The Respite Is Coming to an End, Part 2

Last week in the first part of this essay, we discussed the distressing possibility that it might already be too late to stop an authoritarian takeover of US democracy by Big Lie Republicans less than a year from now.

In this week’s installment, we look at further signs pointing to that fate, what we can do to avert it, and how to begin thinking about resistance should it come to pass. 

CHOKEPOINTS AND HOW TO RECOGNIZE THEM

We have already detailed the finer points of the ongoing GOP attempt to subvert American democracy. As I wrote in part one of this piece, when we reach the midterms, less than a year from now, we may be at the point of no return. That realization unavoidably changes how we look at the daily ebb and flow of US politics. Or should, anyway. 

Normally this week I would be very upset over Joe Manchin double-crossing the President and his own party and reneging on Build Back Better, thereby almost singlehandedly destroying the Biden agenda (it appears), making life significantly harder for millions of working Americans as a result, and handing the GOP a massive victory that will aid it immeasurably in ‘22 and ’24. Thanks Joe! Pick up your MVP trophy at  RNC headquarters. 

(Remember earlier this year, when all the pundits were excoriating the Democrats’ progressive caucus for playing hardball in negotiations with Manchin and Sinema, and insisting on connecting the two infrastructure bills because they feared Joe would double-cross them on the second if they agreed to pass the first in a separate vote? Well, that’s exactly what happened.)

But I just don’t have the energy to worry about Joe Manchin anymore. His odious behavior feels like small beer compared to the broader emergency unfolding all around us….though of course, Manchin is also blocking the passage of bills to protect voting rights, so on that front he’s part of the problem. 

This subversion of the vote is the heart of Republican strategy, both in keeping people from voting, and in controlling the process by which those votes are counted. Build Back Better, admirable and visionary as it is, will just be roadkill along the way should the Republicans succeed.

A year ago, in an influential article titled “The Election That Could Break America,” The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman wrote that Trump understands “that more voting is bad for him in general. Democrats, he said on Fox & Friends at the end of March, want ‘levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.’”

Therefore, having lost the vote in 2020, and failed to overturn the results, the GOP has devoted itself to fulfilling another prediction Gellman made in that piece: 

Trump is, by some measures, a weak authoritarian…..A proper despot would not risk the inconvenience of losing an election. He would fix his victory in advance, avoiding the need to overturn an incorrect outcome.

That is precisely what Trump and the Republicans intend to do in 2022 and 2024.

The illusion of a free election is useful cover for authoritarians, from Moscow to Istanbul to Hong Kong. To that end, what the GOP is carrying out now is a kind of “pre-coup” that offers the fig leaf of a fair election, but actually renders a Republican victory a fait accompli. It also obviates the need for any pressure on Congress over the certification of the electoral votes and a second storming of the Capitol by controlling the process further upstream. 

Not coincidentally, this Republican effort to gain a chokehold on the electoral process is concentrated on those states that are likely to be key to victory in ’24. Gellman hones in on this fact in his latest, much-talked about piece in The Atlantic, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun”: 

Among the 36 states that will choose new governors in 2022, three are presidential battlegrounds—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan—where Democratic governors until now have thwarted attempts by Republican legislatures to cancel Biden’s victory and rewrite election rules. Republican challengers in those states have pledged allegiance to the Big Lie, and the contests look to be competitive. In at least seven states, Big Lie Republicans have been vying for Trump’s endorsement for secretary of state, the office that will oversee the 2024 election. Trump has already endorsed three of them, in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan.

If UN election observers saw that happening in some emerging Third World democracy, the whole General Assembly would howl bloody murder. 

LETTING YOU GO WITH A WARNING THIS TIME

Just over a year ago, Gellman wrote that as Election Day approached, the screens of electoral experts and political scientists were “blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb.” 

They are an even brighter shade of crimson today. Yet we are, collectively, doing damn little about it. 

“Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real,” he writes of the professional political class and its failure to give this crisis the attention it demands. “Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.”

