Last September, I published a piece in this blog called “Summer’s End,” in which I lamented the end of that season—weird though it was in 2020—and expressed my anxiety and dread about what loomed ahead: the election, the resumption of remote schooling and all its difficulties, the imminent descent of a (second) dark, cold COVID winter with its isolation, claustrophobia, a potential lockdown, and all the attendant psychological ills, not to mention a possible spike in cases and deaths. It was a feeling I think a lot of Americans shared.
But we weathered it.
We beat Trump at the polls, despite his worst efforts to cheat. We survived an attempt at a violent coup d’etat, shocking as it was. We saw the resumption of sane, competent governance that slowly began to reverse the damage of the previous four years. We faced the much-feared rise in coronavirus cases and deaths, but we rode it out, and subsequently experienced a speedy and effective vaccine rollout that exceeded even our most optimistic hopes, thanks to that new adminsitration. On the back of that success, we saw the economy rebound—boom, in fact. We even saw some small measure of accountability in the George Floyd case, which one hopes will be the beginning of a broader and long-overdue reckoning.
In short, we made it through the winter and into the glorious spring, as the country begins to emerge from this multi-pronged nightmare. (Our failure to achieve herd immunity, thanks to Know Nothingism rife in MAGA Land, is a matter we’ll save for another day.)
It’s obvious, but worth reiterating, that none of this good stuff would have happened without a Biden victory last November—all the other successes flow from that one. I shudder to think what the state of the nation would be if Trump were still in power. It’s an important question, because there are powerful forces—and a substantial, passionate minority of our fellow Americans—who would like nothing better than to put Trump back in power, not least Trump himself.
In other words, we won a battle but the war goes on.
(You didn’t think this post was going to be all sunshine and unicorns, did you?)
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
Biden’s first 100 days have been remarkable. In the same way that, if only accidentally, he turned out to be the exact perfect candidate to beat Trump, he has advanced an astonishing New New Deal, in an only-Nixon-could go-to-China way. Can you imagine if a President Warren or a President Sanders had tried the sort of things Biden has done? (Much as I would have liked it, can you even imagine a President Warren or a President Sanders?)
Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said that Biden has exceeded the expectations of progressives. Of course, praise from AOC is exactly the sort of thing that Fox Nation will seize on to advance its false narrative that Uncle Joe is a communist stooge (because that makes a lot of sense). But never mind. We’ll never win over the people who are susceptible to that sort of hogwash, so let’s not distract ourselves with worrying about it. It’s worth it to have AOC speaking to her base and telling them to back the President.
So all that is very encouraging, both on its own merits, and as a harbinger for Democrats at the polls in 2022 and, if trends continue, 2024. (At the moment, Biden’s approval ratings—and even more so, the approval ratings for his policies—are remarkably high, given our hyper-polarized political climate.)
But if there’s one thing that the recent past ought to have taught us, it’s that we shouldn’t underestimate our own counterintuitive stupidity and self-destructiveness, especially in that aforementioned poisonous political environment.
For my fear is that, despite this administration stopping COVID, rescuing the economy, restoring the rule of law, giving people their jobs back, rejuvenating American infrastructure (if we can pull it off), resurrecting our global reputation, pushing forward a reckoning with racial injustice, and generally re-opening life as we know it, the American people may well give GOP control of the House and Senate in ’22, like some cruel short story by Roald Dahl or O. Henry. Because that’s just the way things go.
(And yes, I know that the racial justice piece is precisely part of what will make some Americans do that.)
We all know that the party not in control of the White House usually gains Congressional seats in the midterms, and that’s even without GOP ratfucking, the new census, and everything else. I’m bracing for that insane but very possible outcome in 2022. In the wake of national disasters, Americans have a habit of blaming the people who pull us out of a ditch and rewarding the ones who drove us into it. Remember, only six years after Watergate the American electorate put the Republicans back in the White House, and kept them there for the next twelve. We’re still dealing with the damage from that.
But in our current circumstances, the stakes of opposition gains are even higher.
ON THE INTERNET, NOBODY KNOWS YOU’RE A DOUCHEBAG (SORRY, STRIKE THAT—EVERYONE DOES)
There’s a saying that, on one’s deathbed, no one wishes they’d spent more time arguing with strangers on the Internet. I try my best to live by that. But occasionally I do get into it with someone online.
