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Saturday, June 30, 2018


Tyranny of the minority

by Tom Sullivan

Ahead of the House vote to pass Obamacare in 2010, Dana Milbank reminds readers, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio blasted away at Democrats with his famous “hell no, you can’t” speech:

“This is the People’s House, and the moment a majority forgets this, it starts writing itself a ticket to minority status,” he said. “If we pass this bill, there will be no turning back. It will be the last straw for the American people. . . . And in a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.
Milbank's point is Boehner's warning was as prescient for Democrats then as it is for the Republican majority now. They have the votes and the control to install a Trump Supreme Court pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, one that could help realize the conservative dream of rolling back the 20th century. Yet Obamacare passed under a president with solid popular and electoral vote majorities. The sitting president cannot stop ruminating over the fact he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes to a woman.

Senate Republicans who also lost the 2016 popular vote soon will be voting to confirm that new Supreme Court justice, Milbank adds:
Compounding the outrage, each of the prospective nominees is all but certain, after joining the court, to support the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade, which has held the nation together in a tenuous compromise on abortion for 45 years and is supported by two-thirds of Americans. For good measure, the new justice may well join the other four conservative justices in revoking same-sex marriage, which also has the support of two-thirds of Americans. And this comes after the Republicans essentially stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.
Rebecca Traister has a broader, more durable majority in mind than transient political majorities inside the Beltway. Both she and Milbank reference Jonathan Chait's observations on how, John Boehner's bluster notwitshtanding, Republicans have grown “increasingly comfortable with, and reliant on, countermajoritarian power.” The structure of the Senate gives a minority of the population in rural, red states outsized influence in governance. That structure in turn reflects the outsized influence, Traister explains, not of Republicans but of white men in general:
White men are at the center, our normative citizen, despite being only around a third of the nation’s population. Their outsize power is measurable by the fact that they still — nearly 140 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment, not quite 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, and more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — hold roughly two-thirds of elected offices in federal, state, and local legislatures. We have had 92 presidents and vice-presidents. One-hundred percent of them have been men, and more than 99 percent white men.
Racism in this country is structural, Ta-Nehisi Coates famously documented. But so is sexism, Traister argues. In the way white skin privileges a shrinking demographic in this putative democratic republic, since the country's inception the structure of society has privileged governance by a minority of white males. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, not only are white people in general threatened by unfavorably changing demographics, but white males feel themselves under siege. The unfairness of it all!

Yet even now, the reality of that privilege is so structural as to be invisible. Traister writes, "The hold that the minority has on every realm of power — economic, social, sexual — is so pervasive and assumed that we don’t even notice when the few oppress the many. It’s invisible, and any show of defiance against that power is what stands out as aberrant and dangerous."

Heckling administration officials in public, for example. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling for confrontation with enablers of the Trump administration's program of separating and interning families (many seeking legal asylum) on the southern border drew opprobrium not only from the right but from the left:
To publicly rebuke a black woman’s support for protest and not the powerful white patriarch’s thinly veiled call to violence against her is to play on the very same impulses that Trump himself plays on: racist and sexist anxiety about noncompliant women and nonwhites, and the drive to punish them. It’s one thing that Waters’s opponents on the right have casually referred to her as “unhinged” and that Fox News host Eric Bolling once told her to “step away from the crack pipe,” but that her own colleagues fall into casting her as too much, as too combative and fearsome, is a goddamn travesty.


These people had nice dinners in restaurants interrupted. They did not have their children pulled from their arms, perhaps forever; they were not refused refuge based on their country of origin or their religion or the color of their skin; they were not denied due process; nor were they denied a full range of health-care options, forced to carry a baby against their will, separated from their families via the criminal justice system, or shot in the back by police for the mere act of being young and black.

And yes, some of the upholders of minority power are themselves women — women working in service of a brutal white patriarch and the brutal white patriarchal party he leads. Similarly, a majority of white women voted for Trump, and always vote for his party, because they benefit from white supremacy even as they are subjugated by patriarchy. This same dynamic explains why higher percentages of men in every racial category voted for Trump and his party: They gain through the patriarchy even as they are oppressed by white supremacy. This is how minority rule persists.

Of course, the kind of fury that both the press and political Establishment in 2016 deemed so important, so American, was the fury of white men: angry at the diminishment of their status, angry at the ways in which the economy was not working for them as it once might have, but also angry at their fantasized sense of devaluation in a country that had elected one black president and was considering a woman for the job.
A country where their dominance is unquestioned is the country they've wanted back for half a century. One where blacks and women know their place. One where white movie producers can molest women unmolested. One where white Christian prayers before high school football games affirm whose God is God, and athlete-entertainers know better than to protest the killings of unarmed black males by police.

You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it, Milbank repeats:
The backlash is coming. It is the deserved consequence of minority-rule government protecting the rich over everybody else, corporations over workers, whites over nonwhites and despots over democracies. It will explode , God willing, at the ballot box and not in the streets.
"The reason the anger of a majority gets suppressed is because it has the power to imperil the rule of the minority," Traister writes. The storm now rising will not be quelled by shushing. White male minority misrule will no longer persist unmolested.

The presidency of an insecure, ignorant bigot obsessed with dominating everyone around him — including infants and toddlers — and accustomed to immunity from rules to which the majority of us adhere is testament to where countermajoritarian misrule has led us. Today and going forward, women exercising their rightful power have a chance not only to correct the country's downward spiral into autocracy, but to save and perfect the republic.

I'm counting on it.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.