With CHARLIE HARPER
Doesn’t it seem like the United States is falling apart at the seams? Consider the following:
America is basically a federation of 50 states and a multitude of territories, “Commonwealth” rights, and so on. It is a huge, sprawling nation whose founders correctly foresaw the kind of centrifugal forces we are seeing right now.
The question of the rights of states has been unleashed again. The current repetition of the legal debates of the existential states probably began with the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008.
With the advantage of 20 to 20 in hindsight, it certainly doesn’t look like America was ready for a black president 12 years ago, no matter how proud the majority of its electorate who voted for him were of themselves.
Well, maybe the majority of Americans were ready for a black president. But as we saw in the last two parliamentary elections, this was not the case with a very healthy minority.
Now, after four years of exposing the world to Donald Trump to see America’s ongoing racial intolerance, it seems like the lid on that Pandora’s box of dark, racial intolerance has really been cherished.
The Republican Party has become a magnet for what seems dangerously close to an electoral majority of Americans who are not only not ready for a black president, but also unprepared to accept the inexorable reality that whites are in America becomes a statistical minority and that enough women are willing to join the political struggle that their votes can no longer be ignored.
So where do the rights of states come from? Georgia’s infamous electoral law is a good example. The Peach State Republicans and their mostly white, mostly male support base disliked the outcome of the US Senate runoff election in January.
In those two competitions, two incumbent white establishment senators – one a retired business tycoon and the other a wealthy wife of a financial insider – were pissed off by a young Jewish activist and an old-fashioned, Bible-pounding black preacher.
It was a Hollywood script, and you can be sure that you’ll soon be seeing its reenactment on the big (or more likely small Amazon Prime or Netflix) screen.
Republicans in Georgia and their counterparts in many other states were so dissatisfied with the election results that they tried to balance the balance in their favor by resorting to a tried and tested device.
They decided to change the rules.
While the details of Georgia’s new electoral law, passed by the state legislature and proudly signed by Governor Brian Kemp, are of vital importance to voters in the state, the bigger point is that states’ rights are once again at the center of national political debate.
State rights mean that individual states have the ability to enact rules and laws that suit them, and a majority in their elected legislations, sometimes at odds with the course of the Central American federal government.
This was one of the cornerstones of the American Constitution, which was a document forged by a mandatory compromise. The drafters of the constitution understood that the mix of different colonies in central North America would never see economics and politics in the same uniform way.
So there are two senators from Wyoming and two from California, two from Rhode Island and two from Texas. Without such protection, why would South Carolina agree to join New York and Massachusetts, which enjoyed significant advantages in colonial times and retain many of them today?
We all somehow understand that. What sets America apart from other sprawling global empires such as Russia, China, and Brazil is that the United States has endeavored from the start to govern itself as a democracy in which, at least in theory, ultimate power to determine its government and corporate policy would be predictable and at regular elections reliably determined by the citizen voters.
Now the Georgian electoral law has threatened all of that.
Perhaps that bill will spawn an election next year that will restore power to a Republican Senator from Georgia in 2023. Perhaps black and other minority voters in the state will sigh in resignation and get on with their lives knowing things have been different for a few years, but the man will eventually get his way. Again.
Maybe not. Perhaps the drama will take a different turn.
While Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and other prominent Democrats launch toxic grenades on the Georgia electoral law, politicians are unlikely to determine their fate. Even the rightly famous Stacey Abrams, whose determined voter registration and turnout movement turned the January elections in an amazing direction, is unlikely to be able to overturn the new law without help.
That help must come from the American federal judiciary.
But wait. Isn’t the American federal judiciary the same group of lawyers as Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate, who have worked with more than 200 “conservative” judges for just four years? Yes it is.
The Biden Justice Ministry is reportedly considering legal challenges to Georgian law. Will they continue this course and if so what will the results be?
In such a situation there are no guarantees. Sometimes appointed judges confuse their political sponsors and make surprising decisions. For example, landmark American civil rights cases were resolved largely liberally in the 1950s by a Supreme Court headed by a Republican candidate who was supposed to be a staunch Conservative.
But smart bettor might expect a less liberal interpretation by judges specially appointed by Republicans to forestall such an outcome.
That leaves a constitutional remedy.
While the American judiciary interprets the constitutionality of laws, the American legislature enacts those laws.
Biden’s Democrats now – barely – control American lawmakers. Republicans want to retake at least one house in this legislature next year. Will the democratically controlled Congress launch laws designed to override laws like the Georgia Voter Law?
Would Republicans be willing to join such an effort?
Current conventional wisdom suggests that the odds against overturning Georgian law are stacked. But you never know
The city on the hill has lost its luster
While the essential democratic human right to vote is debated and attacked, the even more fundamental democratic human right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness in the United States appears to be under threat.
The front page or broadcast of the daily newspaper contains new reports every morning of the shooting of unarmed black men by white police officers, hateful incidents of bullying against Asia or sexual assault by well-known public figures.
One expert said the universe seemed to conspire to force some sort of solution to the mismatched forces sparked by the undisciplined, demagogic, selfish presidency of Donald Trump.
But it is unfair and inaccurate to blame Trump for it, as convenient as that may be. And it’s not like he’s trying to evade responsibility for it. On the contrary, although his malicious voice is muffled these days, he is clearly proud of his continued influence on daily political and social life in the United States.
Racial intolerance, hateful acts, and shameful ignorant behavior are hardly new to American life. Not long ago, in the short arc of American history, blatant racial segregation was alive and in many parts of the United States, Asian Americans were buried by fearful governments and women remained largely economically disenfranchised.
That’s life, and not just in America. Malicious and reprehensible individual behavior and unequal government policies occur every day in every nation on earth.
But if you want to proclaim that you are the “shining city on the hill,” as Ronald Reagan once proudly and famously did, and if you continue to nurture America, this is the template for good and democratic values in the world – as US – Politicians from both parties continue to be regular – then you must accept the skeptical scrutiny of the rest of the world if you behave as some Americans are doing now.
There is hope that arises from an at first sight improbable source.
Maybe, just maybe, Joe Biden will turn out to be the transformative leader the US needs in this time of extreme tribulation. Although he and his family have been attentive for decades, he has long been preparing to become president. Let’s see how he’s doing.