The Declaration of Independence asserts that the consent of the governed is the only foundation of legitimate government, but our nation’s history has been marked by fierce struggles to expand the franchise to every adult citizen, and its past is littered with dire warnings from privileged elites that democracy will degenerate into mob rule. It might be pleasant to assume that those days are behind us. They are not. Whatever high-minded justifications its apologists may use to disguise such a disturbing reality, the Republican Party under Donald Trump has abandoned even a minimal commitment to democratic government.
Signs that this was coming have been apparent for decades. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, flatly declared, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Few Republican politicians were so straightforward. More typical was their presidential standard-bearer that year, Ronald Reagan, who gave his infamous “states’ rights” campaign speech at the Neshoba County Fair, outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil-rights activists were brutally murdered in 1964—a grotesque gesture of antagonism toward multiracial democracy. The situation escalated from rhetoric to reality by the time George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000, despite losing the popular vote. It took a Republican-majority Supreme Court halting a recount in Florida for him to prevail in the Electoral College. Still, that election was close enough that those who wanted to could convince themselves that everything was fine.