The story of last year’s election is pretty simple. Despite major obstacles — including a pandemic, and massive voter-suppression efforts by Republicans — 158.4 million citizens cast ballots, or nearly two thirds of all eligible voters, the largest percentage in 60 years.
Joe Biden beat his opponent by seven million votes, and Democrats reclaimed control of the U.S. Senate. Donald Trump’s desperate claims of fraud ran smack into the reality that he had no evidence. According to a slew of Republican election officials, the vote counts were free and fair.
But the 2020 election also laid bare the extent to which Republicans will go to defy democracy. On January 6, a deadly mob of insurrectionists, buoyed by lies and encouraged by Trump, invaded the U.S. Capitol, threatening to kill legislators and briefly shutting down the election’s official certification.
The coup failed, and Democrats in the U.S. House immediately set about drafting a bill to protect American voting rights, which have been under assault from conservatives for decades and now face a slew of new proposals aimed at making it harder for citizens to vote.
The For the People Act is an historic effort to protect voting rights. It includes measures such as automatic registration for eligible voters, banning voter identification requirements, and curtailing the practice of partisan gerrymandering. It also includes provisions aimed at preventing special interest groups from influencing elections.
[T]he 2020 election also laid bare the extent to which Republicans will go to defy democracy.
As with other common-sense proposals — think: gun control — the bill is wildly popular with voters all across the political spectrum.
Which means it is terrifying to the billionaires who have long used their fortunes to rig American democracy. We now know just how terrifying, because Jane Mayer, at The New Yorker, got ahold of an audio tape in which conservative operatives in the employ of petrochemical magnate Charles Koch express their fears to an aide to Mitch McConnell.
The exchange is startlingly transparent.
Koch and his minions are terrified that the For the People Act might actually rip the veil of secrecy from their agenda.
What scares them, in particular, is how popular the bill is among all voters. “…The most worrisome part,” says Kyle McKenzie, a Koch-funded researcher, “is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public … when they read the neutral description … There’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”
Omigod! Did you hear that? Conservatives actually support common-sense voting reform.
This leads McKenzie to a discussion of various ways in which Koch and his Republican allies might try to vilify the bill. Linking the bill to progressive icon Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, for instance. Or using conservative catch phrases such as “cancel culture.” Alas, these efforts at propagandizing fall flat.
But wait, it gets even scarier! The most effective message on behalf of the bill, McKenzie notes, is that it “stops billionaires from buying elections.”
Because there is no effective way to counter this argument, McKenzie concludes, the best approach is to disregard public sentiment and kill the bill in Congress, using the Senate filibuster, that old faithful when it comes to thwarting the will of the people.
What they want -- to abuse the Gettysburg address -- is a government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires.
The most revealing contribution to this conversation comes from long-time conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is aghast at the prospect that passage of the bill might out billionaires who would prefer to influence politics without revealing their identity.
“The left is not stupid, they’re evil,” Norquist explains. “They know what they’re doing. They have correctly decided that this is the way to disable the freedom movement.”
Do the math here, folks: the “left is evil” for proposing a voting rights bill that the vast majority of Americans, including conservatives, support.
This is how billionaires and their minions actually think about democracy. They want no part of it. What they want — to abuse the Gettysburg address — is a government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires.
This is why GOP state lawmakers have introduced more than 250 measures since the election, all aimed at making it harder for citizens to vote, in particular minorities and lower-income voters, who tend to support Democrats.
It’s quite obvious what’s happening here. Republicans are trying to rig the system against democracy itself. For decades, magnates like Charles Koch have pulled the strings of American democracy. Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have an historic opportunity to level the playing field, to “destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics,” as Teddy Roosevelt put it back in 1912.
They must recognize the stakes of this moment, and use any means necessary — including abolishing the Senate filibuster — to pass the For the People Act.
Correction: A previous version of this piece misstated the number of people who voted in the 2020 election. We regret the error.