How romantic, to stand on the edge of democracy’s demise.
Romantic, of course, in the classical sense of the word: the “standing in the Roman Senate as Caesar declares himself dictator for life and knowing the world will never be the same” sense of the word. It is difficult, or maybe impossible, to grasp. While our democratic union has never been perfect, it has, since the end of Reconstruction, consistently trended toward more perfect. No one alive in America remembers those days of democratic backsliding or reactionary success on a national scale. They all occurred before the Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement. The modern Republican party is the only thing remotely reminiscent of this.
Many (although none of my peers) recall the destructive force of Newt Gingrich as he slashed and burned his way through political norms. More know of the 2000 presidential election being stolen by way of a Supreme Court’s slim Republican-appointed majority. Fewer know that the Court would have never had the opportunity to steal the election, if not for the state’s racist practice of felon-disenfranchisement. George W. Bush then went on to appoint the Supreme Court justices who effectively overturned the Voting Rights Act of 1965, clearing the way for Southern states to impose draconian restrictions on voting, with a disproportionate effect on Black people. Following successful midterms in 2010, Republicans redrew district lines in the most extreme act of gerrymandering ever, diminishing the electoral power ofBlack and Democratic voters “with surgical precision.”
To recount, the Republican assaults on democracy over the last couple decades requires far more space than this column is allowed. But the country has survived through the power of the vote. The 2020 election is an inflection point.
We have heard a lot recently that five out of nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote. While this is true, the more thorough story is more sinister.
These five justices were appointed by presidents whose elections — thanks certainly to racist voter suppression and possible to foreign intervention as well — should be understood as illegitimate. In the case of Bush, at least, the governed did eventually give their consent. The same cannot be said of Donald Trump. And it certainly will not be true if he seizes power following this year’s election.
That’s right, siezes.
If Trump steals the election by way of the already-packed courts, we, the People, should launch a general boycott of the economy. Do not work, do not shop. Begin to withdraw all your money from your bank accounts. Special interests will force their Republican lap dogs to preserve the economy and protect their bottom line and turn on Trump.
In contrast to nations more accustomed to mass mobilization, like France, the concept of a generals strike is foreign to Americans. But new is sometimes necessary. Judith Sulevitz describes the full-scale effort that will be required to resist a coup attempt. “Should financiers, college presidents, distinguished members of opposition parties, and middle-school students start defecting to the other side,” she explains, “the political, physical, and even psychological costs of putting down an insurrection will become prohibitive.” And that must be our goal. Making the costs of anti-democratic takeover too great for the Republican is a last resort. We still have to be ready for it.
The strongest counter argument is that deliberately damaging our own economy will have long-term consequences and that ordinary people will suffer. This argument is true, but the alternative is worse.
The United States is the world’s oldest, modern democracy. A successful coup would both undo all our gains to date and entrench minority Republican power for generations. Imagine eight of nine Supreme Court Justices being Republican-appointed — five of them by Trump. Imagine another ten years of extreme racial gerrymandering. Imagine voter suppression on an even larger institutional scale.
I, and countless other writers, have written plenty of columns outlining why Republican policy is bad. Cutting taxes on the rich is selfish. Taking away people’s health care is cruel. Turning a blind eye to global warming is calamitous. But so committed to awful policy that they cannot win a majority of the voters, the GOP has adopted a final and fatal plank to their platform: antipathy toward democracy itself. If they follow through on that commitment, we must fight them with every weapon we have.
Every other option should be exhausted first. But if courts packed by two presidents who lost the popular vote — one of whom is impeached — decide the election for Trump, the American People will have no choice. To defend our republic, we will have to challenge our own economy. The concept is foreign to us, but for once might be necessary. While we pray it does not come to this, we must prepare for it at the same time. One of humanity’s great republics hangs in the balance. We must be prepared to do what it takes to tip the scales.
Editor’s Note: A sentence was left incomplete in an earlier version of this article. A change has since been made to reflect this.
Elijah Fox is a Senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He took this semester remotely to work the election in Michigan. What Does the Fox Say? Runs every other Thursday this semester