I recently found myself in a lengthy back-and-forth—with another progressive—about the number of articles in the mainstream media (The Atlantic in particular) on the ongoing implosion of the Republican Party. It was a kind of pointless, angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument, because we were on the same side of the aisle, and what we were disagreeing about was so arcane.
There is no doubt that the GOP is in the midst of an epic self-abasement, one that has been going on since at least 1994 (if not 1954), but has been accelerating at an exponential rate in the past years. My antagonist’s point was that these articles continued to report this story in almost gleeful tones, as if the GOP was about to disappear, which is a foolish and dangerously misleading approach. He’s got a point, of course. But to me, those pieces merely documented the appalling events going on within the GOP, which is a public service in itself, by way of raising the alarm without suggesting that we can let our guard down.
So let’s be clear: the Republican descent (deeper) into the sewer by no means indicates that the danger is past. On the contrary: it is growing.
Hopes that the post-Trump GOP would revert to some semblance of rationality have proved woefully misplaced. If anything, it’s become even more batshit, and even more dangerous. Donald Trump continues to insist that he still is the rightful president, and continues to spread the Big Lie that the election was stolen from him. (He has even tried to steal the phrase “Big Lie” itself and invert it to mean that Biden’s election is the falsehood.) He continues to rail against his own former vice president for not decertifying the Electoral College vote, even though he didn’t have the ability to do so even if he wanted to (and he probably wanted to). He continues to call for the punishment of Republicans who refuse to sign on to this Orwellian deception.
That Big Lie (the real one) has been enthusiastically embraced and internalized by his millions of followers, many of whom have convinced themselves that it is acceptable to use violence to achieve their ends. And the failure of our larger political system to punish the January 6th insurrectionists—not just the Q-believing Capitol stormers in their buffalo headdresses and Kevlar and Blue Lives Matter flags, but the Trumps and Cruzes and Hawleys who riled them up—has been a flashing green “go” signal to them that they can engage in this kind of behavior in the future with impunity.
In tandem, Republican officials in states all across the country are busy re-engineering voting regulations, control of elections, and other levers of political power to ensure their control of future contests—which is to say, his control—while purging the GOP of anyone deemed insufficiently loyal to him and whatever the fuck nonsense he spews.
As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall notes, it should be abundantly clear all these things—the Big Lie, the Arizona recount, the censuring of Republicans who voted to impeach the Trump, the vendetta against apostates within the party, the failure of repercussions against seditionists—aren’t really about 2020 at all. They’re about 2024.
In short, as I wrote last week, the Insurrection is not over. Far from it. It has only moved into a new and more stealthful, low intensity phase (in military parlance), in which Republican efforts to seize permanent, anti-democratic control of the government in defiance of the will of the people are camouflaged as legitimate politician maneuvers. For that very reason, it is more insidious—and dangerous—than ever. Also, more likely to succeed.
The GOP’s efforts are now focused on a soft spot much earlier in the political process. Instead of waiting to see who wins an election and then trying to overturn it, the Republicans are now trying to hijack the vote even before it takes place. (Points for ruthlessness. Someone read Sun Tzu’s Art of War; Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, not so much.) In the service of the Big Lie, the Republican Party has undertaken a scorched earth campaign to disenfranchise the American people, suppress the vote, and rig future elections so that only their candidates can win.
And they are not even hiding what they’re doing—on the contrary, they’re practically bragging about it. This is the nihilistic, “own the libs” world in which we now live.
THE MADNESS OF EX-KING DONALD
Regardless of your political orientation, conservative or liberal or anything else, how can anyone support and justify measures that are blatantly anti-democratic?
You can’t. All you can do is admit that you are anti-democratic, and don’t believe in majority rule, or free and fair elections.
The other option, which Republicans naturally favor, is to claim that this campaign isn’t anti-democratic at all, or if it is, it’s not their fault, that it’s somehow Democrats who are so evil, so authoritarian, so threatening to the American Idea that neo-fascism is necessary to defeat them and defend the flag. Which in the end is just a dishonest variation on the first option: an admission that you are in favor of autocracy, as long as your side is in control.
We won’t even dignify that with a response.
Heather Cox Richardson writes:
Democrats have proposed the For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S. 1), which would start to restore a level playing field between the parties. The For the People Act would sideline the new voter suppression bills and make it easier to vote. It would end partisan gerrymandering and stop the flow of big money into elections permitted after the 2010 Citizens United decision. But Republicans are determined to stop this measure.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is especially engaged in its obstruction. He has called it a “partisan takeover” that would “give Washington Democrats unprecedented control over 50 states’ election laws.”
