It has now become all but impossible on any given day to find a major media news outlet that doesn’t feature at least one apocalyptic opinion piece warning us that democracy is under attack by the diabolical Republican Party and its sinister leader Donald Trump. This kind of nonsense was once limited to nutty internet forums and social media sites. Then it metastasized to cable news channels. Now it is a staple of “serious journalism” in publications like the New York Times and the leading broadcast networks. This hysteria is not only unfettered from any genuine threat posed by the GOP or anyone else but is itself eminently dangerous to our system of representative democracy.
Perversely, the alarmism has only intensified since the Democrats took control of the White House and the Senate. The following headline from a recent Washington Post column is typically absurd: “Republicans are not in disarray. They’re united in their attack on democracy.” Its author, Paul Waldman, recites the usual catechism involving voter suppression and usurpation of state election administration by GOP legislators. He then declares the party and its “deluded base” illegitimate: “Where are the Republicans who object to this wide-ranging assault on democracy? There aren’t any.” Thomas Edsall echoes Waldman from the amen corner at the New York Times:
Republicans are enacting or trying to enact laws restricting the right to vote, empowering legislatures to reject election outcomes and adopting election rules and procedures designed to block the emergence of multiracial political majorities.… The precipitating event driving the current surge of regressive voting legislation in Republican-controlled states is Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020 and the widespread acceptance on the right of Trump’s subsequent claim that the presidency was stolen from him.
Like so many partisan journalists who wish to delegitimize Republican-led election reforms, Edsall and Waldman have conveniently forgotten that the Constitution explicitly endows state legislatures with the power to make or revise election law. Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 is unambiguous: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” What these stout defenders of democracy in the media are really upset about is Republican electoral success in the states. Including the GOP’s recent gains in the 2020 election, the Republicans now control 30 state legislatures, while the Democrats control only 18.
Republicans are simply better at democracy at the state level, where it really counts. Yet even the taxpayer-funded Public Broadcasting System rejects this obvious reality in favor of ridiculous conspiracy theories. The PBS News Hour recently featured a story on its website titled “Some fear Republicans’ post-Trump actions are eroding democracy.” This irresponsible piece of yellow journalism cites such things as the Arizona Senate’s audit of Maricopa County’s election data, Georgia’s new election integrity statute, a stalled election bill in Texas, and the Jan. 6 “insurrection” as evidence of a coordinated nationwide Republican scheme to undermine traditional democratic conventions:
To democracy advocates, Democrats and others, the persistence of the GOP’s election denial shows how the Republican Party is increasingly open to bucking democratic norms, particularly the bipartisan respect traditionally afforded to election results even after a bitter campaign. That’s raising the prospect that if the GOP gains power in next year’s midterms, the party may take the extraordinary step of refusing to certify future elections.
This tripe was published on your dime. In fiscal year 2021, the federal appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting totals $445 million. That’s a lot of money to pay when we can get leftist agitprop on the cheap from Bloomberg, where Jonathan Bernstein advises us we should be very worried about the dark doings of the GOP: “The problem is easy enough to describe. In a two-party political system, one party, the Republican Party, has in large part turned antidemocratic.” He follows this up by sharing a “Statement of Concern” signed by various political scientists who implore Congress to “do whatever is necessary … in order to pass national voting and election administration standards.”
What these academics mean by “do whatever is necessary” is kill the Senate filibuster and pass the For the People Act without the 60-vote bipartisan majority now required to get that pernicious bill across the finish line. This, ironically, would be anti-democratic and thus genuinely dangerous. Fortunately, at least three prominent Democratic senators get that. Last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in explicitly refusing to support elimination of the filibuster. Feinstein told Forbes, “If democracy were in jeopardy, I would want to protect it. But I don’t see it being in jeopardy right now.” Predictably, the media alarmists are trashing her:
Earlier this year, a defeated American president went to great lengths to overturn the results of an American election when he didn’t like the results. Soon after, that same defeated president directed a violent insurrectionist mob to attack the U.S. Capitol — Dianne Feinstein’s workplace — for the express purpose of disrupting the democratic process and the certification of an election.… I’m genuinely curious: if the current circumstances do not reflect a democracy in jeopardy, what would?
It’s unlikely that Steve Benen, who posed this question in an MSNBC blog post, is “genuinely curious” about what it would take to worry Feinstein. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have set up his query with a debunked version of the Jan. 6 riot. The answer seems pretty straightforward, nonetheless. Feinstein obviously dismisses the claim that the Capitol mayhem was an “insurrection.” As to GOP skullduggery, perhaps she wants more than gratuitous accusations. Maybe some actual evidence that “democracy is in jeopardy” would help. Concerning the filibuster, she probably expects her party to lose its thin majorities in Congress next year and knows that Senate Democrats will need it after the crash.
Feinstein, Manchin, and Sinema probably regard the media as more useful for promulgating propaganda than for policy advice. They clearly don’t trust “journalists” who can’t see that the For the People Act is far more dangerous to democracy than a few GOP revisions to state election laws. Or maybe they suspect that these people can see the danger but just don’t care. The media did, after all, abet and applaud the unprecedented deplatforming of a duly elected, sitting president in January. This suggests that these people don’t give a damn about democracy, and that what they really care about – like everyone else in Washington – is power. That makes their alarmist fictions very dangerous indeed.