The legal, lawful, and democratic expulsion of two lawmakers for willingly disrupting the proceedings of every other lawmaker in the Tennessee House Chamber can only be transformed into a threat to democracy if the word itself has no meaning anymore.
“We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy,” proclaimed Tennessee Representative Justin Jones after he and another Democrat colleague were expelled from the chamber by a supermajority vote last week. The move to expel three Democrat members, one of whom survived by a single vote, came after the Tennessee House Chamber was overrun by protestors inside and outside the gallery, at least one of whom tried to force their way into the building through a line of police. Amid this chaos, Representative Jones and his colleagues chose to enter the well of the chamber with a bullhorn, joining and leading the protest rather than carrying out their duty as lawmakers. Putting this another way, we can just as easily say they were expelled for assaulting the democracy Tennessee’s residents voted for in action. Call it democracy in the eye of the beholder. Further, no one disputes that the remainder of the Tennessee House had the authority to expel the members via the (once-considered) democratic process of voting or that the three individuals in question knowingly violated the rules of the chamber. Mr. Jones himself admitted as much, saying that his personal predilection for protest trumps other considerations, that they had broken “a House rule because we’re fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weaponry in our communities.”
You can debate, as many have, whether expulsion was too severe a punishment, but that the chamber was thrown into chaos by lawmakers who refused to follow the rules and that this same chamber had the power to expel the participants is not in question. Somehow, however, this inconvenient and rather democratic fact is rather magically dismissed by claiming the remainder of the democratically elected legislature is there only via gerrymandering. Thus, the progressive website Vox.com highlights the research of University of Washington political science professor, Jake Grumbach, who claimed Tennessee is the least democratic state according to a metric he created and that, you guessed it, Republican states in general are less democratic than Democrat states. As Vox described it, “It’s not exactly clear, from Grumbach’s research, why Tennessee is particularly anti-democratic. But what his research does show is that it’s not isolated: The state is part of a general trend where democracy has degraded in Republican-controlled states.” They quoted Professor Grumbach himself, who said “The results are remarkably clear: Republican control of state government reduces democratic performance,” in his book Laboratories Against Democracy. In other words, Justin Jones and his fellow Democrats are free to exercise whatever power they like on behalf of their constituents, but Republicans who follow the rules of the chamber and vote according to their consciences on behalf of their own constituents are fundamentally less democratic, whatever they do. Republicans, you see, do not have powers vested in them the same way Democrats do because of democracy itself.
Representative Jones was not alone in claiming democracy was at risk. Protestors in the chamber claimed Republicans were “Fascists” for proceeding with the expulsion. President Joe Biden almost immediately declared the expulsions “shocking, undemocratic and without precedent.” Vice President Kamala Harris went one step further and arrived in the state in support of the expelled lawmakers. “We understand when we took an oath to represent the people who elected us that we speak on behalf of them. It wasn’t about the three of these leaders,” she said in remarks after meeting with all three. “It was about who they were representing. It’s about whose voices they were channeling. Understand that — and is that not what a democracy allows?” Democracy here has been even more magically transformed into a permanent right to protest, whatever you like, wherever you like, whatever rules you had previously agreed to. Gone is the antiquated notion that lawmakers represent their constituents via reasoned debate governed by parliamentary procedure and voting on bills. In its place lawmakers are now “channeling” voices, and needless to say that is precisely what democracy “allows.” That this is an entirely new and rather fundamentally flawed position is left unsaid. The right to protest has hitherto been seen as a vital part of democratic debate, but no one to my knowledge has ever elevated it to democracy itself for obvious reasons. One can protest in favor of anything, even those things that are anti-democratic. Progressives, for example, regularly refer to the anti-abortion advocates as a movement that seeks to strip democratic rights from women. Progressive firebrand and member of the House of Representatives recently alluded to this in a tweet haranguing the Supreme Court, “Barring some dramatic change, this is what the Robert courts will be known for: rank corruption, erosion of democracy, and the stripping of human rights.” Does anyone truly believe she or Vice President Harris would extend the same protest as democracy rights to a conservative lawmaker disrupting business for a pro life demonstration? Ironically, the protest Representative Jones and his colleagues conducted can easily be seen as anti-democratic in and of itself given the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution.
