backgrounder

It’s All Part of the Same Problem

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January 8, 2018 3:45 pm

Josh’s post from last night, “That One’s Settled,” makes a key point: We like to think there are certain shared principles — respect for the rule of law chief among them — that the American left and right share, even as we disagree about healthcare or the proper size of government.

In fact, this isn’t true. As Josh points out, the Freedom Caucus is now going after Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to adequately protect Donald Trump from Robert Mueller’s investigation. It’s a blatant attempt to prevent an impartial probe and thwart the rule of law. The news that the Justice Department has revived its investigation of the Clinton Foundation, after calls from President Trump to do so, may point in the same direction.

As Josh writes: “This right — which is the only meaningful American right today — is consistently authoritarian and hostile to any checks on a rightwing President.”

In my book, The Great Suppression, I made a version of this point in reference to election issues like voting rights, redistricting, and money in politics.

These fights aren’t just isolated spats over process, or self-interested inter-party skirmishes. They reflect fundamentally divergent world-views. One sees democracy as a normative good in itself, and as crucial to any claim of political legitimacy. To the other, it’s at best a method for achieving effective government, and at worst a blueprint for chaos.

That leads to a troubling conclusion: Most of us like to think that although Americans might disagree profoundly on some issues, and even on values like how to balance liberty with the common good, we all share a commitment to democracy as the way to resolve these differences. In fact, that consensus may be far more fragile than we’d like to think.

The book came out before the 2016 election, when issues like the rule of law and the impartiality of the justice system were a bit less salient than they are today. But whether we’re talking about voter suppression or using the Justice Department to target your political opponents, the broader point is the same: Today’s conservative movement and GOP, or a big part of it, doesn’t believe in the democratic and republican principles that many of us consider foundational.

For us at TPM, one takeaway is that the war on voting that we’ve covered closely for a long time here isn’t really separate from the Trump-Russia investigation, and from Trump and allies’ efforts to use all the powers of the federal government to push back against it. The same anti-democratic, authoritarian ideology is driving both. And both storylines should be understood in that light.

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