For the second time in just two months, this country’s federal legislature is unable to perform its functions because of the threat of right-wing violence. After a warning from intelligence agencies about yet another attempt to breach the Capitol by pro-Trump right-wing militias who subscribe to the conspiracy theory that Trump will be inaugurated on March 4th, the US House of Representatives cancelled its Thursday session. The reported plot apparently also includes attempts to seize congressional Democrats, apparently in order to kill them, or simply blow up the Capitol in order to kill as many members of Congress as possible. As Josh Marshal points out, “get used to this becoming the norm in response from threats from pro-Trump terrorist groups”. It is a sad day for our democracy when terrorists can intimidate the government from conducting its business.
This, of course, follows on not just from January 6th but also from previous invasions of state capitols around the country by armed, pro-Trump protestors that began when Trump called for certain states to be “liberated” last spring and continued into the summer and fall. Those disruptions of state legislative business and the intimidation of state legislators culminated with the disrupted plot to kidnap and execute a Democratic governor.
Three Republican governors, in Texas, Mississippi, and Massachusetts, of all places, relaxed their Covid restrictions this week. In Texas and Mississippi, the states’ governors lifted all Covid restrictions and eliminated the state’s mask mandate. In Massachusetts, restrictions on indoor dining were lifted but the mask mandate remained in place. Republican governors in Iowa and Montana also abandoned their mask mandate. None of these states have vaccinated nearly enough of their population to come any where near herd immunity. In fact, Texas, which already resembles a failed state after the climate change-induced collapse of its electricity grid, ranks 48th out of 50 states in percentage of population vaccinated. In addition, Republican governors in Maryland and Florida are apparently ensuring that their supporters get vaccinated first, leaving minority communities with substantially lower vaccination rates than their white counterparts.
With the highly contagious English variant of Covid now spreading rapidly in the United States, these governors’ decisions will result in more unnecessary infections and more unnecessary deaths. A rapid spread of this highly infections variant may also create one last surge that will overwhelm hospitals before vaccinations and the end of winter bring infections down again. Worse, rapid and widespread infections of this new, highly contagious virus will allow even more mutations, which may eventually render the current vaccines less effective or ineffective altogether.
While the focus has largely been on vaccination skepticism among minorities who have been traditionally abused by the medical system, it is actually white Republicans who are the most likely to say they will not get vaccinated. A recent poll showed that around 46% of Republicans say they will either wait and see or not get vaccinated at all. There is no way this country will ever get to full herd immunity if nearly half of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, the virus will continue to spread and continue to mutate, putting us all at risk.
This week also saw the Supreme Court hear oral arguments in a case that could potentially put the final nail into the coffin of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The case involved a challenge to two Arizona election laws that nullified out-of-precinct ballots and criminalized so-called “ballot harvesting”. The plaintiffs argued that these provisions disproportionately denied the franchise to minorities. Under questioning, the lawyers for the defendants made some astounding and frankly frightening assertions.
As Mark Joseph Stern reports, “Justice Elena Kagan revealed the absurdity of Republicans’ proposed test in a series of brutal questions directed at Michael Carvin, lawyer for the Arizona GOP. Imagine a state cancels Sunday early voting, she told Carvin, even though Black people are 10 times more likely to vote on Sunday than white voters. Would that be legal under the VRA? Yes, Carvin responded. Kagan continued: Imagine a state allows voting only on Election Day and opens the polls exclusively between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If voters of one race are 10 times more likely to work a job that prevents them from voting during that time, would that be legal under the VRA? Yes, Carvin answered again. As long as all voters have an equal opportunity to vote in theory, it does not matter if a law mostly harms voters of color in reality”. In response to a question from Amy Coney Barrett about why the party was involved in the case, a lawyer for the RNC lawyer answered, openly admitting that eliminating these kind of voting restrictions “puts us [the Republican party] at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats”.
Nowhere is the attempt to use rampant voter suppression to overcome the Republican “competitive disadvantage” when eligible citizens are actually able to vote more evident than in Georgia. There, the Republican legislature has passed a raft of measures making it more difficult to vote, including severely limiting early and mail-in voting. The upshot of all these changes is that minority voters will probably once again have to wait in five to ten hour lines just to be able to vote. And just to ensure those waiting in line do not become too comfortable, the state is now trying to criminalize giving food or water to a person waiting in line to vote.
The Republican assault on our body politic has become an existential threat to our country. Rampant voter suppression is the direct attack on our democracy. Taking intentional acts that will allow the coronavirus to spread more rapidly is, in its own way, an act of bioterrorism. And the use of political violence to influence, interrupt, or overthrow a functioning government is the very definition of terrorism. The targets of all these actions are minorities and the people who represent them. As Brain Beutler writes, “Republicans overwhelmingly understand Trump is more or less like a warlord or terrorist cell leader but they nearly all embrace him as their leader nonetheless”. Indeed, the GOP has become the party of domestic terrorism. In just a few short years, this country has fallen from a full democracy to a flawed democracy. We are well on our way to becoming a failed democracy. Democrats have barely over a year and a half to stop that.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on March 4, 2021.