Jan-Werner Muller, writing for The Guardian, builds out the protest as democracy argument and lays out the case that Republicans aren’t sufficient defenders of democracy in more detail, even claiming that someone has been disenfranchised, or rather “de facto disenfranchised” because nothing of the sort has occurred. The representatives that were expelled are free to run again, and interim representatives will be appointed almost immediately. In fact, Representative Jones himself was reinstated as of yesterday, making this even more much ado about nothing. Nonetheless, “This de facto disfranchisement demonstrates yet again that the problem with the GOP is not one lone demagogue (who may or may not be consumed by lawsuits), but a commitment by plenty of its members to authoritarianism at federal, state and local levels.” Authoritarianism in this case means actually enforcing the agreed to rules via the proper votes, because “we must remember that even measures beyond ordinary protest – namely civil, which is to say peaceful, disobedience – can be legitimate if they serve democratic ends.” Republicans, on the other hand, are not serving democratic ends, even when they properly protest and vote. Instead, they are “experimenting in state assemblies to see how they can entirely disempower their opponents through measures that violate the spirit of democracy, but are passed in procedurally correct ways.” In other words, democracy is no longer defined by established procedures and votes but by some undefined spirit that necessarily and perfectly aligns with progressive causes. If there was any confusion over that point, Mr. Muller makes it plain by assailing “the multiple veto points that allow well-resourced minorities to block legislation which, in less dysfunctional democracies, would long have long been pushed through. It is not protesters who cause ‘disorder’ and ‘dishonor’ here; it is the cynical defenders of a long-discredited status quo.” Therefore, if you happen to believe that the incarnation of democracy the United States has been perfecting for close to 250 years is the correct one, the one where the majority is constrained by the rights of the minority for overwhelmingly obvious reasons, you no longer believe in democracy at all.
Democracy itself, which has generally been seen as a means to maintain a stable society using a combination of open debate, representative voting, and protections for fundamental rights, is now explicitly an “us versus them” phenomena where one’s belief in democracy is as simple as with us or against us. If you are on what progressives consider the right side of any issue, nothing you do – even interrupting the action of democracy – is undemocratic. If you are on the opposite side, no matter what you do – even voting in an actual democratic fashion – is undemocratic authoritarianism. The status quo – that is a country that guarantees fundamental rights to everyone via the Civil Rights Act and various amendments added throughout our history, and one which allows for the enshrinement of new rights – has been “long-discredited” by progressives, of course. One wonders why this denigration of our democracy is not in and of itself seen as an assault on democracy, save for the fact that none of this is about democracy in the first place. Democracy is the veneer with which progressives feel they can capture, hold, and exercise power. The political stunt undertaken by Representative Jones and others in Tennessee had nothing to do with “channeling” voices or whatever other euphemism anyone chooses to apply. Demonstrators had already made their feelings about gun control clear by gathering outside the building and packing the rotunda, forcing lawmakers to rely on additional security to carry out their duties. These thoughts were echoed far and wide by Democrat politicians and the mainstream media, so much so that you would have to be living under a rock in the bottom of the ocean to miss it. It is barely an exaggeration to say that there is no one in the country who is not aware that Joe Biden and the Democrat party favor stricter gun control measures. This is not some secret or new issue that has been suddenly thrust upon us.
Representative Jones, however, was not content to simply have these voices heard in their right to free and open debate. He wanted to exercise power, to demonstrate that he could disrupt the legitimate proceedings of a democratic body if he so chose, though he had absolutely no right to do so and, indeed, had agreed not to do so by virtue of being a lawmaker himself. He was not conducting a protest. He was forcing his will on every other lawmaker except the two who joined with him. Sadly, this is not the only time Representative Jones has engaged in this type of behavior. Representative Jones is, in fact, technically banned from the Tennessee Capitol after assaulting two Republican lawmakers in 2019. As The Tennessean reported, “Justin Jones, 23, was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of disorderly conduct after authorities say he threw a cup of coffee into an elevator, striking Casada and Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington.” The arresting officer reported that he “attempted to push his way past uniformed state troopers” while approaching the elevator yelling “Casada is a racist.” This arrest occurred during a “protest” over a bust of Nathan Bedford Forest, a Confederate and early Klan leader. Representative Jones was arrested at yet another protest in 2017, this time over Medicaid expansion. Protest, disruption, and intimidation over anything at all is clearly a habit of his. In another age, the exercise of power of this kind would be called fascism, tyranny, or whatever term you prefer for the opposite of democracy. In our own, democracy has no meaning anymore.
2 thoughts on “Democracy has no meaning anymore”
“the majority is constrained by the rights of the minority” seems quaint, when you take into account human nature. If the minority is not useful but a barrier, then … yeah. By whatever means necessary. So far, that has just meant redefining words and rules in the name of some moral high ground.
This might get ugly.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Agreed, I am generally an optimist, but it’s not clear how we get back to anything resembling normal without some major ugliness. The country is based on the idea that the majority has to be restrained for obvious reasons, otherwise it can do whatever it likes to whomever it likes. This used to be common sense. Now, it’s far from it and I don’t see how it comes back to reality easily.
LikeLiked by 1 person