This is Projection 101, given that the GOP is engaged in that exact effort, and in defiance of the will of the majority to boot. HCR continues:
The Republicans are consolidating their control over the machinery of government in a way that indicates they intend to control the country regardless of what Americans actually want, putting Trump and his organization back in charge.
Ironically, by shifting even further right, by excommunicating anyone who dares point out God-Emperor Trump’s nudity, by booing the Mitt Romneys at Republican gatherings in his own home state, and by generally making the party even Trumpier than it was, the GOP has actually reduced its chances of winning national elections. Therefore, its only path to power is through anti-democratic skullduggery. Luckily for them, they are cool with that.
The alternative would be to purge the Trumpists instead, enlarge the tent, return to rationality, and pursue policies that voters actually like.
In other words, to become Democrats.
The reasons why the GOP refuses to do that are manifold and complex. In short, it’s because they are beholden to plutocratic economic policies that are inherently oppositional to the best interests of the majority of Americans. Thus, in order to hold onto those policies and still win, they have disguise them, engage in wanton deception, and embrace the worst forms of demagoguery and deceit available.
That has long been the road down which the modern GOP has been treading, and Trump is its natural evolution. Once wedded to him, there is really no turning back.
Reports are that Trump genuinely believes that the outrageous Maricopa County recount is the beginning of a wave that will return him to office before the next presidential election in three and a half years’ time. There has long been speculation that Trump is not just a raging asshole but genuinely mentally ill. This report ought to settle that debate. And slavish Roman emperor-style obedience to this dude is now the sole “principle” of the GOP.
LIZ AND DICK(S)
So just how bad are things in the Grand Old Party?
Let us turn now to the strange and terrible saga of Liz Cheney and observe what it tells us.
First, in case there was any doubt, absolute fealty to the Big Lie is the non-waivable loyalty test for membership in the GOP going forward. One woman quoted in the link above, an organizer in the Michigan Republican Party no less, says she believes the election was stolen purely because Trump says so. “I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified.”
(Pause for headslapping.)
Second, by going after Liz Cheney of all people, the third highest ranking Republican in the House and archconservative daughter of former Vice President Voldemort “I’ll Shoot You in the Face and Make You Say Thank You For It” Cheney, Trump and the GOP leadership are laying down a marker that it doesn’t matter who you are, or how right-of-Genghis Khan your credentials, there are no exceptions to Rule #1. It’s kind of like when ASCAP went after the Girl Scouts.
I do respect Cheney for having some integrity and refusing to participate in the GOP’s gaslighting about November 3rdand January 6th. But it’s hard to be sympathetic about her losing her leadership position and the rest of the humiliation. She and her father were at the heart of building a party that embraced this kind of unprincipled pursuit of raw power at all costs. Trump and the Big Lie are its natural result.
On that point, Cheney’s recent, much discussed op-ed in the WaPo is a truly remarkable document. On the one hand, she speaks the truth forcefully and bluntly:
In public statements again this week, former president Donald Trump has repeated his claims that the 2020 election was a fraud and was stolen. His message: I am still the rightful president, and President Biden is illegitimate. Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again.
Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work—confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.
Right on, Lizzie. But on the other hand, she remains utterly tone deaf to how her own party and its divisive, race-baiting, bare knuckles neo-autocratic ideology led us to this:
There is much at stake now, including the ridiculous wokeness of our political rivals, the irrational policies at the border and runaway spending that threatens a return to the catastrophic inflation of the 1970s. Reagan formed a broad coalition from across the political spectrum to return America to sanity, and we need to do the same now.
(She also refers to how “The Black Lives Matter and antifa violence of last summer was illegal and reprehensible.”)
Wow. Citing Reaganism as a model of unity and sanity, deploying fake concern about deficits (gee, what did her dad say about that?), trafficking in racist falsehoods, and dogwhistling about “wokeness” and an immigrant invasion?
And people wonder where Trump came from. You made your bed, Liz. Too bad you don’t realize that.
It’s incredible that we are praising Liz Cheney simply because she does not support the theft of an election and the violent overthrow of the government. Talk about a low bar! But that is the state of the modern GOP: where it takes near-suicidal, possibly career-ending courage just to take that most modest of stands.