Gellman reports that experts who were cautioning against hyperbole a year ago, like Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, now speak “matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic,” and believe that “The democratic emergency is already here.” ‘We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he quotes Hasen as saying, ‘but urgent action is not happening.” 

Biden has spoken—sometime with soaring rhetoric, sometimes not—about the looming threat and the crucial importance of electoral integrity; indeed, it was a key part of his stump speech during the 2020 campaign, and voters responded to it. But since then, that grand rhetoric has not been matched with similarly dramatic action, or much action at all. Mostly what the President has proposed—not even enacted, but merely proposed—is “enforcement of inadequate laws, wishful thinking about new laws, vigilance, voter education, and a friendly request that Republicans stand athwart their own electoral schemes.”

Conspicuously missing from Biden’s speech (about voting rights, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on July 13th) was any mention even of filibuster reform, without which voting-rights legislation is doomed. Nor was there any mention of holding Trump and his minions accountable, legally, for plotting a coup…..

Democracy will be on trial in 2024. A strong and clear-eyed president, faced with such a test, would devote his presidency to meeting it. Biden knows better than I do what it looks like when a president fully marshals his power and resources to face a challenge. It doesn’t look like this.

By way of analogy, Bill Kristol argues in The Bulwark that Trump’s defeat in November 2020 wasn’t D-Day but Dunkirk, “an occasion to heave a huge sigh of relief, but ultimately a success that simply allows us to regroup and gather our energies and forces for a longer fight.”

The anti-democratic forces seem stronger at the end of 2021 than they were at the beginning. The Republican party seems to be more captive to authoritarian demagoguery today than it was a year ago following Trump’s defeat. Establishment Republicans seem to be even more willing to appease a rising anti-democratic Right than ever. The trajectory of the Republican party heading into 2022 is worrisome. At the start of 2020, people believed that the Republican party might become explicitly anti-democratic. At the start of 2021, all doubt was removed. And neither the party’s leaders nor voters have done anything to change that base fact.

On Medium, a reader named Leonardo del Toro recently made the salient point to me that few functional democracies, faced with a deposed head of state who just tried to mount a violent insurrection to overturn the vote that chucked him out, would allow him to go scot free, run for office in the next election, and even organize an openly violent political movement to back his bid—and, presumably, stand back and stand by in case he loses again.

Gellman again:

The Justice Department and the FBI are chasing down the foot soldiers of January 6, but there is no public sign that they are building cases against the men and women who sent them. Absent consequences, they will certainly try again. An unpunished plot is practice for the next.

In defense of the good ol’ USA, it must be said that we tried to hold Trump to account with an impeachment (his second, ahem), but that effort was blocked by the high-ranking members of his own party who constitute an openly seditionist bloc in our parliament. Unfortunately, far from mitigating the danger, that fact only makes it greater. 

In one mildly encouraging development, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Select Committee on January 6th, has recently said that the committee is looking at a referral to the DOJ for criminal charges against Trump for his role in the Insurrection, both for fomenting it and for failing to stop it once it began, even as senior Republicans, Fox News stars, and even his own family members pleaded with him to do so.

About goddam time. We shall see if Merrick “The Institutionalist” Garland (his WWE costume is a business suit) agrees. I hope so, but I have a scuba tank on standby in case I have to hold my breath. In any case, brace yourself for a slew of hyperventilating op-eds about how such a criminal prosecution would be bad for the country, create more divisiveness, set a terrible precedent for political score-settling by each incoming head of state, blah blah blah blah blah. 

Then remind yourself that when someone commits a horrific crime—particularly when that person is supposed to be the leader of the country—it’s collective political suicide if we don’t hold them to account.

(And it’s far from unprecedented to so. Ask Sarkozy. Or Berlusconi. Or Honecker. Or Fujimori. I could go on.)

THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE MEANS

We would do well to remember that it is this threat of physical violence that underpins the Republicans’ procedural efforts at an electoral takeover, even as the electoral takeover defends and excuses the threat of violence. It’s the kind of symbiosis of which Field Marshal Cinque could only dream. 

