I’ve just finished reading Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels.  Using various periods in our history (The Civil War, the McCarthy Era, Reconstruction, etc), Meacham tries to reassure us that things have been bad in the past and we managed to survive and even move forward.  When I think about this history I am comforted until I read the news.

In today’s Daily Kos Elections email newsletter we find that the Republican Party in North Carolina has changed its mind about joining in the effort to seek a new election and that the losing candidate in a New Mexico congressional race is refusing to concede a race she lost 51-49.  Add to the mix what is happening in Wisconsin and Michigan and the only conclusion is that the Republican Party no longer believes in democracy.

From the Daily Kos:

NC-09: In a bizarre about-face, the North Carolina Republican Party is once again demanding that the state Board of Elections certify the results of the tainted race in the 9th Congressional District, less than a week after state party executive director Dallas Woodhouse all but called for a new election. Woodhouse, rather impossibly, claims that his position “has not changed”; rather, he insists, the state GOP is only objecting to the fact that the board has delayed a public hearing on the matter until Jan. 11 and has not produced “one iota of public evidence” that wrongdoing altered the outcome in the 9th.

Of course, it’s impossible to square these two things. If, as Woodhouse briefly purported to, you believe that the widespread allegations of election fraud merit a thorough investigation, then you need to allow the necessary time for that investigation to proceed. Had the board instead tried to rush matters rather than conduct a serious inquiry, then Republicans would be howling about a lack of “due process.”

And this

NM-02: Even though we’re now six weeks out from the 2018 midterms, Republican Yvette Herrell still hasn’t conceded to Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small, who won New Mexico’s open 2nd District 51-49 in a race that wasn’t called until the day after Election Day thanks to absentee ballots. Like many of her fellow Republicans, who’ve decided that elections aren’t legitimate when Democrats win them, Herrell has been busy sowing vague doubts about the democratic process—and, naturally, refusing to substantiate any of her claims.

While the Daily Kos makes no claims to being non partisan, the underlying facts are pretty clear:  When the Republicans lose, they no longer believe in the democratic process.

On December 11, The Guardian ran an opinion piece by Andrew Gawthorpe, a lecturer in history and international studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which did an excellent job of summing up what is going on.

America’s federal system of government is, in theory, key to the strength of its democracy. As opposed to citizens in the more centralized states of Europe, Americans get to vote for a huge array of local offices, policies and ballot initiatives that can influence their lives for the better. Innovation in the states can be healthy for the whole country, such as when healthcare reform in Massachusetts provided inspiration for the Affordable Care Act. The supreme court justice Louis Brandeis famously praised US states as laboratories which could “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country”.

In Wisconsin, where Scott Walker’s loss to the Democrat Tony Evers was a national embarrassment for Republicans, the legislature has moved to seize control of welfare policy from the incoming governor. Evers will no longer be able to overturn policies that require food stamp recipients to take drug tests, or that require Medicaid recipients to meet a work requirement. Nor will the state’s new attorney general, also a Democrat, be able to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit which seeks to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

Given that these are all policies that the incoming Democrats fought and won their elections on, we might expect Wisconsin Republicans to show some humility. But we would expect wrong. Wisconsin speaker of the House, Robin Vos, instead warned his fellow Republicans that the power grab was necessary to stop a “very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in”. Just not quite enough, that is, to actually win the election.

Gawthorpe concludes

While so much outrage is rightly directed at Donald Trump’s daily attacks on democratic norms, the growing detachment of establishment Republicans from them is arguably an even greater concern in the long run. Trump’s general incompetence and lack of focus have so far prevented him from doing serious damage to voting rights, but his administration has provoked a backlash and energized the left. This swinging of the pendulum is how democratic politics should work. But events in Wisconsin show the limits to what can be accomplished by even an energized left in the face of disciplined Republican attempts to rob them of the power that is rightfully theirs.

To see the complicity of establishment Republicans in these attempts to turn the states into laboratories of anti-democracy, look no further than Paul Ryan. Even as he leaves politics this year, the Wisconsin congressman and poster boy for a supposedly “respectable” conservatism has been silent on events in his home state and their broader implications. There is little indication that the next generation of Republican leaders will have any more scruples, and plenty of reasons to fear they will have fewer. As the incentives increase for Republicans to ignore the will of the voters, the threat to American democracy today goes much deeper than Donald Trump – and consequently will be all the harder to tackle.

