One of the favored tools of mathematicians for proving a proposition is called “reductio ad absurdum” or just plain old “reductio” for short. It’s Latin for “reducing to an absurdity,” and a reductio proof is achieved by taking a conjecture and assuming it’s not true and seeing if a contradiction, and thereby an absurdity, results.
For example, reductio was elegantly employed by the Greek mathematician Euclid 2,300 years ago to prove that the number of prime numbers is infinite. Euclid showed that if primes are not infinite then you will immediately derive a contradiction. (For the mathematically inclined among you who haven’t seen it I encourage you to look the proof up. It is elegantly beautiful.)
Reductio can also be used in politics. I suggest a political proposition that I would like to prove using reductio. My proposition is simply this: the current goal of most Republicans is to destroy democracy. Let’s assume that’s not true and see if we can derive a contradiction.
What could we expect to see from Republicans if they really were on the side of democracy? We would assume they would have been wildly in favor of Joe Biden’s 1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill. After all, the American people were very much in support of it and it provides jobs and improvements in roads and bridges for all Americans on both sides of the aisle. Doing the work of what the majority of the people want is, after all, the salient goal of a democracy. But as it turns out only 13 Senate Republicans voted for Biden’s infrastructure bill, and there has been much discussion among Republicans about punishing those 13 by removing them from their committees on that account.
Historically Republicans were in favor of infrastructure, particularly when Trump was in office. For Trump’s first two years in office Republicans held a majority in both the House and Senate and, while they may have been in favor in principle of an infrastructure bill, they had other priorities. First, they wanted to destroy Obamacare which they failed to do. Second, they wanted to fund Donald Trump’s border wall, which they mostly failed to do. Third, they wanted to pass a tax cut for the rich and super rich which they narrowly succeeded in doing.
By the time Republicans got done with so much trying and so little succeeding it was time for the Democrats to take over. In the House of Representatives, anyway. After the 2018 midterms, the newly elected majority among the House Democrats very much wanted to see Americans win, and as proof of this they were prepared to sit down with Donald Trump and other Republicans and hammer out infrastructure legislation.
Only two such meetings ever took place. In the second meeting Trump got up from the table and walked out. He refused to talk about infrastructure until Democrats stopped investigating him for the crimes he committed. So that was the end of infrastructure for all time and not a single Republican ever complained. Even though the American people were vastly in favor of it, Republicans refused to even think about infrastructure any more. Donald Trump kept promising some kind of infrastructure legislation would happen “in two weeks” but that day never came. You’d think people in support of democracy would be troubled by this. But no Republican ever was. That sounds like a contradiction to me.
Apparently the American people largely agreed that Trump was doing a terrible job and they voted him out of office by seven million votes. That’s the way of democracy. You win a few and you lose a few. No one expected Republicans to be happy about it, of course. We weren’t happy when Trump won. That’s the way it goes in a democracy.
What was new this time was Republicans did something they had never done before. Entirely without evidence they decided to claim the election was stolen. They pushed that narrative very hard, so hard in fact that, with the help of Fox News and, in a misguided attempt to appear “balanced,” weak members of the mainstream media, that narrative was both promoted and never given the contempt it would have earned had it been tried at an earlier point in American history. Together they succeeded in convincing a lot of weak minded idiots that the election really had been stolen.
The weak minded idiots then came to Washington, at the instigation of Trump and other Republicans, and tried to force Congress to change its mind about the outcome of the 2020 election through violence and intimidation and threats to hang the Vice President and so on. Republicans largely claimed that the destruction and death the disgruntled insurrectionists caused was either mostly harmless or the work of a sinister, false flag conspiracy, depending on who you talk to and on what day of the week you talk to them.
Instead of decrying the attempted violent overthrow of democracy, Republicans went to work putting together legislation that would make it harder for Democrats to win elections next time, in direct contravention of the will of the American people. I don’t know about you, brothers, and sisters, but to me that doesn’t sound like a group of people who are on the side of democracy. I’m starting to detect a serious contradiction here.
In response to the attempt to thwart future elections, Democrats are working tirelessly to make voting more easily accessible to all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. Democrats want a level playing field so the will of the American people can best be carried out at the polls. They also want to end global warming and end the worldwide pandemic and they want to end the assault on a woman’s right to choose, things the vast majority of Americans agree with. Apparently Republicans want none of this.
I’m starting to think we may have derived a contradiction here, brothers and sisters. Something is wrong with the notion that Republicans are on the side of democracy. By all appearances they are not.
In his farewell address to the nation, George Washington warned against the establishment of political factions, cautioning against “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who would “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” Sounds like Washington was thinking of the Republican Party as it exists today, and in this way Republicans have shown themselves to be the enemies of democracy. It’s a reduction to absurdity in the extreme to suggest otherwise. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.