As the 2020 Democratic Primary season ramped up, the bloated field of candidates quickly collapsed to two as frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders ran away with the race. After Biden’s homecoming in South Carolina on February 29th, both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg suspended their campaigns immediately after, just days before Super Tuesday. The exit of the Midwestern candidates was swiftly followed by the exit of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren after her lackluster finish in the March 3rd contests. Amid all this, the COVID-19 pandemic made its way through the US and as it progressed, states began to postpone their primaries. Of the few states who forged ahead with their primaries, one state stood out in particular. Wisconsin; the Badger State, was the site of a bloody and devastating battle for Democracy between the state’s republican-controlled legislature and conservative Supreme Court against Democratic governor Tony Evers.
After the contentious primaries held on March 17th amid growing concerns surrounding COVID-19 and the potential impact on the outcome of the contests, a new battleground has emerged. After Ohio’s own 11th hour debacle which resulted in a delayed primary, Wisconsin faced its own crisis as states with early April contests moved later into the spring and into the summer. On April 6th, Wisconsin’s Governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat, signed an executive order which suspended in-person voting until June 9th, continuing with mail-in ballots until then. As Evers broke the news, the republican-controlled state legislature descended upon the order and quickly began working on blocking his order. As the battle between Evers and the legislature kicked into high gear, the rift between Republicans and Democrats became more apparent than ever in one of the most notorious swing states with some of the strictest voting laws in the nation.
In a research paper published in American Behavioral Scientist, McCoy et al. explore the nature of a polarized society; how it manifests, and how it affects others. One of the key findings as it relates to Wisconsin’s debacle states that “even the presence of polarization may become a polarized issue whereby different camps view each other’s claims and perceptions as ill-intentioned,” (21). Just as the COVID-19 outbreak has gone from a ‘hoax’ when Democrats like Elizabeth Warren sounded the alarm in January, to a National Emergency in the eyes of the republican president once confirmed cases exploded across the country, Wisconsin’s primary has been an extremely polarized ordeal in which Republicans have labeled Evers’ executive order as a blatantly partisan attempt at securing a seat for a Liberal-leaning Justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and weakening the conservative agenda. On the other side, Governor Evers blasted the republican legislature for “playing politics”, essentially laying the blame on Republicans for politicizing what could arguably be considered a situation that should be free from politics and partisan squabbles.
In addition to the analysis of McCoy et al. on the expression of polarization, Richard Hofstadter writes that in American politics, time and time again, a certain paranoia arises amongst the parties in play. Similar to the “tribal nature” described by McCoy et al., Hofstadter argues that those who identify with separate parties often refer to one another as “enemies” (or a similar term), who are seeking to “seize power”, as Hofstadter quotes one Arizonan in particular during a hearing in the 1960s. Hofstadter also cites several instances in which individuals have decried their opposition by insisting on the existence of a “conspiracy” or “plot” against them (8). This very rhetoric is extremely similar to the clashing of Evers and the Republicans in the legislature, who quickly turned to the state’s Supreme Court for help in shutting Evers down. The move by the Republicans in the legislature to press forward with Wisconsin’s election has been heavily, and rightfully, criticized especially in the light of Donald Trump’s recent comments in which he admitted that higher voter turnout would harm Republicans. With some of the most restrictive voting laws and the most gerrymandered districts in the nation, it is almost unsurprising that Wisconsin would be the state wherein Voter’s Rights should burst to the forefront of the political conversation as a massive and debilitating pandemic rages through the country in the middle of an election year.
As Wisconsin grapples with its deep partisan divide between its Legislative and Executive branches, the threat to Democracy remains: in a polarized society, an institution like the Judicial Branch of the government can and will play a massive part in the direction of the nation’s politics. While the courts of the nation have the intended purpose of being impartial to partisan politics, throughout history, conservative or liberal courts have shaped the way the country has progressed throughout history. With the emergence of a strong “Us Vs. Them” culture and an ever-growing partisan divide, the United States is likely to see more bloody partisan fights similar to Wisconsin’s brawl as the courts become a battleground in their own right, as whichever party controls the courts controls the laws of the land.
- McCoy, Jennifer, Tahmina Rahman, and Murat Somer. 2018. “Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy: Common Patterns, Dynamics and Pernicious Consequences for Democratic Polities” in Special Issue on Polarization and Democracy: A Janus-faced Relationship with Pernicious Consequences. American Behavioral Scientist
- Hofstadter, Richard J. 1964. The Paranoid Style in American Politics
- Corasaniti, Nick, and Stephanie Saul. “14 States Have Postponed Their Primaries Because of Coronavirus. Here’s a List.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/article/2020-campaign-primary-calendar-coronavirus.html.
- Blake, Aaron. “Analysis | Trump Just Comes out and Says It: The GOP Is Hurt When It’s Easier to Vote.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Mar. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/30/trump-voting-republicans/.