Wisconsin GOP’s power grab is about legitimacy of American political system, Andrew Sullivan says

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
Andrew Sullivan (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Republican attempts to reduce Democrats’ power before they take the governorship in January is “a huge issue for a liberal democracy,” columnist Andrew Sullivan said.

Sullivan, in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast “The Long Game,” said that the Republican-controlled legislature in Wisconsin is “treating the opposition party as if it is not legitimate.”

Sullivan wrote in a recent column for New York magazine that every aspect of the American political system is under strain, is less trusted, and that if this trend continues, political violence could ensue.

“What we don’t know, in other words, is when the legitimacy of the entire political system could come into doubt, across the ideological spectrum, in a way that might sanction undemocratic responses,” Sullivan wrote.

The Wisconsin GOP’s power grab during a lame duck session after an election in which they lost the governorship and the attorney general’s office is part of the erosion of the norms that Sullivan said are essential for a functioning democracy.

“What we haven’t really had in America is ‘the party’ — as in the Communist Party or as in a complete ideological or cult party — which operates under the assumption that it has an almost divine right to rule and that other people don’t, and therefore manipulates the system to prevent the other side having any real say in it,” Sullivan said on “The Long Game.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, is expected to sign some or all of the legislation that has been passed in recent days. The GOP has voted to restrict early voting, to block the new governor — Democrat Tony Evers — from withdrawing the state from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, to limit the new governor’s ability to seek waivers from federal programs and to dramatically weaken the new attorney general — also a Democrat — in lawsuits involving the state or state laws.

Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk radio host from Milwaukee, wrote Thursday that there is some precedent for the Republican measures, given the way Democrats tried eight years ago to limit Walker’s ability to negotiate with state employee unions.

But Sykes, who has known Walker personally for years, wrote in the Atlantic that signing the legislation “would be an especially classless way for Walker to leave office” and would “tarnish his reputation in ways that I’m not sure he grasps.”

“What’s happening now in Wisconsin, and similar moves in Michigan, will only escalate the cycle of hyper-partisanship,” wrote Sykes.

In his New York column, Sullivan expressed concern that ongoing disrespect for established democratic norms makes him concerned that if President Trump were to lose the 2020 election in a close contest, he could refuse to vacate the White House.

Sullivan mused that the day before the next president was supposed to be inaugurated, Trump was “perfectly capable” of refusing to leave and saying that “millions voted illegally, and he isn’t leaving and this is a coup by the Deep State, and the people need to come out on the streets to support their president.”

Sullivan has long been a provocative and contrarian polemicist, and, to many, an enigma. He is an advocate of the gay rights movement who also decries identity politics, which he believes is damaging the business and media sectors as well. He is a searing critic of President Trump, but has at times aligned himself as a conservative.

“I’m very hostile, deeply hostile toward Trump, but I also think the forces on the left are extremely dangerous as well insofar as they undermine the very intellectual and motivational principles behind liberal democracy,” Sullivan said.

At a recent Heritage Foundation forum, Sullivan bashed political correctness and the kind of online mob mentality that is common on the left.

“This call-out culture, this moral shaming is also deep within human nature of course. But online interaction disinhibited it, allowed us increasingly to respond to public debate in terms entirely of identity rather than ideas,” Sullivan said. “Almost every single argument is about whether I’m white, whether I’m male, whether I’m LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ, or not.”

But then he pivoted to a similarly blunt criticism of “the adoption by the Republican Party of white identity politics and the elevation of this horrible, hideous, racist human being to the presidency.”

“You can’t criticize identity politics on the left without seeing how it has been emboldened, legitimized and empowered by identity politics on the right,” Sullivan said.

As Sullivan spoke, a man in the audience stormed out of the room.

“You say Trump is a racist? Prove it!” the unidentified man shouted when asked by Yahoo News why he walked out.

Ironically, much of the criticism of identity politics is that people are too quick to call others racist, and that the theory of microaggressions is based on the idea that the intention behind someone’s words or actions doesn’t matter, only the result.

But the deeper critique of identity politics is that free and open inquiry into controversial topics is becoming harder as people grow fearful of having conversations where they can try to understand different points of view, express their own and gain understanding.

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