One of the most significant Supreme Court decisions of 2019 was one that barely received notice in the LGBT+ community—Rucho v. Common. The case had to do with gerrymandering, the act of drawing legislative district maps in such a way that favors one political party. Not a sexy topic, for sure, but a consequential one, nonetheless. Profoundly consequential.
In Rucho, the Court essentially said partisan gerrymandering is perfectly fine and legal; more specifically, the conservative majority on the Court decided that federal courts do not have the authority to declare district maps unconstitutional.
The creation of super-partisan, one-party majority districts is responsible, more than anything else, for the stalemate in Washington. There was a time when the opposing parties actually discussed policy ideas and were willing to compromise. Rucho guarantees those times are gone— for at least a generation or two.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Republican Party’s support of Donald Trump, a man most of them despise personally but who would never dare criticize him publicly. Former Republican Senator Jeff Flake has recently said that if the impeachment vote were done by secret ballot, at least 35 Republican senators would vote to remove Trump from office. But because most of their districts have been gerrymandered to bolster the Republican Party, their “support” of Trump is petrified.
Petrified and terrified is exactly what Republicans in Congress are. Which is odd given that Trump represents everything they have spent generations opposing. Ideologically and personally, Trump fails every GOP litmus test. Twenty years ago, Congressional Republicans argued that lying was grounds for impeachment—and that lie was about a blow job.
When the truth about Richard Nixon emerged, it was Republicans who met with him and told him he needed to resign. It was none other than Barry Goldwater himself—Ronald Reagan’s Patron Saint—who delivered the message to Nixon. And Nixon, as flawed as he was, at least had the shame to resign. Donald Trump is not so handicapped.
And as horrifying as Trump is, as dangerous as his ideas are, as harmful as his policies are, and as repulsive as his bigotry is, he is not the biggest threat to our democracy. The threat to the republic is much bigger than this small man.
Writing in VOX, Zack Beauchamp has argued that Trump is merely the result of a much broader, more disturbing phenomenon: “the Republican Party’s drift toward being institutionally hostile to democracy.” In addition to gerrymandering, Beauchamp also cites the GOP’s efforts to purge voter rolls and enact voter ID laws, both of which are aimed at disenfranchising black and brown voters, to say nothing of their general disdain for basic democratic principles.
He goes on: “This GOP turn didn’t arise because the party is ideologically opposed to democracy in the way that, say, fascists and Islamists are. It’s that they care more about power than they do about basic democratic principles and are willing to run roughshod over the latter if it helps them win the former. This Republican attitude is more democracy-indifferent than anti-democratic, reflecting a party so caught up in partisan combat that it can’t recognize the authoritarian road it’s traveling down.”
There was a time when Republicans hated authoritarians almost as much as they love big business. In 2007, candidate Obama was eviscerated for saying he would be willing to talk with North Korea’s dictator. Reagan called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” And before that, Nixon’s anti-Communist credentials had people saying, “Only Nixon could go to China.”
Checks and balances. Limited government. The rule of law. Family values. Democracy. These were once the pillars of Republican ideology. Now they are the ghosts that give shape to a hollow, apostate party.
Writing for the minority in the Rucho decision, Justice Elena Kagan wrote “gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government.” She was right.
But for the Republican base—corporate interests, fanatical Christians, and racist voters—none of that matters. The rich got their tax cuts, the Christians got their judges, and Trump’s voters cannot get enough of his racist rhetoric. School shootings. Not to worry, gun profits are soaring. Reproductive rights. No worries, the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. Kids in cages and families separated at the border? So what. ‘merica!
Many political observers have asked, “Is Donald Trump really the hill Republicans want to die on?” No, but in the absence of any semblance of moral courage and personal integrity, they have no choice. Gerrymandering made it so.