Sometimes, majority rules. Sometimes it’s just cruel.

Some people can’t seem to tell the difference.

That’s one lesson to be drawn from Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two Black Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee whose expulsion made them unexpected heroes to almost everyone who feels they ever have been unjustly denied a voice.

The state House Republican supermajority last week expelled Jones and Pearson after they, while on the floor of the legislature, joined a protest against gun violence.

Their offense? They led a protest on the House floor in favor of gun safety measures after three children and three adults were killed in the Covenant School shooting that also made national news in Nashville last month.

An attempt to also oust fellow Democratic House member Gloria Johnson of Knoxville fell short by one vote. Asked why she thought she had been spared, she responded unhappily that, unlike her two fellow Democrats, she happened to be white.


And who is to say she’s wrong? Alas, these days even the very existence of racism has become a partisan matter.

So has the question of whether the government can do anything about gun violence in a country where privately owned guns outnumber people.

The “Tennessee Three” also remind us to beware of powerful interests that pervert democracy with what some of the nation’s founders called “the tyranny of the majority,” or these days, “supermajority.”

As the great 19th-century French sage Alexis de Tocqueville advised in his classic “Democracy in America,” democracy should avoid leadership “which bases its claim to rule upon numbers, not upon rightness or excellence.”

That’s a fancy way of saying that, when your majority – or supermajority – cannot win an argument on its merits, you owe your colleagues and constituents something more than simply to cut off debate.

Tennessee’s Republican supermajority didn’t hear that message and, as a result, triggered a national wave of outrage, particularly in liberal and progressive circles, but among fair-minded moderates too. Indeed, on Wednesday the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Council respectively voted to send Pearson and Jones back to the Legislature.


Sure, abuses of democratic rule are by no means limited to one party, as I’ve seen in many years of Democratic dominance in blue Chicago and Illinois.

Conservative commentators were quick to claim in puny arguments that the disruption of Tennessee’s legislative business was no more polite than the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by Donald Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol.

Well, that’s certainly a stretch, especially when it comes from people who tried to shrug off Jan. 6 as a “peaceful tourist visit.” Nashville was noisy, but among other differences, it lacked the injuries, arrests, property destruction and, oh, yes, the deaths.

Frankly, I, too, was ready to scold the Tennessee Three for their disruption – at first.

Assisted with a bullhorn, they reminded me, at first, of the bratty university students I have seen disrupt conservative speakers on some campuses before they ever get a chance to speak. (Not cute, kids. We need free speech in the true sense of letting people speak.)

But, the treatment of the Tennessee Democrats by their Republican colleagues contained its own punishment – for the Republicans. While I’m sure it pleased many in their political base, it aggravated some of their political opposition, too, which can be dangerous.


Remember how the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade helped spur an angry pro-choice turnout in the November midterms? Suddenly the Democrats found themselves winning a majority in the Senate, and suffering fewer losses than expected in the House.

We might see that sort of turnaround again next year. A new generation of Democrats is beginning to enter local politics in ways I have encouraged liberals to do in the past – at the grassroots level with local school boards and community organizing in the way that the religious right has been rallying its voters in recent decades.

But just as Trump revived turnout on the far right – and then virtually took over the GOP – the liberal and progressive left seems to be ready for a revival too, especially when Republican overreach, Tennessee-style, gives them an added boost.

The message already seems to be getting around. For example, after the Tennessee expulsions and a Texas judge’s widely covered invalidation of federal approval of abortion medication, Run For Something, a recruitment program seeking young and diverse progressives, reported a spike in their recruitment.

More than half of them, co-founder Amanda Litman told The Washington Post, are from red states.

That’s how voter and campaign recruitment is supposed to work. Campaign in areas where you can win new friends, but don’t overlook areas where people are looking for a change.

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