Let's Watch Angus King's Barn Burner Speech On Voting Rights!
'We are at a hinge of history.'
Yesterday, Senate Republicans blocked the bipartisan Stop Republicans From Cheating bill that Joe Manchin had worked so hard to craft in a way that would win approval from Republicans. This is because Joe Manchin is far more committed to the fiction of bipartisanship than to any objective reality. For all Manchin's absurd fantasies that Republicans might vote to prevent their own party from cheating, the bill itself is actually quite good, and it really ought to become law.
Tuesday, with that vote still pending, Sen. Angus King, the independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, delivered one hell of a speech on why we need the bill — and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — to protect democracy from some very real threats. It was passionate in all the right ways, invoking the long struggle to make democracy work, and pointing out just how easy it is for democracies to fail. If you have 24 minutes to feel inspired about saving American democracy, give it a watch , and if you don't read what we wrote about it below!
King pointed out that American Democracy is a fragile thing, an "anomaly" among systems of government, not because America is uniquely good or right or exceptional, but because we've spent nearly two and a half centuries trying to make it work, even if it's only really become a government for all Americans since sometime after the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Now, King argued, we're facing the greatest threat to the Republic since 1860, thanks to the efforts by Donald Trump and his supporters to negate the 2020 election.
Two interrelated things are happening right now with regard to this system that are unprecedented in my lifetime and that are profoundly dangerous to our fragile republic; one is the breakdown of trust in the system itself, and the other is an overtly partisan attempt to use this loss of trust as a pretext to change the results of future elections by limiting the participation of voters deemed unworthy (although this is rarely said out loud) or unlikely to vote for your particular political party.
All the talk of "election integrity" and the need to stop "voter fraud," King pointed out, is nothing more than a cynical ploy to make elections less fair, less inclusive, by suppressing the votes of people who might thwart one party's desire to stay in power. Bills passed in the name of "election integrity," he says, aren't addressing any real problems in the electoral system. There just isn't any substantial "voter fraud" to root out, and even bogus efforts like the Arizona "audit" couldn't find any. "The only fraud," King said, "is the allegations themselves."
Even worse than the efforts to suppress the vote, which is pretty damned bad, the manipulation of election laws by Republican state legislatures actually worsens the problem they're supposedly fixing, spreading a "massive and unprecedented erosion of trust in the electoral system itself, the beating heart of our democracy."
King appealed to very recent historical precedents:
It's important to remember that most failures of democracy started with legitimate elections, but once in office, the leader manipulated the electoral process to consolidate their hold on power, just as was attempted here last winter. And once power is seized, the control and reach of the modern surveillance state is truly terrifying. Ask the Uighurs in China, or members of the opposition in Russia, if you can find any alive.
Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Hungary are examples of the slide into authoritarianism just in our lifetimes; those countries still have elections, but they don't mean much.
Worse, he said, it can happen here. Republican state legislatures are already passing laws that would allow it:
And what if the current wave of voter suppression legislation succeeds and keeps tens of thousands of people from voting, or what if in 2024 a partisan legislature in a swing state votes to override the election results and send its own set of electors to Congress? Then it won't just be Republicans who distrust elections, and we will be left with a downward spiral toward a hollow shell of democracy, where only raw power prevails and its peaceful transfer becomes a distant memory.
There has been a great deal of talk in recent months of a possible constitutional crisis in 2022 or 2024; Madame President, we don't have to wait that long; we are in the midst of such a crisis right now. One of our great political parties has embraced the idea that our last election was fraudulent, that our president is illegitimate, and that they must move legislatures across the country to "fix" the results of future elections.
A substantial proportion of our population has lost faith in our democratic system and seems prepared to accept authoritarianism; all but the most extreme sources of information have been devalued; and violence bubbles just below the surface.
But it doesn't have to be that way. There's still the chance to stop it, by protecting everyone's right to vote. Democracy, King said, is fragile, relying not only on the Constitution and the law, but "even more so on the trust our people place in our democratic system — and in us."
Deliberately undermining that trust for short-term political advantage — which is exactly what is happening right now — is a tragic and dangerous game. No election, no endorsement, no Senate seat, no presidency is worth it.
Well sure, easy to say if you know that if everyone is allowed to vote, they'll prefer your ideas. How are Republicans supposed to compete on a crazy basis like that?
For good measure, King invoked the Battle of Gettysburg, noting that the Union's survival was "a near thing," and said that the challenge of protecting democracy today is nearly as great, particularly if we want to avoid a similar national catastrophe. He said that he truly believes America is "at a hinge in history," when the "fate of the American experiment hangs in the balance."
So like we say, good speech. Not enough to change any Republican minds, but plenty to energize the next phase in the fight to save voting rights. Last night, following yesterday's Republican filibuster of the bill, King appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and explained that, for all his prior skepticism about ending the filibuster, he absolutely supports passing an exception that would allow protections of the vote to pass with 51 votes.
The filibuster, he noted, isn't in the Constitution, and in the face of the GOP's "pure unadulterated obstruction," we're in a crisis of democracy, and "now, I say, you know, democracy has to trump a rule."
Here's hoping Angus King can schedule a lunch date soon with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
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