Commentary

American democracy is in danger, and we’re running out of time to save it

The ‘Independent Legislature Theory’ would nullify your right to vote

July 8, 2022 7:00 am

Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

They taught us the Union won the Civil War. They taught us wrong.

The South won the war.

Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Lithography by the Major & Knapp Eng. Mfg. & Lith. Co., public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, and told his soldiers to “furl the flag, Boys.”

But that flag hasn’t gone anywhere. The Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionists waved it inside the United States Capitol.

Yes, the we ratified the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery — some of us earlier than others: Mississippi didn’t get around to it until 2013.

And the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments promised equal protection under the law and the right to vote, which sound great except that many Republican-run states (including Florida) are doing everything they can to restrict access to the ballot box, especially for people of color.

The current U.S. Supreme Court has decided that women are not full citizens but host bodies for fetuses. Now some states rush to criminalize abortion while others race to enshrine it in law.

America had its finer moments: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, the election of a Black president. But these days it seems like we’ve given up on the whole diverse and pluralistic democracy thing.

We are again a house divided, not quite yet the North and South of 1861, but increasingly separated into blue and red, those who look forward to forging a more perfect union and those who look back to a time when power belonged to those who were white, male, straight, and Christian.

Pulling apart

Secession is back on the menu. Alaska has an independence party pushing nationhood. Some in Northern California would like to secede from Southern California while other Californians, fed up with the reactionaries in Washington, think the whole state should separate itself from the other 49.

The Texas Republican Party wants a state-wide vote on seceding — again — from the union.

protesters
PBS Frontline “Documenting Hate” screen shot of Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Va.

Some of the tiki torch-toting white nationalists shouting “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville were members of the League of the South, an outfit dedicated to creating a “Christian Republic” out of the Old Confederacy, a nation in which “white culture” would be protected and people of color would be allowed to stick around only if they know their place.

Even if large slices of these disunited states don’t get around to officially divorcing the rest of the country, they’ve already seceded psychologically and politically.

Here in Florida (which left the union the first time on Jan. 10, 1861, just after South Carolina and Mississippi), the governor and his legislative vassals have destroyed two congressional districts where Black voters had a reasonable chance of electing a representative.

Ron DeSantis and the rest of Florida’s Trumpist Republicans don’t bother to hide their racism. Five Proud Boys — never subtle about their contempt for women and minorities and their desire to wreck the  lawful government of the United States — are members of the Miami-Dade Republican Executive.

It’s a short step from the PB’s to the Christofascists of the League of the South. One of the Florida League’s officers, a Jacksonville native named Michael Ralph Tubbs, also belongs to something called the “Knights of the New Order,” who swear, “I dedicate my life from this moment forward to fostering the welfare of the white Aryan race.”

In the neo-separatist states, right-wingers don’t want the Aryan, er, nice white children to learn that slavery was built into the American system of government from its inception. Or that racism still permeates our financial and legal systems.

And we must save them from teachers hell-bent on turning them gay or indoctrinating them into communism by indoctrinating them into right-wing lies instead.

Hillsborough School Board candidate Aly Legge speaks at bill signing of HB 7 on April 22, 2022. Credit: Aly Legge’s campaign website.

DeSantis’ preferred school curriculum includes these truth-challenged gems: America had slavery, sure, but other countries were WAY worse. Trust us. And though Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Monroe, etc. all owned slaves, they were actually anti-slavery.

That separation of church and state “junk” (as high school drop-out Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado says) is not what the Founding Fathers meant. The Founders were all Christians, even when they were Deists.

We have Hillsdale College, a small conservative Christian school in Michigan, to thank for this. Hillsdale has a vexed relationship with facts, as demonstrated by its support for dangerous nonsense such as claims that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a hoax and Vladimir Putin is a “hero.”

DeSantis and his “education” experts — who are just as convincing in the field of American history as his surgeon general is in the field of immunology — insist their program isn’t “ideological.”

It’s “patriotic.”

The deep red areas in the West, the Midwest and, of course, good old Dixie, increasingly share traits with the Confederacy, from book banning to hostility to the United States Constitution — except for the Second Amendment, of course.

Some of the most MAGAT-y of the MAGATs have even threatened to nullify federal laws they don’t like. Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor of Arizona, tweeted: “When I’m Governor, Arizona will not recognize unconstitutional Gun Laws in our state. We just won’t do it. What are the Feds going to do? Fly down here and arrest a sitting Governor? Call my bluff.”

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun would be proud.

The new separatist America regards democracy with suspicion and sometimes wonders if too many people are allowed to vote. In the time of our infallible Founders only white men of property could exercise the franchise. Trump svengali Steve Bannon and some of the other Fox “News” dictator groupies wonder if maybe we should go back to those good old days.

They would prefer you, the citizen, not worry your pretty little head about government. Don’t you have an Instagram account to check?

In its next term, which begins in October, the Supreme Court will hear a case based on an outlandish legal idea that’s long lurked in the darkest corners of constitutional radicalism.

The “Independent Legislature Theory,” beloved of the Republican fringe, holds that state legislatures could pass voter suppression laws and enshrine gerrymandered districts without fear that state courts could stop them.

If the justices buy this constitutional quackery, which they could do by this time next year, legislatures could choose their own slates of presidential electors regardless of which candidate actually won the state. You, the voter, would be denied your ability to choose who goes to Washington.

America will be two countries; if you live in a Republican-run state, you will not control your government. Your government will control you.

Remember when those of us partial to vesting power in the people were shocked and dismayed by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which essentially gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act?

The court was far more moderate then. You can bet that with five, sometimes six, radical justices who’ve stripped away women’s control of their own bodies, hamstrung the federal government’s ability to address the climate crisis threatening the planet, decimated the separation of church and state, and blocked attempts to regulate who gets to own weapons of war, they will have no trouble taking away our right to elect the candidates of our choice.

Republicans have seceded from democratic values.

They have seceded from trust in the voters.

Our union is in danger and we have a year to save it.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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