In the midst of Thursday night’s debate, ABC ran a remarkable ad from a Republican PAC called New Faces GOP which was narrated by Elizabeth Heng, a failed Republican House candidate from California. The ad featured a photograph of Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez being burned which then gave way to pictures of the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s from which Heng’s parents fled to the US. The thrust of the ad was that the kind of so-called “socialism” espoused by AOC was also responsible for the Cambodian genocide and ends with Heng proudly declaring herself a Republican and not a socialist.
Of course, the idea that AOC’s democratic socialism in any way resembles the murderous policies of Pol Pot is delusional and reprehensible and it boggles the mind that the ad actually passed ABC’s standards and practices to get aired, especially when you consider some of the ads that have been refused over the years. But perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised since one of the debate questions that Bernie Sanders had to field at the debate was a comparison between his version of democratic socialism and the dictatorial policies of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
Heng is apparently unaware that the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia largely as a result of Nixon’s illegal and secret extension of the Vietnam War into that country. In addition, long after the genocide was common knowledge, the US supported the Khmer in the war against the Vietnamese which eventually resulted in the removal of the Khmer from power and into exile into Thailand in the late 1970s. The Reagan administration continued to recognize the Khmer as part of the Cambodian government in exile and provide it with food and military support.
More relevant to present day American politics, however, is the fact that the Khmer Rouge was an autocratic, nationalistic, xenophobic regime that was concerned with racial purity of the Khmer, resulting in the genocide of many of Cambodia’s other ethnic minorities. The party’s bizarre belief that a totally self-sufficient agrarian economy was the ultimate expression of Marxist-Leninist ideology resulted in the eradication of the intellectual class as well as massive numbers of deaths due to starvation and a lack of medicine.
If these features, “an autocratic, nationalistic, xenophobic party concerned with racial purity”, remind Heng of one of the major parties in this country, it is assuredly not the Democrats. And Heng might also want to note that it is the Trump administration that is now deporting children who fled the Khmer genocide in the 1970s back to Cambodia, some who had fled the country with their families when they were just months old. Moreover, burning an image of an ethnic minority is itself a similar expression of violence as that which Heng is baselessly accusing AOC of fomenting. And all this on the same night that a Texas State Representative literally threatened the life of a Democratic presidential contender for simply proposing to take away his military grade assault rifle and is now being praised by the GOP propaganda machine for doing so.
If Heng wants to see what a real threat to American democracy looks like, perhaps she should look not to AOC but instead to her own party’s actions, the Republican party’s actions, over the last decade in the state of North Carolina. After gaining control of the governor’s mansion and the legislature in 2010, Republicans put in place a partisan and racial gerrymander that guaranteed their majority status for the coming decade. Republicans could consistently lose the statewide vote but still retain control of the legislature and send more Republicans to Congress than Democrats. For example, in 2018, Republicans did not win a majority of votes across the state in the state legislative elections but still won 29 of 50 state Senate seats and 65 out of 120 state House seats — and that was in a good year for Democrats.
These gerrymandered maps were at various times over the decade ruled illegal racial gerrymanders or potentially unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders but, through continual and successful efforts to appeal those decisions in higher courts as well as redrawing partisan gerrymandered districts after court orders concerning racial gerrymanders, still managed to keep those gerrymanders in place. In at least one of those cases, newly unearthed documents showed that the Republican lied to federal courts in order to delay having to redraw districts.
After the Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymanders were constitutional, it appeared that Republicans might possibly be able to lock in their minority rule for another decade to come. But a recent state Supreme Court decision ruled that these partisan gerrymanders of the state legislative districts did, in fact, violate the state’s constitution because it did not fulfill the requirement that the voters freely elect their representatives. Because of these gerrymanders, there are voters in North Carolina who have never voted in a district that was not illegally gerrymandered this entire decade.
The negative effects of GOP gerrymandering extended beyond just the electoral process by providing other legislative methods for Republicans to consolidate power. When a Democrat managed to win the gubernatorial race in 2016, the Republican supermajority in the legislature tried to strip him of some of his powers and grab control of the state election boards. It tried to pack the state Supreme Court in order to eliminate the Democratic majority on that bench as well as successfully instituting various further voter suppression tactics.
In 2018, one of the Republican candidates for Congress engaged in a large electoral fraud via the illegal use of absentee ballots in order to ensure his nomination and election. When that was exposed, the state legislature and the GOP in general still tried to have their candidate seated in Congress, an effort that failed when a new election was called. Despite the years of cries from Republicans about Democratic voter fraud, this election marked the first federal election in decades that had to be rerun because of fraud. That special election still resulted in another Republican victory and included the seemingly inexplicable 24 point swing of a district dominated by the Lumbee native peoples away from the Democratic candidate, who was the same candidate as in the prior fraudulent election. That might be explained by the fact that 62% of the absentee ballots from that district were not returned as opposed to the statewide average of just 16%.
In another brazen partisan move, the Republican in the state House reportedly promised Democratic legislators that there would be no vote on overriding the governor’s veto of the current budget while 9/11 memorials were being held. When enough Democrats had left the chamber, the GOP then held the vote and overrode the veto, a move that illustrates just how low the party will go to maintain and exercise their power. The driving force for overriding the governor’s veto was to ensure that Medicaid expansion did not occur, guaranteeing the unnecessary deaths in the state would continue and further illustrating that the GOP literally is the party of death.
The aforementioned state Supreme Court decision that finally ruled the GOP gerrymandering unconstitutional requires redistricting be completed by September 18 in order to ensure new maps for 2020. The court ruled that process must be open and transparent. Again, the Republican legislature showed how much respect it has for democracy and the courts by trying to get the multimillionaire who has orchestrated the Republican takeover over the last decade as a referee in the redistricting effort. In addition, the legislature held a committee hearing on redistricting with just 30 minutes notice and without providing the actual new maps for public comment until the hearing actually began. It now appears likely that the Court will take the redistricting effort out of the legislature’s hand and draw their own map. That will probably create a cry from the Republicans that the Court itself is hijacking North Carolina democracy.
The anti-democracy tactics of the Republican party in North Carolina have elicited hardly a word of censure from Elizabeth Heng or any other Republican. To the contrary, Republicans have used the state as a template for similar anti-democracy actions in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Utah, and elsewhere. In 2016, a neutral election expert equated the state of democracy in North Carolina to quasi-democracies such as Indonesia and, heaven forbid, that bedrock of socialism, Cuba. If Heng is so worried about the collapse of our democracy and the rise of an autocracy, perhaps she should be far more afraid of her own party than she should of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on September 14, 2019.