Why did the Republicans enact laws suppressing the vote in Georgia? Because the former president made a big stink about “voter fraud” being the reason he lost. Why did the former president make a big stink? Well, for one thing, because Donald Trump is a sadist and fool. For another, because the Republicans in Georgia and other (mostly southern) states had been making a big stink about “voter fraud” since 2013. They had worked very hard to convince state residents that the problem was real. Given such a context had already been established, Trump’s false allegations seemed almost true.
Why did this start in 2013? That’s when the United States Supreme Court gutted part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It had required “pre-clearance” with federal authorities any time state and local legislators, especially in the South, changed their election laws. With that out of the way, Republicans in the South, worried that democracy was getting out of their control, decided to limit maximally but legally who can participate. Ergo, they invented a problem—voter fraud—the solution to which was voter ID laws.
So what’s happening in Georgia is like a scene in a bit of absurdist theater in which cause-and-effect are not really cause-and-effect. It’s more like effect-and-effect. Less than a decade ago, Peach State Republicans decided what laws they wanted to enact, but at the same time knew the real reason for enacting those laws, voter suppression, would not be tolerable to a majority of people in their state, even other Republicans.
So they fabricated an end to justify the means of getting there. (Just to be clear, voter fraud does not exist anywhere in any widespread and, therefore, worrisome way.) But imagine their surprise when a fascist president used the same fake reasons to bring hell and fury down on them for the fact that he lost Georgia. Now, post-election, in order to appease his supporters, who stand ready to oust them from power for their “betrayal,” they have to double down on the big lies they’ve been telling all along.
This time is different. Before 2020, the big lie seemed like a legitimate cause requiring a legitimate effect. (Voter fraud caused restrictive voting laws.) After 2020, the big lie just looks like a big lie. There is no real and legitimate cause to justify enacting even more suppressive voter-suppression laws. There is only effect. Thanks to a fascist president who used those fake reasons to bring hell and fury down on Georgia, it’s clear the problem for these Republicans was never voter fraud. It was democracy.
If it were only the Democrats raising awareness of the big lies, the Republicans in Georgia and in the United States Congress could let it roll off their backs. But it’s no longer just the Democrats. Now, Republicans everywhere must contend with large corporations that can no longer afford to participate, even tacitly, in the bits of absurdist theater that have brought us all to this point. Even as they benefit from Republican policies—i.e., tax cuts and deregulation—they suffer from even the appearance of alignment with a political party at war with democracy. The CEO of Atlanta-based Delta Airlines is representative: “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”1
The Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell, understand what it means when huge non-political entities like Delta, Coke, American Airlines, Major League Baseball and others take a stand in favor of full and fair democracy. It suggests to a vast array of people who buy their products and use their services that the Republicans might not be on the same side. Once such a perspective takes root in the public imagination, it will be difficult for the Republicans to uproot. Perhaps they don’t have the will or the capacity to. Once a majority suspects that you might stand against them, your side has incentive to treat that side like The Enemy. And that, I think, is what’s happening.
Again and again, whenever non-political entities have (even mildly) criticized the Republicans—sports teams, the military, the press, universities, churches and now mass-market firms—the Republicans, following Donald Trump’s lead, have reacted by accusing them of being in league with the Democrats. Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador, said recently that “Big corporations are the new liberal mob. First, they came after Georgia; now, they’re coming after Texas.2 We can fight back with the power of our voices—and our wallets—to show them we mean business.” Many big corporations pay virtually nothing in federal income taxes thanks to years of GOP effort. The Republicans bailed out the airlines repeatedly during the covid pandemic. Accusing Delta of participating in the “new liberal mob” isn’t just ridiculous. It demonstrates the fear among Republicans that they are on the outside looking in.
Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that corporations should stay out of politics. He didn’t mean it, though. In the next breath, he said he wasn’t talking about political donations. What he wants is for Delta, Coke, the MLB and others to stop talking about democracy in ways that make it appear to a majority of Americans that the Republican Party stands on the other side of it. What he wants is for these non-political entities to stop making it harder for the Republican Party to pursue its anti-democracy agenda. The corporations have, however, endorsed the whole truth, and there’s no going back. They have become a political rock against which the Republicans will break themselves.