Back to you, Gellman:

Trump’s army of the dispossessed is hearing language from Republican elected officials that validates an instinct for violence. Angry rhetoric comparing January 6 to 1776 (Representative Lauren Boebert) or vaccine requirements to the Holocaust (Kansas House Representative Brenda Landwehr) reliably produces death threats by the hundreds against perceived enemies—whether Democratic or Republican.

The infinite scroll of right-wing social media is relentlessly bloody-minded. One commentator on Telegram posted on January 7 that “the congress is literally begging the people to hang them.” Another replied, “Anyone who certifies a fraudulent election has committed treason punishable by death.” One week later came, “The last stand is a civil war.” In response, another user wrote, “No protests. To late for that.” The fire burns, if anything, even hotter now, a year later.

I’ve written many times about how the right’s apocalyptic fearmongering and demonization of Democrats (literal in some cases) serves the twin purposes of retroactively justifying what was done in the past—the Insurrection, support of Trump in the first place, etc—and providing a pretext for even more extreme measures in the future. Before we humans annihilate our foes, we must first convince ourselves they are evil and/or sub-human and deserve such treatment. 

Damon Linker in The Week:

The right believes that the progressive left hates America; that it is an evil totalitarian cult which has infiltrated every institution; and that it is using a mix of business, bullying, and technological surveillance to deconstruct both masculinity and the United States as a whole in order to create a world without belonging.

If you believed this was true, what would you be prepared to do to stop it?

One suggestion, which (David) Brooks mentions in passing in his essay (“The Terrifying Future of the American Right”), is that such hype actually has a retrospective purpose—to justify past and present support for former President Donald Trump among people (like Cruz and Rubio) who once took a stand against him. Such support wouldn’t be necessary if the progressive threat wasn’t so dire,” the argument goes. But because it is, good, patriotic Americans have no choice but to rally around the most tireless and relentless fighter, who just so happens to be the former president and frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination.”

So what exactly is the American right giving itself permission to do? Whatever it takes to defeat its mortal enemy.

Historians and political scientists can tell us where this road leads. 

Gellman writes at length about Robert A. Pape, who runs the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST). Last June Pape conducted a survey in which about 8 percent of respondents “agreed that Biden was illegitimate and that violence was justified to restore Trump to the White House. That corresponds to 21 million American adults. Pape called them ‘committed insurrectionists.’” A Public Religion Research Institute survey the following November found that an even larger percentage of Americans, 12 percent, believed both that Biden had stolen the election and that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

Pape’s study also revealed that white grievance was far and away the most distinguishing aspect of the group, noting, “The last time America saw middle-class whites involved in violence was the expansion of the second KKK in the 1920s.” 

Pape has compared Trump to the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević, who lead the former Yugoslavia into years of genocidal war “by appealing to fears that Serbs were losing their dominant place to upstart minorities.” Milošević argued to his supporters that “The survival of a way of life is at stake. The fate of the nation is being determined now. Only genuine brave patriots can save the country.” These are the precise themes Trump and his Party are hammering. 

Pape also compares the situation to Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, when just 13 percent of Catholics in that country thought force was justified in the cause of Irish nationalism. Gellman writes that the Provisional IRA had only a few hundred members at the time, but that 13 percent of popular support was more than enough to sustain it, creating “’a mantle of legitimacy—a mandate…..that justifies the violence’ of a smaller, more committed group.” 

Like the Rittenhouse acquittal writ large, it is a twisted form of the “self-defense” argument. Linker again: 

If your political opponents are poised to stomp you into the ground and destroy you, aren’t you entitled to do whatever you can to defend yourself? After all, your very survival is at stake. At the individual level, the appeal to self-defense in the face of a lethal threat can lead to acquittal for taking a life. Following a similar logic, a distressingly large number of prominent Republicans seem ready to seek exoneration for the impending crime of killing American democracy. 

YOU KNOW IT’S BAD WHEN THE GENERALS ARE WORRIED

In case your drawers are not yet sufficiently soiled, consider how this impulse toward violence plays out in the US military.