Many of us, myself included, spend a good deal of energy wallowing in the latest chapter of the Trump soap opera.  Perhaps we need to spend more on saving our democracy.  But is will be difficult when on political party appears to no longer believe in our basic democratic values.  Jon Meacham tells us that things have been bad before, but we have survived.  I hope he’s right this time.

Queen Elizabeth at the United Nations

On July 6, Queen Elizabeth addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations for eight minutes.  The speech received little of no attention and I wouldn’t even have known about it until I read the most recent Newsweek and Jon Meacham’s very interesting thoughts on the speech.

Queen Elizabeth

First from the New York Times

Queen Elizabeth II addressed the United Nations for the first time since 1957 on Tuesday, paying homage to the organization’s accomplishments since she last stood at the famous green podium of the General Assembly.

It was a brief speech (see text), just eight minutes, assuring that  the queen’s remarks would not join the annals of infamous harangues from the podium delivered by long-reigning leaders like Muammar al-Qaddafi, who spoke for more than 90 minutes last fall, or Fidel Castro of Cuba. It was the first of three public visits during the queen’s daylong stop in New York City.

On her first visit, just four years after she took the throne, the queen came gliding into the United Nations in a black slip dress (or at least it looked black in the rapturous newsreels about the visit), high heels and a fur wrap. There was definitely no need for the fur wrap in the suffocating July heat on Tuesday — the queen wore a flowered suit and a curvy, elegant hat.

If the monarch, now 84, did not exactly sweep through the hall with the same grace as her 31-year-old self, the United Nations building itself looked rather more tattered, only now undergoing its first renovations since it was built around 1950.

So what did Jon Meacham make of the speech?

Given her audience and the constitutional restraints on her role—the personification of political life, she must be above politics—Elizabeth’s brief address could be read as an exercise in ceremonial conventionality. Yet her little-noted remarks offer a meditation on globalism and post-imperialism from a woman whose ancestors ruled much of the world. For American conservatives who worry that President Obama (or, really, any Democratic president) veers dangerously close to “one worldism,” the queen’s speech in New York serves as an inadvertent endorsement of a habit of mind in which power, both military and economic, is best exercised cooperatively rather than coercively. Saluting the U.N.’s diplomatic and relief work, she specifically cited the challenges of terrorism and climate change; the latter is of special concern, she said, for a “careful account must be taken of the risks facing smaller, more vulnerable countries, many of them from the Commonwealth.”

Meacham continues

What she takes very seriously—and I use that “very” advisedly—is the British Commonwealth, the loose association of 54 countries of which she is the titular head. There is no single superpower in her realm; she came to the throne in 1952 in the aftermath of World War II, a conflict in which the U.K. saved freedom but lost an empire. She has spent the last half century offering the Commonwealth a kind of subtle but steady rhetorical leadership—not unlike that provided by the U.N.

In a world of asymmetrical threats—terror, nuclear proliferation, disease, poverty, and climate change—multilateralism is not, to borrow an image from Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, a policy of choice but of necessity. This does not mean America ought to go limp. Quite the opposite, in fact: the projection of our strength is magnified when we project it in concert with allies, whether through the U.N., NATO, or some provisional force created for a given military or policy purpose.

Foreign-policy doctrines are, in my view, chiefly useful in retrospect, not in real time, for the making of policy is almost always provisional, subject to the forces and the exigencies of a given moment. Which is why if we have to go it alone, we will. We learned how from Elizabeth’s first prime minister, Winston Churchill. But those hours will prove the exception, not the rule.

The rule is a world like Elizabeth’s Commonwealth. And the work endures. Quoting the late U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, the queen said, “ ‘Constant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon.’ Good nurses get better with practice; sadly, the supply of patients never ceases.”

This quote from Queen Elizabeth sums up what she believes and what I think Barack Obama’s view of diplomacy comes close to

It has perhaps always been the case that the waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all.  I know of no single formula for success, but over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal, and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration, to work together.

I have to think that the conservative, George W. Bush/Dick Cheney/Tea Party view of the world where the United States is the ultimate power and can just tell other countries what is going to happen is rapidly becoming outdated.  The world is becoming a large democracy with everyone needing to have a say.  We need to listen to the Queen and work together.