The Era Of Big (Republican) Government Is Here

[ Posted Monday, April 10th, 2023 – 16:10 UTC ]

Republicans seem to be increasingly fond of using the levers of government -- any levers of government they control -- to get their own way, no matter what. Perhaps this was spurred by Donald Trump's attitudes (and/or lawlessness) or perhaps it is the end result of a gradual Republican slide towards authoritarianism, but whatever the actual cause Republicans are now engaged in rather extraordinary uses of government power to punish those whose political opinions they disagree with. This is a far cry from the traditional Republican stance against "Big Government" it should be noted -- just one more in a long list of previous ideological positions they have completely abandoned in the Trumpian era. They now seem to have settled on: "The era of Big (Republican) Government is at hand!" as a guiding principle.

Democrats have largely been caught flat-footed by all of this, but they are beginning to fight back -- or at the very least understand how the rules of the game are shifting in a big way. Tennessee is probably the best example of this. When the state legislature -- with a gerrymandered supermajority of Republicans -- expelled two members of what is now known as "the Tennessee Three," Democrats were outraged. The punishment was wildly out of proportion to the "crime" in this case, and it soon garnered national attention for its outrageousness. But the next steps will be just as interesting as what has happened so far.

By Tennessee law, when there is a vacancy in the legislature, local political boards are empowered to name an interim representative. Then a special election is held, so the voters of the district can have the final say. But in at least one of the districts of the ousted members, the local government council is fully prepared to just send right back the same man the Republicans kicked out. The vote could be happening as I write this, in fact, since the local board is acting with equal speed as the legislature showed in their expulsion votes. He could even be back in office by the end of the day (although there may be legal snags that cause a slight delay to him being reseated). [Editorial note: the Nashville Metropolitan Council just did unanimously vote (36-0) to reinstate Justin Jones, after I wrote that.]

In the other Tennessee district with an expelled member, the local government group won't be meeting until Wednesday. And support for sending back the same person seems slightly less unanimous there, but this is not so much due to their not backing him but rather to a direct threat of political extortion by the legislature. Dark warnings that the state budget will be used to punish any district who sends back an expelled member are giving some of the local politicians second thoughts. Is it worth it to take a stand for democracy when your budget for schools and police and all sorts of other things could get slashed to the bone?

This, as you can see, is political hardball. It is highly (small-"d") anti-democratic. It puts the political needs of the Republican Party above all other considerations. And it flips another long-held GOP position on its head as well -- the concept that the more local any government was, the more representative it was of the people. This concept has largely already been jettisoned in many red states with blue districts, in various other ways. The previous Republican mantra was that states' governments were nobler than the national government, and that local government was the noblest of them all. Now it basically boils down to "whichever level of government we control is valid, while all other levels we do not control should be ruled by the levels we do control." So a state government holding a county's budget hostage to force them not to name a particular representative is perfectly fine with this new Republican thinking.

Tennessee isn't the only place norms are being broken, or where Republicans are at least contemplating doing so. In Wisconsin, a liberal state supreme court justice just won her election by double digits against the conservative candidate. But on the same day, the GOP picked up the last state senate seat they needed to achieve a supermajority in the chamber. They don't have one in the lower chamber, but they do hold a simple majority there. This would be enough to allow them (if they were so inclined) to hustle through articles of impeachment against the newly-elected justice, and have the state senate remove her from her seat. She has not done anything wrong, of course -- she has not even started her duties yet (she won't be sworn in until August) -- so the entire reason for removing her would be: "because she is liberal." The Republicans might gin up some sort of "we don't like the way she campaigned" reason, but it would likely fool no one (outside of the rightwing media echo chamber, at any rate). The sole reason they would remove her is that they lost an election and they do not like it. Once again, this is anti-democratic in the extreme.

It's not just legislatures where Republicans are breaking new authoritarian ground, either. A federal judge in Texas just issued a ruling that, if upheld, will remove a prescription drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration from its availability to the public. There has never been such a ruling previously -- this would set a new (and very dangerous) precedent. Instead of scientists and experts examining medical data, decisions about prescription drugs would be made by an unelected judge in one tiny district, based not on science but on political ideology. Judges have never ruled on purely political grounds to overturn the F.D.A.'s approval of a drug, but if this ruling stands you can expect challenges to all sorts of drugs the Republicans don't approve of to be filed in equally-tiny federal court districts with very conservative judges. And that's about as anti-democratic as you can get.

