Maybe because he was born, raised, and still lives in Canada, former Wall Street Journal editorial writer and George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum never bought into the GOP’s inevitable drift into white nationalism.
The man who created W’s “Axis of Evil” speech and left the Republican Party because of Trump was acidly on-point when he wrote last year, “If conservatives become convinced they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will abandon democracy.”
That fits perfectly with a national GOP that’s enabling a sociopathic authoritarian in the Oval Office, but it’s even more true on the state level. Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan lost complete control of state governments, then used lame-duck sessions to gut power from incoming Democrats. Republicans in Ohio preempted a ballot issue next year to raise the minimum wage by making it basically impossible for voters to amend the state constitution.
Republicans in Georgia won the governorship because their candidate was the very secretary of state who had purged voter rolls of tens of thousands of black people. Republicans in North Carolina won the 9th Congressional District by a few hundred votes because GOP operatives hired people to collect absentee ballots from trusting voters in heavily Democratic areas and then dumped the ballots.
Not to be outdone, Missouri’s Republican governor and the GOP super-majority in the General Assembly spent their Christmas plotting how to overturn a series of progressive initiatives and constitutional amendments overwhelmingly approved by Show-Me state voters in November. The state GOP figures they can get away with abandoning democracy for two reasons. One, they’ve done it before, and two, they figure no one can stop them.
Ironically, the efforts are being led by a governor no one elected as governor. Lt. Governor Mike Parson became Missouri’s governor when then-Governor Eric Greitens was forced to resign after charges of assault, blackmail, basement bondage with a mistress, and possibly illegal movement of dark money campaign contributions became too much to handle.
In a pre-Christmas interview with the Associated Press, Gov. Parson made it clear that he and the massive Republican majorities in the House and Senate intend to wreck a clean government constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of voters. The so-called Clean Missouri amendment changes the state constitution so that state legislative district boundaries that are changed after every census will be drawn by a professional demographer, not by the party in power in Jefferson City. The amendment also slaps strict campaign contribution limits on candidates and makes it harder for ex-lawmakers to go to work as lobbyists.
“When you start talking about what they proposed in redistricting, of how do you make districts even, I think that’s so questionable,” Parsons sniffed. “You think when the people vote, you shouldn’t be changing that vote. The reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”
Missouri voters in August resoundingly overturned Missouri’s proposed anti-union “Right to Work” law, voting against Right to Work by a breathtaking 67 percent statewide. Gov. Parson thinks voters didn’t know what was best for them in that case either. He and the state GOP have hatched a scheme to enable Right to Work to be implemented on a county-by-county basis. Not satisfied with that, state Sen. Eric Burlison (R-Christian County) has already pre-filed legislation to overturn the Right to Work vote completely.
Missouri voters also approved hiking the state’s minimum wage, and although no legislation to overturn that vote has been pre-filed yet, several state lawmakers have expressed their intention to explore how to overturn that, too. Lucky for them, Missouri Republicans have a lot of experience getting rid of voter initiatives they disagree with.
Take Gov. Parson. Back when he was a state representative and then a state senator from the rural area around the Lake of the Ozarks, he spearheaded a drive to gut the anti-puppy mill initiative voters approved in 2010. Pushed by dog breeders, the measure to enforce humane conditions for 200,000 dogs in the state’s 3,000 dog breeding facilities was watered down until it almost vanished.
The state GOP has also successfully eviscerated voter-passed initiatives on everything from minimum wage cost-of-living adjustments to regulation of concealed-carry weapons. Not surprisingly, Republicans have never touched voter initiative results when the result was politically conservative. The 2004 statewide vote against gay marriage was clearly unconstitutional, as the U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed. But it remained on the books in Missouri until the federal high court tossed it out.
This is how authoritarianism operates, whether in Turkey, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, or America. The authoritarian party in power will stop at nothing to control elections, manipulate votes, and overturn initiatives because, to them, maintaining power for their ideology is more important than democracy. Authoritarians bulldoze laws over the people because they’re convinced that no one is strong enough to stop them.
On its face, that would seem to be true in Missouri. The Democratic caucuses in the state House and Senate could meet inside a gym locker room and still have plenty of elbow room. The Republicans control the General Assembly, and the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer’s offices, leaving Missouri’s auditor as the only Democrat in statewide elected office.
But the numbers make it obvious that a lot of people who voted for Republicans also voted against Right to Work, for re-districting and political reform, and in favor of raising the minimum wage. And like everywhere else in America, the Age of Trump has energized a new coalition of progressive activists willing to take to the streets, lobby lawmakers, and turn the heat up on conservative ideologues. They’ve also been going to court across the country.
And that’s the one-two punch that can stop what the GOP has planned. Mass demonstrations clogging Jefferson City and the state Capitol building, plus a barrage of lawsuits can stop this latest blatant attempt by Republicans to overturn the will of the people.
Because, like all authoritarians, the GOP will keep going unless they run into resistance – serious resistance.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.