Democracy For Sale

There’s anti-Trump energy across the country, and not just in blue environs as raucous town hall meetings in Iowa and Arkansas and marches nationwide have demonstrated. Karl Rove notes that about one fifth of the electorate is Trump Forever, over a third are Trump Never, and a fifth each voted for Trump but could be lost if they don’t like his program or performance, or voted against him but could be persuaded his way if he proposes policies they can back.

Obviously the balance of power lies in that 40 percent in the middle. “Indivisible,” the online guide to grassroots disruption, activism and organizing, is telling many political neophytes how to form groups aimed at influencing their MoCs — Members of Congress — slowing the Trump takeover or mounting a counter-reformation.

Sounds good in theory, and since the election I have read the “Indivisible” guide and attended a precinct meeting, but I live in a state that went from having eight Democratic MoCs and five Republican in 2009 to one represented by just 3 Ds and 10 Rs today. It has also switched to a General Assembly that is majority Republican in both houses (House 74-46, Senate 34-16) for the first time since 1896.

Obviously this is a serious shift from purple to flaming crimson. If this trend continues Democrats are about to go extinct while Republicans are multiplying like mink. Or are they?

In fact, Obama won the state in 2008 and only narrowly lost it 50-48.3 in 2012. In 2016, a Republican Senate incumbent was reelected by only 51.2%, Trump won with 50.5% of the vote, and the incumbent GOP governor lost a 49-49 race. So, if we remain a purple tie ballgame in statewide races, what accounts for the huge shift from Democratic to Republican dominance in the General Assembly and Congress?

Two things, the 2010 census and redistricting coupled with the Citizens United decision which permitted limitless undisclosed spending by malefactors of great wealth. This allowed a handful of mega-donors to hijack democracy and install government favorable to their personal economic and ideological interests.

Interested readers will find the story of this process in Jane Mayer’s essential “Dark Money.” At the center is an oligarchic cabal made up of anti-government billionaires like the Koch brothers with their petroleum fortune, the DeVos family with their AmWay billions and several dozen others. Their wealth allows them to overwhelm scores of candidates funded without the aid of billionaire supporters. The cabals clout at the national level can be seen in the fact that, though they didn’t back Trump, their creatures now control the Trump administration’s State Department, Education Department, EPA, CIA and so forth.

In North Carolina their billionaire viceroy is Art Pope. Using a fraction of his $39 billion retail fortune and the campaign and influence infrastructure created by his fellow cabalists, he was central to the effort to paint the North Carolina electoral map red by clandestinely funding campaigns, using front organizations to pay for and air smear campaigns against their opponents, employing the elaborate cabal-funded advocacy apparatus to influence opinion using propaganda mills like Heritage, Cato, and Pope’s Carolina version, The John Locke Foundation.

Once in control of the statehouse after the 2010 census, they used a high tech weaponizing of the gerrymander to redistrict the state in their favor and to simultaneously pass laws and rules designed to suppress the vote of groups unlikely to favor their agenda — minorities, the poor and the young.

So, in my state, districts were redrawn after 2010 to concentrate minority and urban voters in three democratic districts in places like Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill that already leaned left. The results by 2016 were lopsided margins in favor of Democrats of 70-30. But this made it possible to design 10 other distracts in which Republicans could win by more marrow margins.

For example, the two Democratic-leaning cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem ought to have had a reasonable chance to send Democrats to Congress, making the balance of power no worse than 8-5 Republican. But Winston-Salem’s Forsyth County was put in a district (NC-5) with eight other rural Republican counties tilting it decisively red.

The more populous Greensboro county of Guilford would have had almost enough voters to create a Democratic district by itself, so it was sawed in half and each section put in a different district — NC 6 and NC-13 — in order to dilute the Democratic vote.

So I am now in NC-13 where Democrats are essentially disenfranchised by being outvoted by four rural counties to give us a home-schooling gun shop owning Congressman. NC-6 required the addition of another 7 counties to the the other half of Guilford to give it a Tea Party, Evangelical minister Congressman.

Organizing, marching, forming local political groups, embracing the tactics of “Indivisible” to bring hard questions to town halls, to flood representatives with letters and calls, and to otherwise make grassroots voices heard is all to the good.

But it is an uneven battle if the dark money cabal decides to bring its nearly infinite resources to bear on your city, county, or state, to gerrymander your legislature and suppress opposing votes. This isn’t democracy in action. It is oligopoly, and ought to scare Americans all across the political spectrum.

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