Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How Long Will Our Legitimacy Crisis Last?

This has been a dark week in American politics. John McCain basically said that Republicans, who have blocked president Obama's Supreme Court nominee, would also block any nominee put forward by Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump and many of his surrogates have proclaimed that this is a "rigged" election, and are calling on their minions to take action.

I believe what we are seeing is the latest chapter in a legitimacy crisis that stretches back to the 1990s. Republicans since the Clinton administration have decided that any Democrat in the White House is de facto illegitimate. They impeached Bill Clinton over a hummer after years of obstruction. The levels of obstruction got even worse under Obama, with the debt ceiling used as a hostage taking device on more than one occasion. Worse than that, Congress has refused to act on Merrick Garland's nomination, something that in a normal year would be considered a constitutional crisis.

Why do Republicans assume that every Democratic president is illegitimate? It's a matter of ethno-nationalism, really. Republicans see themselves as the "real Americans," and thus if they lose, it must be the fault of anti-Americans, or a nefarious plot to subvert the will of the true majority. Keep in mind, no Democrat for president has carried a majority of the white vote since LBJ. Deep down a lot of Republicans feel in their guts (they probably don't even consciously think this) that a president not approved by a majority of white men or white people generally is not legitimate.

How much more of this can our nation endure? The weakness of the Republican Party in presidential elections means that they are likely locked out of the White House for the foreseeable future. If Clinton wins, they will have lost the popular vote in six out of the last seven elections. This era may soon resemble the period between 1860 and 1908, when Democrats won only two presidential elections over a 48 year period, with the parties reversed.  The "real Americans" will not stand for such an outcome.

If Democrats keep the White House, the paramilitary organizations (which is what militias are) will only get stronger. The white nationalists, who have used this election to grab a place in the political mainstream, will only have more and more disaffected white voters available to sway to their side. Above all, the Republicans, as long as they can keep winning off-year elections, will just obstruct obstruct obstruct, and get their way by refusing to cooperate. They will also deny the legitimacy of the other party's presidents, and keep ratcheting up the "rigged election" rhetoric and the fear of people of color, all while the folks on the fringe are oiling up their guns.

This state of affairs cannot last forever. A house divided against itself cannot stand. It must become either all one thing, or all the other.

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