Among those concerned by the incoming Trump Administration, one of the most common appellations for our time has become “The New Gilded Age”. This is quite apt, what with plutocratic interests on the verge of rolling back worker’s rights and protections across the board, supported by a subservient ruling political class. But I would argue that the situation is perhaps even worse. The clock is not just being turned back to the late 19th century, in many ways we are returning to the 18th century. This is not true in every way of course–I do not foresee the return of outright slavery or the monarchy–but the likely outcome of the various GOP assaults on the franchise is a version of ‘democracy’ in which the various reforms made to Western Democracy over the last two centuries are abolished.
More simply put, rural constituencies will have vastly more representation than urban constituencies, districts will be well-shaped so as to be dominated by a few families and businesses, the voter rolls will be well purged of People of Color, students, and anyone else who falls afoul of the increasingly restrictive laws, and an aristocratic class will dominate our political affairs. None of these concerns are new to Americans. But while we talk of gerrymandering and voter suppression, we fail to realize that these are merely new words for rotten boroughs and property requirements. Or at least, while they may differ in the technicalities, they retain virtually the same function: to maintain electoral power in the hands of the elite.
Much of the political history of the 19th century is the story of how brave reformers fought to take the inchoate democracy of the parliaments and assemblies of the 18th century and hammered it into something actually democratic. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll (mostly) restrict myself to one example: the Representation of the People Act of 1832. This was the first step in the (very, very long) process of reforming the British Parliament, and virtually everything it tried to fight against is something advocated by the modern Republican Party.