A troika of retired generals, led by the outspoken Major General (Ret.) Paul Eaton, recently published an open letter in the Washington Post in which they warn of the danger our republic is facing. “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.” 

They go on to note the alarming number of veterans and even active duty service members among the Insurrectionists on January 6, and the specter of the military taking sides in 2024, as previewed by the commanding general of the Oklahoma National Guard recently refusing an order from President Biden mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all NG members. (The danger, of course, is not only one of mutiny and civil war—which ought to be plenty alarming—but of how foreign adversaries might exploit that chaos.)  

The generals write of how ill-prepared the US military was for January 6th, though some might say that is a generous interpretation. (Were people like Trump’s acting defense secretary Christopher Miller unprepared, or were they deliberately aiding the Insurrection with their refusal to act?) Like Gellman and Mr. del Toro, they are also unsparing in their criticism of our collective failure to hold the leaders of the Insurrection to account, noting that “Not a single leader who inspired (the Insurrection) has been held to account,” and pleading for “the Justice Department, the House select committee and the whole of Congress” to “show more urgency.”

Yet General Eaton and his colleagues recognize that the military can no more wait for other institutions to lead the way than rank-and-file citizens can:

(T)he military cannot wait for elected officials to act. The Pentagon should immediately order a civics review for all members—uniformed and civilian—on the Constitution and electoral integrity. There must also be a review of the laws of war and how to identify and deal with illegal orders. And it must reinforce “unity of command” to make perfectly clear to every member of the Defense Department whom they answer to. No service member should say they didn’t understand whom to take orders from during a worst-case scenario.

That’s great, but a training pause for a civics class will not stop pro-Trump servicemembers who don’t give a rat’s ass about their Constitutional duty (despite maudlin claims of how much they revere that document), especially those who have already shown that they are willing to run roughshod over the rules to keep or put their guy in power. 

The generals do go on to recommend “intensive intelligence work….to identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers” and guard against propaganda and disinformation, and that the Pentagon “war-game the next potential post-election insurrection or coup attempt to identify weak spots.” Again, great….as long as those senior generals and admirals are not themselves Insurrectionists or Insurrection-adjacent. For there is, of course, an opposing cabal of pro-Trump retired flag officers, whom Eaton & Co. themselves acknowledge by way of emphasizing the danger, to say nothing of senior officers on active duty who are fanatically pro-Trump but quiet about it. 

You can decide for yourself which group you find more convincing. But the mere fact that our generals are choosing sides is alarming.

THE FUTURE OF A DELUSION

David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has spent more time covering Trump than almost anyone except maybe Tim O’Brien, believes Trump will not be the GOP candidate in 2024 because by then he’ll be under indictment for racketeering and fraud. 

From your lips to God’s ears, Dave. 

That assessment runs contrary to that of most of the other experts, like Gellman, or Nate Silver, but maybe. But cruel hopes of the law belatedly catching up with Donald after a lifetime of horrific behavior, both legal and illegal, have been tormenting decent Americans for years, eating away at any case that God exists at all, let alone has good hearing. I frankly don’t think even indictment would prevent his nomination—an opinion shared by Gellman—and in fact would probably help him fundraise and stoke anger and passion among his grievance-filled mob of supporters. 

Yet even if Trump is not the candidate, that will not mean the danger of looming autocracy is past. Not by a longshot. As we have noted over and over again, Trump is the symptom, not the disease. He is the logical result of the policies and strategy the Republican Party has been pursuing since the early ‘90s, and it will continue down that path even when he is dead and gone. Absent a Damascene conversion, it’s hard to see the GOP finding its way back to sanity. 

To me, a more convincing argument is the one Democratic operative Doug Sosnik recently made in the Washington Post that the Trumpist takeover of the GOP is already complete, marking the transformation of the once-proud GOP into the party of white nationalist authoritarianism.

