West News Wire: Numerous methods have been used to describe the recent action taken by Tennessee Republicans to expel two young, Black Democratic state senators for participating in a nonviolent demonstration for gun regulation in the wake of a horrific mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school. 

The expulsions were referred described as “anti-democratic” by some, and “fascistic” by others. The dismissal of these two young Black men has also been called “racist” and an echo of the state’s shady past, along with the inability to discipline their older White female colleague for the same offence. 

In addition, many saw the political stunt as a mistake and an own goal. Since both ousted lawmakers were swiftly reappointed to their seats by their districts, they have both gone on to become rising stars in the nation, speaking with President Joe Biden and meeting Vice President Kamala Harris, who made a surprise and impassioned appearance in Nashville. 

Meanwhile, the Tennessee GOP has been widely condemned by Democrats, and some prominent Republicans, including the state’s congressional delegation. Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee, however, opted to remain silent on the move. 

It is challenging to not doubt the legislators of Tennessee’s decision to implement such a severe, contentious, and ultimately pointless punishment. However, the drama in Tennessee is just another step for the GOP in the same direction when seen from a national perspective. Recently, the party has abandoned any support for democracy it may have once had and also seems determined to further a clearly anti-democratic, if not outright fascist, political agenda. What the Tennessee Republicans did in this situation was a test case, not a mistake or an overreach. 

In this state and elsewhere around the country, Republicans have been pressure-testing the strength and limits of democracy, seeing where they can violate and erode the rules and norms of democracy in order to gain and hold office and push through conservative laws and policies. 

The ACLU says since 2021, 10 states have enacted anti-critical race theory laws that attack “our First Amendment rights to read, learn, and discuss vital topics in schools”, with over two dozen additional anti-CRT laws proposed in 2022 alone. 

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law which tracks legislation that “restricts the right to peaceful assembly” reports that seven states have enacted anti-protest laws since 2017. These laws, among other provisions, enact harsh penalties for blocking traffic and some states’ laws provide immunities for drivers who hit pedestrian protesters. These laws have also been employed to crack down against journalists covering protests. 

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In addition to suppressing vital civil rights, Republican governors and state legislators are also actively engaged in efforts to undermine the power of voters, efforts that Brennan Center fellow Zachary Roth calls “legislative anti-democracy”. These moves have included heightened efforts at gerrymandering; reconfiguring the way Electoral College votes are allocated to favour Republican candidates; making direct democracy, such as ballot initiatives, more difficult to achieve; and using state laws to negate or undermine more liberal local municipalities. 

The Republican-appointed majority of the Supreme Court, in tossing aside the principle of stare decisis to overturn Roe vs Wade despite it being “settled law”, has now emboldened conservative judges to engage in the type of judicial activism that liberals have often been accused of conducting. 

On the grounds that the FDA had unlawfully approved the abortion medicine Mifepristone in 2000, a federal judge recently made an attempt to enact a nationwide ban on the substance. The ruling’s dubious and inadequate justification made it evident that it was a political choice rather than a rational one based on law or science. 

Such challenges from conservative judges aiming to build cases for the conservative justices to enact more components of their agenda are anticipated to increase in frequency in the near future given the Supreme Court’s conservative and highly politicised supermajority. 

It is not just that conservative Republican officials are pursuing their agenda through various branches and levels of government. It is that they are doing so in ways that disregard or even actively violate fundamental principles upon which American democracy was founded they appear willing if not eager to damage that democratic bedrock in order to enact their agenda. 

And they are actively learning from one another. 

Other times, plans fall flat, and the party changes its strategy. Donald Trump’s unwillingness to concede the 2020 election led to imitation election sceptics in states including Arizona and Michigan. But these assertions were disproven, and the majority of deniers finally lost their bids for political office at the state level. Even so, a number of prominent proponents of Trump’s “stolen election” narrative were able to advance in the state GOP apparatus, some of whom went on to become party chairs and continue to move the party to the right using fresh tactics. 


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