Opinion: To Save Democracy And Achieve Unity, Senate Democrats Must Kill The Filibuster

Speaking last Friday at the Conservative Political Alliance Conference (CPAC), Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz stood by the objections they raised to the senate’s typically perfunctory and ritualistic certification of the electoral vote affirming Joe Biden’s election to the presidency.  These objections no doubt contributed to the Trump’s months-long incitement of the rioters who besieged the nation’s Capitol in murderous fashion last January 6.

I’m not going anywhere,” Hawley told the audience. “I thought it was an important stand to take.”

Cruz even went so far as to downplay the real threat the murderous mob posed to members of congress, staff, police, and other workers at the Capitol, mocking Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s expressions of fear while effectively ignoring the cries of the mob to lynch Mike Pence and kill Nancy Pelosi.

And, of course, they are not alone, joined by Republican Senator Johnson who continues to assert the violent protests were led by fake Trump supporters, not to mention the vast majority of senators who refused to indict Trump in the recent impeachment hearings and the many who continue to promulgate the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Trump.

One conclusion, among many, we need to draw–and emphatically underline–from this behavior is that political unity between these parties is not possible given the starkly, indeed diametrically, opposed positions the parties have taken with respect to our system of democracy itself.

Republicans have made clear in their behavior that they oppose democracy, having used every means possible to undermine democracy in order to secure for themselves the power of the U.S. government. They continue, for example, to pursue their historically aggressive agenda of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Thus far, since last November’s election, GOP lawmakers in 28 states have advanced over 100 bills aimed at restricting access to voting.

They are far from lovers of democracy.

Indeed, on the whole, they have joined Trump in pushing the conspiracy theory that everybody from the federal courts, including Trump appointed justices, to local officials, to voting machine manufacturers, to postal workers have nefariously collaborated to steal the election from Trump. This theory rests on the premise that Republican governors, such as Georgia’s Brian Kemp and Arizona’s Dough Ducey, both Trump supporters, as well as Trump-appointed federal justices, Republican secretaries of state, Mitch McConnell, and more, are all in on it and lying. Only Trump, documented as a notorious pathological liar, can be believed.

They want power, not representative democracy. They don’t care that the majority of Americans support increasing the minimum wage. They don’t care that a majority of Americans desperately want and need a COVID relief package.  They have no desire to represent the interests and needs of the American people, only to enforce and impose their own moral and economic vision on Americans.

They haven’t acted like a party of law and order, based in the rule of law. They behave like a party of anarchic autocrats seeking to assert a Republican order largely informed by hate regardless of the wills and wishes of the American people, especially LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, working people, women, disabled people, people who practice religions other than Christianity, and more.

Democrats tend to honor the democratic system, working to sustain and extend its operation such that they restrain themselves from power grabs, respecting and privileging the system over the interests of accruing political power to assert and impose one’s own agenda.

Given these differing attitudes—and actions—towards democracy itself, political unity is not possible.

But political unity is different from national unity. Arguably, a government that fosters national unity is one that works to serve the lives, meet the needs, of all Americans.

Since the Republicans have no interest in that kind of national unity, as evidenced in their resistance to Biden’s COVID relief package and to increasing the minimum wage, both largely supported by the American people, we can see that a political unity, a mangled compromise, between Democrats and Republicans would actually undermine Biden’s sincere efforts at unifying the nation.

And this is why Democrats must exercise the mechanisms are democratic system affords to eliminate the filibuster.

The spirit of the filibuster, a mechanism that effectively means legislation must earn 60 votes in the senate to pass rather than a simple majority, was to inspire, indeed insist on, political compromise.

But compromise is not necessarily the spirit of democracy, especially when that political compromise results in crossing and disregarding the will and needs of the American people.

The Democrats are perfectly within their rights and would be playing within the rules of our democracy to eliminate the filibuster. Mitch McConnell was perfectly happy to eliminate the filibuster in 2017 when it came to confirming Supreme Court Justices. That’s a pretty big deal. These nine people exert an incredible amount of decision-masking power overt the lives of Americans.

Surely we can allow 51 elected representatives to make a decision about important legislation impacting millions of lives, such as whether or not to increase the minimum wage.

As Democratic Senator Brian Schatz noted in a tweet: “The filibuster was never in the constitution, originated mostly by accident, and has historically been used to block civil rights. It’s time to trash the Jim Crow filibuster.”

In short, the filibuster has been a senate tool typically deployed to disrupt democracy, rather than enable it.

It has short-circuited the senate’s ability to legislate on behalf of, as elected representatives of, the majority of Americans, to honor their will.

If Democrats want to save democracy and work toward unity, they must remove the obstacle of the filibuster.

In they don’t, be assured the American people won’t applaud and re-elect Democrats because they preserved this mechanism of fruitless and mangled compromise; they’ll blame them for not serving them, honoring their wills, and acting to meet their needs.