MAGA as Christian nationalism...and the NC legislature's push for absolute power
The drive for minority rule comes from many directions
It is critically important to pay attention to the many different strands of attacks on fundamental core principles of American democracy and how they are interconnected.
With that in mind, a couple of articles caught my eye today:
First, in the NY Times, Katherine Stewart’s chilling description of Christian nationalists’ plans to impose their values on the rest of the country through assertion of judicial power in the Supreme Court combined with unrestricted legislative power in some states. Make no mistake, as the lineup of speakers at the Faith & Freedom’s annual Road to the Majority conference demonstrates, there is direct alignment between the Christian nationalist movement and MAGA - from Trump on down.
We also need to understand that Christian nationalism is a counter-majoritarian grievance-based movement based on perceived oppression of the faithful by the combination of secular and religiously non-fundamentalist Americans. The movement is inherently hostile to democracy, because it knows that its values are not held by the majority of Americans. Its adherents are increasingly motivated by the sense that mainstream America is intent on taking their rights and liberties away — thus the rhetoric we frequently hear from Trump and his acolytes suggesting 1) that “your way of life it at stake” and that their enemies (Democrats, liberals, elites, academics, scientists, public health officials and so on) must be “fought” and “defeated.”
When these concepts take on the absolutist imperative of religion and so-called “enemies” are consistently demonized - even dehumanized - you can easily see how the movement justifies violence to achieve what its members believe are religiously sanctified goals. The rhetoric is becoming even less subtle (even after the violence at the Capitol) as Stewart recounts: “Just mount up and ride to the sound of the guns and they are all over this country … we need to take our country back,” said Republican Senate campaign chair Senator Rick Scott.
Next, I recommend Marc Elias’ summary on “Democracy Docket” of what will be at stake when the Supreme Court considers the “independent State legislature” theory when it hears Moore v. Harper next fall. Elias explains how the case involves the North Carolina Republican party’s effort to negate the NC Supreme Court’s rejection of the deeply gerrymandered map the Republican-dominated legislature proposed for the 2022 congressional elections (it would have given Republicans 10 of North Carolina’s 14 House seats even though the congressional vote in the state is close to 50/50). Under the “independent State legislature” theory asserted by the NC Republicans, the state legislature would have absolute power to shape all aspects of elections without any supervision by state courts interpreting their laws or even their state constitutions. Elias explains how endorsement of this theory would dramatically alter our system of governance that relies on independent courts to check the power of elected legislatures. The decision to even put this case on the docket suggests that at least 4 Justices are open to endorsing this radical concept.
While Elias accurately portrays the stakes in this case, if anything, he understates the extent to which North Carolina Republicans have attempted to manipulate the electoral and legal frameworks in my current home state to give them absolute political control of what is really a purple, only Republican-leaning state.
To review, Republicans took power of both chambers of the legislature in 2010 and promptly created wildly gerrymandered legislative maps designed to give them veto-proof majorities in each chamber as well as a 9-4 margin in the congressional delegation in subsequent election. That occurred in 2012, along with the election of Republican governor Pat McCrory. Not satisfied with its grip on power, this legislature produced a radical voter ID law intentional designed, as a federal court of appeals concluded, to disenfranchise Black voters with “surgical precision.” Fortunately, that law was struck down as unconstitutional (but would it be under the “independent state legislature theory”?
When the voters considered four years of absolute Republican rule in 2016, they opted for divided government by rejecting McCrory in favor of Democrat Roy Cooper (even while Trump won the state over Hillary Clinton by over 3%). Nonetheless, the lame duck legislature passed a series of laws just before Cooper was sworn in that shifted many of the governors powers over to the legislature. The voters weighed in again in 2018, and broke the Republican’s veto proof majority, providing Governor Cooper and Democrats at least some semblance of power to curb the excesses of NC Republicans, who tried to govern our moderate state as if we were Mississippi.
While all this was occurring, courts were considering and rejecting the state legislative and congressional maps put into place for the 2012 election. In 2015, a court finally struck down the congressional map as racially discriminatory (which by then had produced a 10-3 Republican advantage based on an electoral margin of only 53-46%). The legislature drew a new map that was then used for the 2016 election This map was challenged as a partisan gerrymander and struck down by a three-judge panel, yet the Supreme Court stayed the ruling and the maps were used again in 2018. After the Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymanders were not prohibited by the federal Constitution, the litigation went to the NC Supreme Court, which found the maps to be violative of the state constitution. The new maps drawn in response to the NC Supreme Court ruling produced a 8-5 split in 2020 - finally providing at least some modicum of fairness after unconstitutional partisan gerrymandered maps had been used for eight years in the past 4 elections. And now we are going through this again with the maps for the upcoming 2022 election. (Similar stuff happened with the state legislative maps, but it is too long of a story to tell here).
Put these stories together and you have a frightening scenario. We have an anti-democratic Christian nationalist movement with the MAGA base at its core running the GOP, which is using every lever possible to manipulate our electoral processes to institutionalize minority rule at the state and federal levels. All this fuses in the persona of the NC Lieutenant Governor Mark Richards (likely 2024 candidate for NC Governor). As Stewart details in her piece, Richards spoke at the Road to the Majority conference and compared the Christian nationalist effort to gain power to the the fight against Nazi Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, claiming that “we find ourselves in a pitched battle to literally save this nation.” And then, “referencing a passage from Ephesians that Christian nationalists often use to signal their militancy, he added, “I don’t know about you, but I got my pack on, I got my boots on, I got my helmet on, I’ve got on the whole armor.’”
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