American society. In several states, for example, ex-convicts (who tend to be mostly representatives of racial minorities) are barred from voting. Even where such laws were reversed, as in the decisive state of Florida, through a plebiscite, in 2018, Republicans in the Legislative Assembly passed a law, creating a fee to be paid, in case these new voters decide, in fact, to exercise their right to vote.

In the same sense, routinely, especially in republican states, voter lists are “cleaned” of voters who did not vote in past elections, without being advised of such a maneuver. In theory, this type of action could harm both parties. As Republican voters, especially the elderly, tend to be more assiduous at the polls, it is a measure that ends up harming, again, racial minorities.

Such initiatives, which always create new obstacles to the vote of minorities, or marginalized populations in the United States, have a long tradition that goes beyond the Republican Party. In particular, echoing recent measures, in this case led by Lincoln's party (and Trump!), African Americans in southern states, although authorized to vote for the Constitution, were obliged, until the mid-1960s, to pay a tax (call poll tax) to gain access to the ballot boxes.

Likewise, the “cleaning” of voter lists was a hallmark of elections in southern states throughout the first half of the century – a tradition resumed by Republicans in the state of Georgia, since 2008, at the initiative of the GOP, when almost 100 names were removed from the voter list. Still reflecting these dynamics, in Wisconsin last year, 234 voters were dropped from local voter rolls, and the state of Ohio mistakenly removed, as it turned out, some 40 voters from its electoral rolls.

Other means of restricting the right to vote, especially in the case of racial minorities, have been new demands, always reiterated by republican governors and legislators across the country, regarding the documents needed to vote. There are also new limitations on the right to vote in advance, something enshrined in the country, although always up to each state, which makes the possibility of restrictions on voting perennial and recurrent.

Deepening the problem, in 2013, the US Supreme Court, with a Republican majority, annulled the central part of the Access to Voting Act of 1965 (the Voting Rights Act) – which required federal government oversight of state voting access laws to ensure that undue restrictions were being created. The justification for this retreat is that there would no longer be a need for this type of monitoring, an argument that a brief investigative diligence will show to be inappropriate, given its disconnection with reality.

It is clear that Republicans have a clear tradition, since the 1980s at least, of restricting voting access to traditionally marginalized groups in American society, whose electoral weight has been growing. Although this logic has inspired a series of actions over the last few years, it is certain that, with Trump and his call for his supporters to close ranks, preferably armed, in front of polling stations next Tuesday (3 November), such dynamics acquire a new and dangerous dimension.

From an abolitionist party to a party of electoral suppression, the evolution of the Republican Party expresses, in large part, the deep political crisis facing the US today. The American democratic promise will succeed in overcoming the tendencies of realizing a true Apartheid in the country? What will happen in the next few weeks will certainly help answer this and other questions.

*Rafael R. Ioris is a professor at the University of Denver.

Article originally published on the OPEU.




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