While Donald Trump certainly trashed plenty of political norms during his time in office (and since), the current king of Big Republican Government is easily Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida (who is pretty obviously preparing to run for president against Trump). DeSantis is a wholehearted convert to the idea that government power should be used in novel ways -- mostly to punish your political opponents. His war with Disney is the centerpiece of these efforts. Disney very belatedly opposed the "Don't Say Gay" bill DeSantis had championed -- the corporation actually waited until after the bill was passed to even weigh in. In other words, they were not successful in halting the new law in any way, and their opposition was actually heavily criticized by gay rights supporters as being half-hearted and far too late to do any good. But even this token opposition was enough to enrage DeSantis, and he has been coming up with all sorts of novel ways to punish Disney ever since. This turns yet another previous Republican tenet on its head -- the idea that "corporate free speech" was something to be supported and celebrated. Of course, that was back when "corporate free speech" meant (to Republicans) the freedom of corporations to interject themselves in the election process with as much money as they felt like spending -- which (at the time) mostly went to Republican candidates. Now that some corporations are actually using their free speech to speak out against Republican ideology, this must (of course) be clamped down upon and punished.

Disney isn't the only example of authoritarianism from DeSantis. He has tried to force corporations to do what he wants rather than what they want -- or even what federal law dictated (most notably during the COVID-19 pandemic). He has fired Florida officials he deems insufficiently loyal to him (and to Republican ideology), which even includes elected officials. He has also limited protests at the statehouse to only those groups who are "sponsored" by some state government agency. Free speech -- even political free speech -- is only to be free if it is approved by Republican politicians, in other words -- which is the exact opposite of the meaning of the First Amendment. DeSantis doesn't care. Big Republican Government can do no wrong, as far as he's concerned.

These are all isolated cases. But taken together, they represent a severe ratcheting up of authoritarianism over democracy. Instead of following political or legal norms, Republicans are now searching for new ways to impose their ideology on everyone. This means playing the hardest of hardball, with no thought given to the consequences of what they are doing to the American democratic system. Don't like what the voters just said? Chuck the elected official out of office -- voters be damned. Don't like what corporations say? Threaten them and punish them with every governmental leverage you can possibly come up with. Don't like what the people say? Ignore them and trample their constitutional right to be heard. Don't like what the scientists say? Use a raw judicial power grab to overrule them.

This is the new Republican Party, folks. They simply do not care what norms they violate. If they think they can get away with it, they'll try anything, whether it has ever been tried or not before. The new Republican thinking is that government does not get more virtuous the smaller it gets, it gets more virtuous by how many Republicans exist in it who are willing to do anything to stay in power. "Judicial overreach" (something Republicans used to strongly condemn) is now perfectly fine -- as long as the overreach is in the conservative direction. Corporate speech must be pre-approved by the GOP or else it should be punished -- a far cry from "getting the government off big business' backs." In fact, all corporate behavior must be policed by a ideologically-conservative regulatory state to avoid having any of that lefty "woke" nonsense to be implemented.

The common thread running through all of this is pretty simple: You will do what we want you to do, or we will use governmental power to punish or attack or silence you. The era of Big Republican Government is upon us, in other words -- at least in the states and districts they control. The only thing that matters is raw political power, and that power should be used in any way possible to achieve the right ideological ends, as far as they are concerned.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “The Era Of Big (Republican) Government Is Here”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Oh I pray the Repugs even try to tell 55% of the Cheesehead electorate to eff off in this manner — what a generational gift to the Dems that would be!

    RonGoGoBoots has to run to the far right to have a prayer of beating Trump in the primaries. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sits this one out to minimize a Trumpian mauling but also soften up his fashi edges for the general electorate in 2028.

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Help me out here, Kick: has Trump been ruled out as the source of this Pentagon leak I haven’t read up on? You’re always strong on providing background and context.

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:


    Trump's past posts on Twitter and his posts on his totally ripped off "American Pravda" are the sum total of his abilities regarding computer literacy. Trump is therefore too damn dumb to be the Pentagon leaker.

    But... Trump did steal approximately 30 boxes of documents that belonged to America and lied by saying he returned them all while knowing full well he hadn't. So there's that.

Comments for this article are closed.