In a recent interview that aired on CNBC, Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp praised the Augusta National Golf Club for not following in the footsteps of Major League Baseball and re-locating the prestigious Masters golf tournament it hosts. Major League Baseball, of course, in wake of the Governor signing voter suppression legislation into law, announced it would no longer hold its annual all-star game in Atlanta this year, choosing instead to schedule the game in Colorado.
The nature of Kemp’s praise revealed quite starkly what we need to understand as the Republican Party’s intense and open disdain for democracy and its vision of itself as a ruling political class whose obligation to the people is not to represent them but to dictate to them. The people’s role, in turn, is to obey and comply.
Indeed, Kemp said in the interview, “I personally applaud the Masters for not getting involved in politics” and bowing to “growing calls by activists that are trying to pressure people’ in the sports industry.
To underline the obvious, here we have a political leader in a supposedly aspiring democratic society offering positive reinforcement to an organization for not participating in a political system that hails itself as one governed by, of, and for the people.
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Kemp, of course, does not stand alone among Republicans in discouraging and disdaining behavior consistent with a participatory democracy.
Earlier in the month, after Coca Cola and Delta issued critical statements in the aftermath of Georgia’s voter suppression legislation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly admonished business entities for voicing political positions and taking part, if not in the political process, then certainly in a civic dialogue. He told reporters at a news conference in Louisville:
“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics. It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”
Corporations, while people, are simply not “designed” to take part in the American political process, in shaping American society and playing a role in determining how and by what rules America will be governed and who will govern it.
Now, we already know that the Republicans think a good number of Americans fall into a class of people who are not “designed” to take part in politics. The voter suppression efforts have made clear to masses of people, often but not exclusively people of color, just as McConnell announced loudly and clearly to corporations, that they should be staying out of politics.
Leave the governing to us, little people, the Republicans condescendingly tell us. You are not suited for politics or “designed” to take part in making decisions about your lives.
Put another way, the Republicans have revealed their conception of themselves as a ruling elite beholden neither to corporate America nor the masses of Americans. They don’t understand themselves as representatives trying to listen to and understand the interests of their constituents so they can work to realize them. Rather, they see themselves as enforcers of their own crafted ideology, paternalistic leaders in a Republicans-Know-Best polity in which their policies are muscularly implemented whether the majority of Americans like them or not.
Of course, we can simply look at recent history and see that Republicans don’t know best and have been creating an America that does not serve Americans. They ignored the coronavirus pandemic, providing no nationally coordinated effort while hundreds of thousands of Americans needlessly died. They give exorbitant tax cuts to the wealthy while ordinary Americans have difficulty accessing quality affordable health care, finding affordable housing, paying for college, and more, while economic inequality surges.
But they know better, and think Americans have no business exercising the vote to take the congressional majority from them.
Kemp and McConnell are simply echoing key Republican talking points that advocate for keeping Americans out of politics.
Kevin D. Williamson, for example, in a recent column in The National Review titled “Why Not Fewer Voters?” elaborates this position, questioning the belief that having more voters is a good thing, writing, “Why shouldn’t we believe the opposite? That the republic would be better served by having fewer — but better — voters?”
Arizona Republican State Representative John Kavanaugh also recently asserted that “not everybody should be voted,” stating, “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”
The quality of the votes? How would we measure that?
And let’s be clear, we have political leaders who are accused of sex-trafficking, who are openly racist and sexist, who nakedly lie to the American people, and worse—and yet the Republican party and its conservative punditry are positing themselves as the moral adjudicators of “quality” voters!
And let’s look at Williamson’s premise: “The fact is that voters got us into this mess. Maybe the answer isn’t more voters.”
Wrong. It was precisely having more voters that got us out of the mess Trump made.
And it wasn’t voters who got us into the mess. It is an unchecked Republican Party that engaged in a widespread misinformation campaign and refused to check Trump who was doing the same.
If Republicans want quality voters, they should tell the truth and provide accurate information–rather than all their misinformation–and accessible quality public education for all Americans.
But, of course, they don’t really care about voters. Kemp and McConnell make clear that neither corporations nor people should getting involved in politics or acting in any way as if we are living in a representative or, God forbid, participatory democracy.
The message they send to Americans is clear: “Stay out of politics and leave the destruction of you and your country to us.”
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.