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SIEGEL: The slaughter of democracy

How the Republican Party murdered American Democracy

Voter ID laws aim to disenfranchise voters, particularly minorities.
Voter ID laws aim to disenfranchise voters, particularly minorities.

President Donald Trump is the worst president in American history. He has forever damaged America’s society, culture, global standing, influence, economy and democracy. He spreads lies, misinformation, conspiracy theories, xenophobia, misogyny and attacks the fundamental institutions of our democracy and his political opponents. While Trump has caused these problems, he truly is a symptom of a decades-long crusade that devalues American voters. For years, the Republican Party has seemingly been working on a plot to undermine American democracy — this effort has gone unnoticed for far too long. 

In 1971, Lewis F. Powell Jr. — who later became a Supreme Court Justice — wrote the little-known Powell Memo for the Chamber of Commerce. He encouraged a coordinated attack on American society by businesses, encouraging them to infiltrate college campuses, influence education, increase political advertising and spend millions to influence campaigns. He also suggested undermining the duty a politician has to their constituents. He further wrote that businesses must support an “activist-minded Supreme Court” to influence court decisions supporting political expenditures. 

Powell encouraged a new way to undermine American political processes in the interest of profits. Over time, his agenda slowly but surely hacked away at our democracy. For example, in 2010, after President Bush shifted the ideology of the court, the Supreme Court voted along party lines in one of the most egregious Supreme Court decisions in American history — Citizens United v. FEC, which held that “corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited.” Organizations that gave amicus briefs on behalf of Citizens United were given a combined $293 million from Koch Industries. Even worse, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife received over $680,000 from a Koch-funded group, which remained undisclosed on his financial disclosure forms. The decision’s effects quickly became clear. It stripped away more than 100 years of campaign finance laws and regulations. It gutted any sort of restrictions on businesses and enabled major loopholes for foreign contributions in American elections. By 2018, political spending more than tripled from the 2010 levels. Because of Citizens United, Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson has been able to contribute more than $113 million to Republicans over the last few years. Therefore, ultra-wealthy Americans and business owners are able to have a greater political influence than those with fewer means.

The insidiousness of the Republican Party, further, knows no bounds. In 2009, at a meeting between top Republican donors, Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller gave a presentation dedicated to redistricting efforts. He outlined a plan that would put Congressional district reapportionment in the hands of Republicans by spending billions of dollars to take control of state legislatures. As a result, Republicans were able to control redistricting efforts in dozens of states. The Republican plot, led by Hofeller and Virginia’s own Ed Gillespie, aimed to restrict voters’ power. He drafted new voting districts in an effort to subdue minority and Democratic voters. They weaponized data on racial and ethnic voting trends, grouping them together in demented districts. The ultimate goal — making it impossible for a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. 

In 1980, influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich said, “our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Republican strategists and political leaders lived by this ideal. Thirty-six states in the United States require some form of government identification in order to vote. Most of these laws were pushed in the last few decades based on the Republican assertion that there is widespread voter fraud. This is a solution without a problem. Between 2000 and 2014, there were 31 cases of voter fraud out of 1 billion votes cast. That is a voter fraud rate of 0.000000031 percent. You have better odds of having quadruplets or being hit by lightning, twice. 

These Voter ID laws aim to disenfranchise voters, particularly minorities. Around 11 percent of Americans do not have any form of valid government ID. With minority groups, it’s even worse. Sixteen percent of Hispanic Americans do not have any form of government ID. Twenty-five percent of African Americans have no government-issued ID. This is compared to 8 percent of white Americans who have no government-issued ID. These voter ID laws clearly aim to suppress minority voters. An aide to the Republican caucus in Wisconsin wrote on his Facebook that the Republicans were “giddy” about suppressing voters. Mitch McConnell also repeatedly said that efforts to make voting more accessible are a Democratic “power grab.” President Trump has admitted that if voting were more accessible to American citizens, “you’d never have a Republican elected again.” The people orchestrating these perversions of American democracy have admitted that their goal is to restrict the people’s power. The efforts by Republicans to stop Americans from exercising our constitutional right to vote reveals one thing — the more people vote, the less likely they are to win.

By the end of this, I will be denounced as a leftist lunatic. People will call me a communist or a dirty liberal. The only cause for the name-calling is that I believe in a democracy where participation matters, not parties. I have no vendetta against Republicans or conservative Americans, not even Trump-supporters. In reality, I have a vendetta against elected officials entrusted with the care of this country who use their power for their own personal gain. Two Republican presidents have won the presidency without the consent of the governed by winning the Electoral College. Our democracy is on its lifeline. The Republican Party of today is hoping that we as the electorate do not notice it. The hope is that we stay silent as they kill democracy. 

Jeremy Siegel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com. 

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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