How Gerrymandering Offers a Path to a Bloodless Authoritarian Coup
The US Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal over electoral districts in Wisconsin, after a lower court ruled that the state’s Republican-drawn map constitutes an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.” This is a very important case, since gerrymandering currently gives Republicans an 8-point advantage in the House popular vote.
In the past, the US Supreme Court has heard many cases on racial gerrymandering, but has normally viewed partisan gerrymandering as an issue for congress, not the courts. This is the first time in more than a decade that the US Supreme Court will take up the issue of drawing voting districts with the sole aim of strengthening one political party.
The court has the opportunity to finally draw a line on what constitutes unlawful gerrymandering This could have major implications on how voting districts are drawn in all states. However, if the court again determines that it is an issue for congress to deal with, it will open up the flood gates.
Currently, Democrats must win the House popular vote 54-46% just to win 50% of the seats, due to gerrymandering. This is dangerous and undemocratic. Unlike the electoral college, this bias was not created by the Constitution, but by the same politicians who work tirelessly to suppress the vote and distort democracy. In the current climate, it is particularly dangerous, as it offers an essential element for a bloodless coup toward authoritarianism. This is how Orban achieved 1-party rule in Hungary.
The Orban Blueprint for a Bloodless Coup
There is more than one way to create an authoritarian state from a democracy, as we have seen in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and Hungary. They all, however, share one common thread. They occur when those in power in a democracy are more interested in power, than democracy. The actions of Trump, and the collaborating republicans, suggest that Trump is using the Orban blueprint for a bloodless coup.
Viktor Orban’s first term as Prime Minister of Hungary lasted just four years, from 1998-2002. When his Fidesz Party got two-thirds of the seats in parliament in 2010, he became prime minister for a second time. He immediately set out to ensure it would be the last time he would have to worry about reelection. Orban took advantage of the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to stir up nationalist populism in Hungary, and concentrated an unprecedented amount of power in his own hands.
He quickly imposed a conservative agenda on everything from the media to the economy. Orban changed election laws, the role of the judiciary, created a compliant media. In the next election his party’s share of the vote dropped from 53% to 44%, but his party still won 2/3 of the seats in parliament because of the redistricting.
Orban has also befriended Putin and built a wall on his southern border. He now describes his goal for Hungary as creating an “illiberal state” and argues that authoritarian systems such as China, Turkey and Russia are a more appropriate model than Western liberal democracies.
How Trump Can Adapt the Orban Blueprint
Like Orban, Trump is using the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, and a message of white nationalism, to implement a conservative agenda. In order to convince the populist that they need a strongman leader, he has used fear of globalization and diversity. If he can maintain enough popular support to keep the GOP on board, Trump can consolidate authoritarian power through more gerrymandering and voter suppression. In exchange, he will give them the conservative agenda the Republicans crave. With the changing demographics of the United States, they know their ability to hold onto power democratically is diminishing. Now Orban has showed them that they can maintain power with a plurality of the electorate.
Phase 2 is to use propaganda, voter suppression and the electoral college to maintain the Senate and presidency. Voter suppression and propaganda can maintain Senate with a plurality of Americans, using the Presidential Advisory Commission on Elections. Trump is packing this commission with people like Chris Kobach and Hans A. Von Spakovsky, who have a long history of state voter suppression. They have now requested state voter registration lists from which contain not only the history of who everyone voted for, but also the voter’s social security number. By concentrating their voter suppression efforts on particular states, and using foreign actors to influence voters, they manipulate the bias built into the electoral college to maintain the presidency.
Phase 3 is to politicize the judiciary and install a right-wing Supreme Court to destroy the Voting Rights Act completely and distort the intention of the Constitution. Just as they remade God in their image, they can remake the Constitution without ever amending it. With the judiciary politicized, then all of Putin’s tactic’s come into play. That includes everything from shutting down the free press, to imprisoning political opponents. As Trump and the GOP have already demonstrated, these are tactics they are already very comfortable with. All they need now is to create the conditions where there are no repercussions from the courts for implementing them.