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Rand Paul Offers an Accidentally Useful Jim Crow Analogy in Rationalizing His Party’s Illiberal Shift

One of the most important lessons for Americans to take from the 2020 presidential election is the extent to which the will of voters is subject to revision. There are always checks on the power of the electorate, of course, including judicial review of measures passed by legislatures or directly by the people. The past year, though, has shown how elected officials, generally overt partisans, can similarly redirect the will of voters.


What’s important about these shifts is that they seek to formalize and facilitate what we saw in the months after the 2020 election. It isn’t simply about trying to work the refs or about bending the rules to suit political ends. It’s about changing the rules at the outset to make a rejection of the popular will something that’s part of the legal process.

Those changes are occurring as part of other efforts to restrict voting in the same states, changes generally tied to the same unfounded fraud claims but that would often disproportionately affect Democratic voters. These changes generally have been rationalized using the same claims of rampant fraud and, at times, apparently been offered as ways to placate a Republican electorate convinced that such fraud occurred. At times, though, they have been rationalized in ways that more directly reflect their effects: as limiting the involvement of the public in decision-making.

Speaking to the New York Times about the Republican Party’s shifting tactical approach to election results, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered just such an argument.

“The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for,” Paul said. “The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

Jim Crow laws — laws instantiating public racial segregation and, importantly, curtailing the voting power of Black Americans — were, in fact, reflections of the rule of the majority. But that “majority” was not itself a reflection of the actual population, given the extent to which Blacks were excluded from participation. That's not to say that universal Black participation in voting in the Jim Crow South would have given them a majority, but it almost certainly would have reshaped power dynamics. Which, of course, was why Black voting was discouraged.

Paul’s argument is offered in service to the idea that there should be a check on the power of the population and he uses Jim Crow as an example of why that’s necessary. But Jim Crow actually serves as a more useful analogy to the way in which Republican officials are hoping to maintain power despite votes that might be cast in support of policies and candidates with whom they disagree.

Read entire article at Washington Post