Adjusting to One-Party Rule
Only the Democratic party — corrupted though it may be — is willing to submit to the rule of law. Should it move to the center in order to represent everyone interested in representative democracy?

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 6 February 2022

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A (failed) thought experiment on one-party rule. (see the follow-up post, here.)

This week, the Republican Party took the final step. They declared, officially, that the January 6th protests, riots, violence, insurrection or murders (depending on your perspective) were “legitimate political discourse.” Further, they ratified the motion that any representatives attempting to determine what happened on that day are officially censured and no longer supported by the party. Today’s resolution declared that Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger, by agreeing to serve on the January 6th Select Committee, are guilty of “sabotage.”

Encouragingly, even Trump former stalwart Mike Pence disagreed with the decree, daring to assert that he most definitely should not have been hanged during the so-called legitimate discourse occurring at the Capitol on January 6.In striking defiance of his party, Pence claimed he still has the right to life because he did not truly have the power to overturn the election that day. He effectively committed treason against the Republican party by declaring that “Trump was wrong” and overturning the election against the will of the people would be “un-American.”

I have long resisted joining the strident chorus of people each claiming the other side is guilty of either authoritarianism or totalitarianism. After all, almost any political belief taken to the limit falls into one of those extremes, and some of what I hear coming from the progressive caucus feels intolerant and illiberal. But the Republican party’s breathtakingly open endorsement of authoritarian values — their full-throated, officially enacted expulsion of conservative voices in favor of pure Trumpian rule — means there is now only one legitimate political party in the Republic.

Only the Democratic party — compromised and corrupted though it may be — is still willing to submit itself to rule of law, the electoral process, and internal debate. At least in principle, if not entirely in deed. In the American system, not everyone in a political party has to agree with one person. That’s called something else. By embracing anti-democratic values as well as legitimizing violence, the Republican Party has officially, unequivocally declared itself out of the game of representation.

We must accept them at their word. Until conservatives can build a new party of their own, the only choice now is for the Democratic Party to make room for its conservative partners in government. It must welcome Elizabeth Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney, Chris Sununu, and others still committed to Constitutional Law, regardless of the social and economic positions they hold. It would have to rise above or beyond the function of a mere political party, in order to serve as a de facto legislative body. This seems to me the only strategic choice capable of assembling a majority who believe in constitutional law and staving of authoritarianism, at least for a session or two until an alternative party for conservatives could be “spun off.”

But if it were going to rise to such an occasion, the Democratic Party would have to accept some changes, itself.

For if they are going to be the only functional party, then the Democrats can no longer cater only to their most progressive caucuses. They can’t shame those who fail purity tests, or trigger-cancel those who haven’t caught up with the latest social justice orthodoxy. They can’t even assume the supposed inevitability that progressive values will increasingly dominate the landscape. No, if the Democratic Party is going to fulfill the entire function of legislation, then it must commit to representing conservative as well as liberal interests. It must hold the center so that everyone interested in the dialectic can participate.

Could something like this work? Even temporarily?

Perhaps the party could establish two sub-parties — a conservative democrat caucus and a liberal democrat one — who engage in the sort of debate we used to get from a two-party system. The caucuses can go back and forth until they reach compromise language on a bill. It might look something like the current debates between the Democrats and their own two dissidents — Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin — except it would end in an agreement instead of an impasse. Then they would go to the real chambers of congress and vote for what they agreed on, leaving the authoritarian minority to continue arguing against representative democracy itself.

The two caucuses might eventually bifurcate into two legitimate political parties, and leave those arguing against the integrity of the republic to whatever remains of the Republican party.

But the Democrats would only have the moral authority to govern in such a fashion if they earnestly abandoned all ideologies except for the commitment to constitutional process, rule of law, and the electoral system. Yes, Mike Pence would count as a member in good standing of such a party — no matter his beliefs on race, gender, religion, abortion, inequality, or capitalism. Achieving a super-majority this way would work better than temporarily defeating authoritarianism through the suspension of the fillibuster.

The way we rise the occasion of officially sanctioned insurrection may be to embrace the democratic process at the expense of what used to be the Democratic Party. Our ability to agree on just that much may be enough to govern together again.