We Must Stand for Our Democracy

Much like Nero fiddling while Rome was on fire, far too many of our politicians are more interested in self-preservation than preserving our democracy.

Our democracy is at risk, and we cannot afford to allow the instability of weak-kneed politicians to decide the fate of our country. An informed public must be more attentive to the direction of our democracy. Recently, over 100 scholars with expertise in democracy formation and preservation signed a joint statement warning that as a result of Republican-led states efforts to make “radical changes” to election laws, the voting procedures in several states are being transformed into “political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.” This profound statement also includes a distressing prediction: “our entire democracy is now at risk.”

Much like Nero fiddling while Rome was on fire, far too many of our politicians are more interested in self-preservation than preserving our democracy. These are dangerous and important times, and there is no time to spare for the usual fiddling around issues.

Since all politics are local, a review of the West Virginia senatorial delegation is instructive. First, the dog and pony show of West Virginia’s two Senators has grown quite tiring. While Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore-Capito travel around the state together, cutting ribbons and acting like a political version of Sonny and Cher, our democracy is in peril.

Joe Manchin’s attempt to be pivotal in establishing bipartisanship has become notable if not laughable. Not only has Manchin almost single-handedly destroyed the Democratic party in West Virginia through his support of Republican candidates and his “Republican Lite” approach, his inability to stand as a Democrat, even as a conservative one, has weakened the national Democratic majority and put the Biden agenda in jeopardy. The West Virginia Democratic Party, led by Manchin surrogate and cousin Belinda Biafore, has been out of compliance for minority participation for many years. Importantly, recent decisions regarding African American participation have been insensitive, if not outright racist.

Manchin’s positions do not make sense. He continually weakens Democratic legislation by insisting on Republican inclusion only to have no Republican support when the votes are taken. Rather than taking principled positions, Manchin is all about himself and his personal brand and appeasing a racist part of his West Virginia Constituency.

After insisting Democrats accept virtually all of the Republican demands, Manchin looked ridiculous when asked to explain why he was unable to muster 10 Republican votes to form a bipartisan commission on the January 6th insurrection. Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that “100%” of his focus is on blocking the Biden agenda, and his main comrade in this endeavor is good old Joe. If Republicans will not vote to investigate an attack on our Capitol, they will not cooperate on anything.

Importantly, Manchin singlehandedly standing in the way of reducing the power of the filibuster is a direct affront to the strong support he has received from West Virginia’s African American community. While it is often noted that the African American population in West Virginia is only 3.4%, that is almost the exact margin of Manchin’s recent senatorial victory over Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. I witnessed the strong push for African American votes made by Manchin’s young African American staffer. In West Virginia’s metropolitan areas, the African American population percentage is at or near the national average of 13%. The Black vote pushed Manchin over the finish line in 2018, and his current disrespect for African American voters is a slap in the face to these voters.

Robert C. Byrd, Manchin’s senatorial predecessor, often used the filibuster and sometimes utilized it to thwart civil rights legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I truly wonder, under the current situation, whether even the late Senator Byrd, who dramatically improved his perception of civil rights later in his life, would be in favor of ending or at least weakening the power of the filibuster. Manchin is not that reflective.

The filibuster is not a Constitutional provision, and it has repeatedly been weakened to fit the purposes of the times. Both Democrats and Republicans have limited the filibuster when they had the power and need to do so. Importantly, the filibuster has a shameful legacy of being used to restrict the voting and civil rights of African American voters in the past and is now threatening to perpetuate partisan and anti-democratic injustice. Manchin owes it to our democracy to work with his Democratic colleagues and anyone else of goodwill to end the tyranny of the minority that the filibuster supports, especially in the area of civil rights.

Not to be outdone by the Manchin machinations, Senator Shelly Moore-Capito lost all of the little credibility she retained with her vote against establishing the January 6th Insurrection Commission. Senator Moore Capito’s father, former Governor Arch Moore, was a moderate Republican. Although his moral failings are what many remember, he was an able administrator and strong leader. Few remember that when Arch Moore was in Congress, he supported public works projects and civil rights. Arch Moore voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Senator Moore-Capitol has shown disappointingly little leadership and independence and plays to the worse instincts of our state. While I admit that Donald Trump was politically strong in West Virginia, at some point, does basic morality mean anything? Capito was silent when Trump called African countries S-hole nations, silent when he detained children in unconscionable conditions at the southern border, silent when he caused the insurrection of our hallowed US Capitol, and failed to vote for his impeachment both times. Additionally, unlike her late father, she advocates for reducing resources in the infrastructure emphasis of the Biden administration in a state that is in dire need of governmental financial infusion.

Manchin and Capito should be ashamed of their refusal to end or at least weaken the filibuster and also support the For the People Act (S.1). This Bill is an essential response to the challenge to our democracy that the over 100 democracy scholars outlined. Senator McConnell promises to use the filibuster to block the For the People Act even though it would protect the voting rights of Black voters and others disproportionately harmed by state voter suppression bills.

S.1 would make it easier for Americans to vote, reform campaign finance laws, curb partisan gerrymandering, and outlaw voter suppression measures.

Voting For the People Act and ending or weakening the filibuster are votes to strengthen our democracy.

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