As if dialed up from Screenwriting 101, Bob Dole’s death last month at the age of 91 was a perfect marker of that transformation. Dole’s passing was the occasion for lots of well-deserved tributes about his personal courage and service and think-pieces about what Republicans used to be. (The less said about his state funeral, at which Lee Greenwood befouled the Liverpool anthem “You Never Walk Alone” and trotted out the inevitable “God Bless the USA,” the better. Give me a US Army band doing Abba’s “Dancing Queen” at Colin Powell’s funeral any day.) 

There’s no denying that America would be far better off if the Bob Doles of the world were still in charge of the GOP, and God rest his soul. That said, Dole voted for Trump twice. That suggests to me that, like many of his elderly Republican colleagues, he was stuck in a pre-2015 mindset, where party loyalty was innocent enough and did not entail siding with seditionists….which is to say, he could not get his head around the sea change in American politics that we have recently experienced, or the threat that Trump represents.  

Admittedly, he was 93 the first time Trump ran and 97 the second. Few of his fellow Republicans have recourse to that same excuse. 

At a December 7th news conference, speaking about the jail conditions in which accused January 6th Insurrectionists are being held, Matt Gaetz said, “We are going to take power after this next election. When we do, it’s not going to be the days of Paul Ryan, and Trey Gowdy, and no real oversight, and no real subpoenas. It’s going to be the days of Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Dr. Gosar, and myself doing everything.”

I know for Big Lie Republicans that’s a feature not a bug. But for the rest of us, it ought to be terrifying. For once Gaetz is telling the truth: whatever one thinks of the Bob Dole GOP of the past, the future of the GOP is a hellish one.

SHINY BOOTS VS. PASS-AROUND HORS D’OEUVRES

The oddsmakers tell us that the GOP is likely to regain power in the midterms. Biden’s poll numbers are down, Youngkin won in Virginia, Republicans have momentum, yada yada yada. I have heard it so much from the mainstream media that it is beginning to take on the feeling of a self-fulfilling prophecy. So let me be clear that we ought not give up just yet on working within the system, even as we prepare for the near-certainty that our main effort will have to be outside it. 

November 2022 is both barreling toward us at freight train speed and simultaneously an eon away in political time. A lot can happen between now and then, and it would be playing into Republican hands for us not to put forward the best candidates we can, and mount an aggressive GOTV effort, and badger our elected officials to pass voting rights protections, and so on and so forth. The GOP and its amen corner at Fox et al would like nothing better than for us to despair and quit before the game is even fully played. That, after all, is a major goal of its propaganda campaign.

That said, we would be naïve not to understand that the odds of a Republican takeover are high, and what that will mean. Above all, it means we won’t be able to rely on elected Democratic officials to arrest a further slide into authoritarianism in the years that follow. 

Should this red wave occur in 2022, some have hopefully suggested that cocky Republicans will then overreach, as they did following their big midterm wins in ‘94 and ’10, after which Clinton and Obama both nonetheless sailed to re-election. Maybe that is so. But that was a different world, one that operated under different rules of engagement. The one in which we now live is far more polarized and partisan, to say nothing of the likelihood that the GOP will have an anti-democratic death grip on that electoral process come November ’24.

In his November 2020 piece, Gellman wrote, “It’s a mistake to take for granted that election boards and state legislatures and Congress are capable of drawing lines that ensure a legitimate vote and an orderly transfer of power.” Boy, did that turn out to be true. Especially when the GOP has, since that time, methodically stripped those entities of their independence, non-partisanship, and commitment to the principle of free and fair elections and instead embedded its myrmidons in key positions with a mandate to deliver victories to Republican candidates irrespective of the vote.

Once that insidious task is complete, Gellman’s next point becomes self-evident: “We may have to find a way to draw those lines ourselves.”

The last piece of journalism to rock the chattering classes like Gellman’s recent Atlantic article was Robert Kagan’s epic op-ed for the Washington Post this past October, “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here,” which also sounded the alarm about the ongoing right wing coup. So I’m glad to see that at least some folks are aware of what’s happening and are going full Paul Revere in response. But I am also highly aware of how limited and absurd a collective case of the vapors among the readership of the Washington Post and The Atlantic really is. (Let me know when Men’s Fitness runs a cover story on it.)