Adam Serwer—the man who summed up the entire previous administration with his savvy assessment that “The Cruelty Is the Point”—brings it once again, in a piece titled, with similar bluntness, “Liz Cheney Only Has Herself to Blame”:
Cheney’s courageous stand against the party of Trump is a stand against a party she helped build, a monster she helped create. The tragedy is not that she might suffer for her folly, but that American democracy will. Her latter-day epiphany is welcome, but it also comes far too late.
(Note to my Internet bête noire: Both those articles were in The Atlantic.)
BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE
What will happen if the GOP succeeds in regaining power?
Bad things, my friends. Very bad things.
First, of course, if Republicans manage to re-take the House, they will halt the Biden agenda in its tracks. Gridlock? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Then, as former Republican strategist-turned-Lincoln Projector Stuart Stephens told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, they will impeach Biden and (Kamala too). Over what, you ask? “Whaddaya got?” as Brando would say. That effort will almost certainly fail in the Senate; even if they re-take the upper house as well, it’s all but impossible that the GOP will have the necessary supermajority to convict. But they will just impeach him again. And again. And again.
At the same time, the party will carry on further suppressing the vote and entrenching their countermajoritarian control at all levels—local, state, and federal—in an effort to make that control permanent. They will ensure that a voter in a red state like Wyoming continues to have 70 times the power in the Senate of a voter in a blue state like California, that congressional districts are drawn to skew likewise, and that the people’s vote makes little difference in what will be no more than Potemkin elections. This is the Putin model, and we know how much Republicans like and admire Vlad.
Speaking of which, they will also accept and even solicit the assistance of foreign powers to assist them—since the Senate decided that’s OK (NB: applies to Republicans only)—and in exchange will indebted to those powers in opposition to the interests of the US.
If a Democratic presidential candidate does manage to win the White House in any future election, they will refuse to seat electors from blue states and refuse to certify his or her victory. They will insist that the Republican candidate actually won, and back his or her spurious claims to that effect. They will encourage their supporters to take to the streets and engage in political violence, and they will stand by while it happens (apart from cheering it on, right, Josh Hawley?). They will do nothing to punish them, and in fact will reward their loyalty. Do you doubt it? They have already done all of this before.
AUTOCRACY IS THE NEW BLACK
So will 2020 prove to be our last free and fair election? Will the Biden administration be just an interlude of sanity before right wing autocracy manages to gain power again, perhaps in a chokehold that it will never let go?
That will be partially up to us.
We have to push back against the Republicans’ anti-democratic efforts in every possible way. We have to constantly call out their treachery, and the specifics of what they are doing, and what its impact will be. We have to apply pressure by mean of boycotts, by stopping the flow of corporate money to the GOP, by every lever at our disposal. We have to make the American people see what the Biden/Harris team is doing for them, break through the fake news and the tribalism, and fight (metaphorically) with everything we’ve got on behalf of the truth, and decency, and reason.
When and where we cannot stop our foe, we will overcome him. We will mount voter registration drives. We will drive people to the polls. We will stand in lines until midnight to vote if we have to. We will prevail despite the opposition’s best efforts to stop us.
And when we win the next election anyway, you can be sure that the Republicans will come back with even worse measures to try to regain and hang onto power, even to the point of bloodshed. As I say, do you doubt it, when they’ve already tried it on January 6 and even now refuse to repudiate that atrocity, or even acknowledge what really happened? As they become increasingly desperate they will become increasingly dangerous, increasingly lawless, and increasingly violent. It won’t be the first time in American history that we have had to deal with an openly violent major political party, and you don’t have to go back to Reconstruction to find it either. I refer you to Eyes on the Prize.
I hate to say it, but we may look back on the election of 2020 as the easy part.
Ultimately, almost every autocracy or would-be autocracy falls because they are fundamentally in opposition to human nature. But they can certainly last a long time, and do a lot of damage and hurt a lot of people in the process. And they can only be defeated through principled, unyielding, determined communal effort.
We are fighting a movement of millions that is engaging us on multiple fronts—political legal, informational, psychological, and even physical—led by a deranged maniac who commands their absolute loyalty, even in defiance of objective reality. Even as Joe Biden has led us back in to sanity and embarked on a program so progressive and forward thinking that even AOC had to give him props, we remain in a time of extreme peril. We lower our guard at our own risk, and a deadly risk it is too. We are in a counterguerrilla war against a fanatical right wing insurgency, and unless we wake up to that fact and begin acting accordingly, and soon, the reactionary forces of incipient autocracy are going to win.
Let that be our spring awakening.