Jonathan Kraut | Examining 3 Ways to End a Democracy

Jonathan Kraut

When our founding fathers embarked on “the great American experiment,” the question was if a population could resist submitting to autocratic rule.  

At that time, with rare historical exceptions, the people accepted and even embraced dictatorships and monarchies. 

It was believed then that the common people were not smart enough or determined enough to engage in and maintain self-government. 

Whether the ultimate power of government can sustainably emanate from the electorate remains a question even today.  

In 1991, Russia emerged from the Cold War as a new democracy. 

However, the Russian legislature, controlled by Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs, in time interceded and fashioned the new rules enabling Putin to govern with absolute power.  

In 2007, the Venezuelan Parliament empowered Hugo Chavez to become de facto dictator for life and Venezuelan democracy melted into autocratic rule.    

In both Russia and Venezuela, local candidates seeking funding and endorsement in order to win an election had to promise allegiance to an influential leader. Once these candidates won their local races, these electeds in return created ways to grant full power and unrestricted authority to their endorser.  

This endorsement-fealty cycle cuts out obligation to the voting population. 

In this scenario, candidates are beholden to the influential leader and not their constituents. The first way to kill a democracy is to vote for candidates who promise unquestioned loyalty to an influential leader, i.e. a Donald Trump, and ignore democratic values. 

Last week, the Supreme Court heard the case Moore vs. Harper. 

This case arose when the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down a gerrymandered election district map that was created by the Republican legislature that the court described as “extreme and egregious.” 

The North Carolina Legislature claims the North Carolina Supreme Court does not have the authority to regulate or evaluate decisions made by the Legislature. Republicans are asserting that two clauses in the U.S. Constitution imply legislatures can make electoral decisions without any checks, balances, or state court oversight.  

This question of legislative power can be interpreted as giving state legislatures the ability to ignore the will of the voters and designate a slate of electors who may designate any candidate of their choice as the victor of an election. 

Article 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” 

Proponents of legislature primacy are asking the Supreme Court to ignore the restricted definition related to “holding Elections.” 

Rather, they wish to expand interpretation of the Constitution to include the drawing of districts that control and define electoral results instead of just how to hold an election. 

The other constitutional section being questioned in Moore vs. Harper is the Presidential Electors Clause. This clause states, “Each state shall appoint in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct the number of electors…” 

Again, Republicans are claiming that the limiting phrase “the number of electors” actually means the conduct of the electors and how they vote, even if this does not reflect voting results.  

The second way to kill a democracy, as we saw with Russia and Venezuela, is to remove the power of the voters and court oversight, and instead allow legislatures the unfettered power to fashion districts and appoint designees. 

When legislative bodies ignore election results, voter representation is no longer important and a dictatorship is born. 

Democratic politics is messy and sometimes contentious. As we have seen, key issues historically dominate American discourse and rancor.   

In recent years, the American conservative movement has all but disappeared. It has been replaced by party loyalty to a person and no longer to any set of ideals. The GOP, once the party of the rule of law and supporting rigorous constitutional adherence, has become an example of entitlement and lawlessness, and promotes unconfirmed claims.  

Republican leadership ignores clear violations of the law and instead promotes such nonsense as the “election was stolen” and anything questioning Trump is a “witch hunt” and “the most unfair treatment in history.” These examples of MAGA Republican attitudes move toward how our democracy may come to an end.  

A third way to end a Democracy is to blindly render loyalty to a person, such as a Donald Trump, and place secondary a set of ideals or a political movement.  

There are two years ahead of us until the next election cycle. Perhaps by then the GOP will again embrace conservative thinking, abandon its failed autocratic leader, and become “Grand” once again?   

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the CFO of an accredited acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.  

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