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What's More Sacred: The Filibuster Or American Democracy? 

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, left, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., walk to the chamber as the Senate tries to finish to its work going into the Memorial Day recess with Republican leaders insisting they will block a commission on the Jan. 6 insurrection, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, May 28, 2021.  (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, left, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., walk to the chamber as the Senate tries to finish to its work going into the Memorial Day recess with Republican leaders insisting they will block a commission on the Jan. 6 insurrection, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, May 28, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Last week, 35 Senate Republicans voted to block the establishment of a non-partisan commission to investigate the insurrection of January 6, during which thousands of rioters — hopped up on lies by the former president — stormed the Capitol, beat police officers and called for the murder of Vice President Mike Pence.

Thanks to the anti-democratic nature of the Senate filibuster, these votes were enough to make sure that the American people never receive a full accounting of one of the most violent domestic attacks on our democracy since the Civil War.

It’s a shameless effort to shield Donald Trump and his most toxic followers from any form of accountability, which is to say: just another day at the office for the quislings who run the Republican Party. These cowards have remained silent, even as the twice-impeached former president and his felonious henchmen, such as Michael Flynn, openly advocate for a violent coup along the lines of the brutality in Myanmar.

But to understand the true nature of our predicament, it’s important to recognize the events of January 6 as the chaotic public preamble to the real coup, which is a calculated legislative campaign designed to subvert our democracy by disenfranchising voters of color — one that has been remarkably successful.

As of late March, GOP state lawmakers had introduced 361 bills, in 47 states, intended to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote.

Predictably, these bills have been concentrated in the four swing states that voted narrowly for President Biden: Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The aim of all these bills is pathetically obvious: to make it more difficult for citizens of color to vote.

After four years of unprecedented corruption, cruelty and ineptitude -- and more than a year mired in pandemic life -- most citizens of good faith are burned out.

In Georgia, for instance, Republicans enacted a sweeping raft of laws that require absentee voters to prove their identity, forbids the distribution of food and water to voters who must often wait in line for hours, and, most ominously, allows Republican state officials to remove local election officials. In other states, bills aim to tighten voter-ID laws and to forbid election administrators from sending out vote-by-mail applications. Florida passed several voting restrictions last month, and Texas Republicans are eager to follow suit. (Texas GOP legislators were delayed only by Texas Democrats, who walked off the House floor, leaving Republicans without the required quorum.)

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All of these bills are based on the false notion that Trump has long promoted: any election that he, or other Republicans lose, must be fraudulent. There has never been any proof of this Big Lie. It is a propaganda tool used to justify rigging elections that Republicans cannot win fair and square.

For decades, Republicans have used this playbook. As their policies become more and more openly racist, corporatist and unpopular, and their base of support shrinks, they have exploited anti-democratic measures such as gerrymandering and the Senate filibuster — not to mention the Electoral College — to subvert the basic principle of majority rule.

The courts, stacked with conservative judges, have largely enabled this corruption, stripping away the voting protections enacted during the Civil Rights Movement.

Most Democrats in Congress recognize the stakes. This is why they are calling for the passage of the For the People Act which would expand voting rights and put an end to gerrymandering and other anti-democratic measures.

The Senate filibuster is often portrayed as some arcane tradition ... But it has become the linchpin of the GOP attack on voting rights

But the only way the bill can become a law is if conservative Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, agree to abolish the filibuster and restore simple majority rule.

If Manchin and his ilk refuse to do so, the Republicans will continue on their current course: obstructing President Biden’s popular agenda and nurturing the slow coup whose explicit goal is to erode democracy. It’s not just progressives like me making this case. This week, 100 scholars of democracy said much of the same in a new statement calling for a national voting and election administration standards: “[O]ur entire democracy is now at risk,” they write.

The choice is that stark. If Democrats squander the opportunity to level the playing field, they will have enabled the mob that Trump both incites and personifies, the paranoid demagogues and violent conspiracy theorists who now control the Party of Lincoln.

After four years of unprecedented corruption, cruelty and ineptitude — and more than a year mired in pandemic life — most citizens of good faith are burned out. But we're the ones who must apply political pressure right now. The Senate filibuster is often portrayed as some arcane tradition, hard to understand and easy to dismiss. But it has become the linchpin of the GOP attack on voting rights, and thus the single greatest threat to democracy. Kill it and the coup dies. It’s that simple

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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