Obama calls for preserving thing Republicans despise: Democracy

August 20, 2020 5:55 am

(Still shot of DNC video)

People are broke and everything is horrible and Senate Republicans went on vacation without doing anything about it. 

“It’s incredibly disrespectful to all Americans when issues for the greater good are put on the back burner for partisan objectives,” Nevada’s only Republican in Congress, Rep. Mark Amodei, tweeted earlier this month.

Great point, Mark Amodei.

Alas, he wasn’t referring to Republican senators putting Americans on the back burner while the entire GOP chases its top priority: doing whatever it can to obstruct democracy.

No, Amodei was referring to Donald Trump being “forced” – Amodei’s term – to sign memoranda and executive orders purporting to provide relief, including a memo to revive federal unemployment benefits.

To hear Amodei tell it, everything is the Democrats’ fault, because Republicans tried to extend unemployment insurance at the end of July but Democrats wouldn’t accept the offer.

Amodei neglected to mention the Republican offer was to replace a $600 a week benefit with $200 a week. And the Senate Republican offer included next to nothing with respect to cash-strapped state and local governments, support for schools, protection from evictions and a host of other crisis-scale problems brought on in no small part by malign executive branch mismanagement of one of the worst crises to ever befall the nation — problems, remember, that are currently receiving zero attention from Senate Republicans.

Amodei also neglected to mention that (over his no vote) the legislative chamber in which he has a bench in the back passed a massive $3 trillion relief bill that addressed many of those things aggressively, and the Republican Senate will have nothing to do with it.

Trump’s memo signing ceremony at his New Jersey golf club August 8 was more performance art than policy anyway. Nearly two weeks later, there’s little indication Nevadans will get any help from Trump’s slapdash unemployment benefit any time soon, if ever.

Meanwhile, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, the one person in U.S. public life who can fairly make a claim to being more malignant than Trump, adjourned the Senate a week ago, and it isn’t scheduled to reconvene until Sept. 8.

With millions of Americans, including more than 200,000 Nevadans, out of work and wondering how they’re going to pay which (if any) bills, Senate Republicans went on a nearly four-week break.

Which brings us to something else Amodei neglected to mention, an underlying reason that relief is not forthcoming for stressed out struggling Nevadans: The U.S Senate is a musty old farce.

Minority rule

Republicans won control of the Senate after the 2014 election. That year, a midterm election Democrats mostly sat out (especially in Nevada), Republican U.S. Senate candidates nationally won a total of 4 million more votes than their Democratic opponents. So their control was at least backed up by some measure of numerical legitimacy.

However, in the 2016 election, Democratic Senate candidates nationally won 11 million more total votes than their Republicans opponents. Two years ago, the Democratic total was 17.5 million votes larger than Republicans.

Thanks to antiquated peculiarities still intact in the U.S. Constitution, Wyoming (population: 579,000) gets as many U.S. senators as California (population: 39.5 million), and Republicans continued to control the Senate after both elections.

And that’s why, with a pandemic raging and an economy in shambles, out of work people are getting zero help from the United States government now, and won’t get any help until … who knows?

Compared to the popular vote tally racked up, or not racked, by Republican Senate candidates lately, perhaps Trump should be genuinely proud that he only lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a little less than 3 million votes.

Trump’s 2016 performance marked the sixth time in the last seven presidential elections that the Republican candidate lost the popular vote. Fortunately for Republicans, the anachronistic electoral college system makes a perverse distortion of the national will, and renders democracy about as relevant to the presidency as it is to the Senate.

Republicans can win both the Senate and White House with a minority of votes, as they did in 2016. But for Democrats to win the Senate and the White House, not only do Democrats have to win a majority of votes, they have to win a big majority of votes.

Republicans are terrified that might happen this year. That’s why Amodei’s remarks, to his credit, were something of an outlier: Typically all you hear from Nevada Republicans these days is how important it is to make it as hard as possible for Nevadans to vote. 

The GOP’s beloved republic/democracy trope

In a historical, cultural and political analysis delivered by Barack Obama Wednesday in the form of a Democratic National Convention speech, the former president time and again referred to American “democracy,” including in this passage on the current occupant of the White House:

I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.

But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.

Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.

Obama prefaced that spot-on assessment of our current state of affairs by saying a president should “be the custodian of this democracy.”

As Obama acknowledged, the prospect of Trump being the custodian of anything but his own interest is preposterous. But no less unthinkable is the prospect of any Republican president, or any officeholder hailing from today’s Republican Party, aspiring to be a custodian of democracy.

Republicans don’t like democracy, and they adamantly deny that the U.S. is a democracy. As any eager spreader of the GOP gospel will tell you, America isn’t a democracy, it’s a republic.

The premise is not just a pseudo-intellectual right-wing construct. It’s a convenient and indispensable faith when your party maintains national power even as it routinely and repeatedly loses the national popular vote.

(For all their disdain for democracy, Republicans do recognize that people tend to think democracy is, as Martha Stewart used to say, “a good thing.” That’s why Republicans would never say, for instance, the “Democratic National Convention,” and instead refer to it as the “Democrat National Convention.” “Democratic” sounds like something people might like, so Republicans almost never use the word.)

A democracy and a republic are not mutually exclusive. A more apt technical description of U.S. governance might be that it’s neither a democracy nor a republic, but a democratic republic.

The electoral college and the system of apportioning U.S. senators are more aptly described as just cold anti-democratic. That’s why Republicans like them so much.

That’s also why the federal government isn’t doing anything to provide people relief during the crisis — unless you count Trump’s memorandum to defund Social Security, which evidently Amodei does.

And thanks to the oldy-timey anti-democratic Senate and electoral college, if people want things to change for the better, people better heed the recommendation of Obama and other speakers at the Democratic National Convention: If you plan on voting, literally make a plan for voting, and do it early.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.