As if to demonstrate my own membership in the Chablis Underground, I am reminded, as always, of the iconic bit from Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1980), in which Woody’s character, Isaac, tries to recruit some other guests at a black tie cocktail party to confront a group of neo-Nazis:

Isaac: Has anybody read that Nazis are going to march in New Jersey? We should go there, get some guys together, you know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Guest #1: There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating.

Isaac: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Guest #2: Oh, but really biting satire is always better than physical force.

Isaac: No, physical force is always better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

In other words, it’s great that people in highbrow political periodicals are raising the alarm. We need folks all across the spectrum to do that. But it’s going to take a lot more than just consciousness-raising in NPR Nation for us to prevail in this struggle. 

Recognizing you’re in a flaming housefire is a good start, but only if you take action to put it out.  

IF YOU WANNA BE WOKE, YOU GOTTA WAKE UP

So short of Woody’s bricks and bats, how do we stop this coup and save the republic? 

Let’s start with the optimists first. 

Writing in Washington Monthly, David Atkins, who runs the qualitative research firm the Pollux Group, argues that “in the event of an attempted hostile takeover by a theocratic, anti-cosmopolitan fascist movement, a nonviolent civil resistance and general refusal to cooperate among military, business, and civil elites—plus mass civil disobedience by blue America writ large—should be able to stop it.”

If the Republican Party decides to declare victory by selecting conservative electors even when they lose, change the rules to ensure that they never lose again per the Hungarian model, and allow a Republican president unchecked dictatorial powers—all of which are not only possible but, in fact, likely outcomes within just the next few years—it will actually be doing so from a position of weakness.

Successful fascist movements and authoritarian coups generally require not only a fervent base of cruel, fundamentalist backers. They also need the support, cooperation, and acquiescence of social elites. Most of all, they need the public to roll over and go along with it.

Atkins notes that “democracy’s defenders have an advantage” in that they “represent the majority of America and are also the main drivers of the country’s culture and economy.” 

Blue counties produce more than 70 percent of America’s GDP. U.S. cities—overwhelmingly blue—are responsible for the vast majority of the country’s cultural and economic output. Blue states are overwhelmingly donors to the states that despise them and seek to disenfranchise them. The nation’s most successful companies are typically located in ultra-liberal areas. And the country is becoming more diverse and more urban every day. Americans under 40 are overwhelmingly progressive. This is the present and future of America.

Atkins also thinks that these demographic trends—increasingly urbanliberalyoung, and non-white—will force Big Business (which might naturally side with allegedly pro-business conservatives) to recognize on which side its Wonder Bread is buttered and apply pressure on the GOP. We know that this dynamic is real, because of the way the Republican Party already, regularly “now portrays itself as the victim of ‘woke’ corporate elites.”

In the Guardian, the intrepid Rebecca Solnit makes a similar arc-of-history-bends-toward-justice case. Seconding Atkins’ point about demographics, she writes hopefully that the forces of reactionaryism are fighting like cornered rats precisely because they know that they are in fact cornered, and quotes Michelle Alexander’s 2018 essay to the effect that “We are not the resistance. (We) are the mighty river they are trying to dam.”

I’m sure she’s right, by the numbers. But let’s not underestimate how long those panicked white nationalists can hold on in their death throes, and how much damage they can inflict along the way, and how painful that will be. 

Which brings us to the pessimists. 

Speaking to Truthout’s C.J. Polychroniou recently, the estimable Noam Chomsky bluntly argued that “if Trump and acolytes (return) to power….we will be well on our way to proto-fascism and to falling off the precipice.” You don’t need to be as smart as Noam Chomsky to have clocked that, though it’s nice he is around to summarize it so tidily.

Noam goes on:

Is there a way to fend off these grave political consequences? Not within the confines of the deeply corrupt and undemocratic political system. The only way that has ever worked, and can work now, is mass popular pressure—what the powerful call “the peasants coming with their pitchforks.”

In other words, the main pushback for the defense of the republic ultimately will have to come from outside the conventional political system. There are plenty of models, from Gandhi in India to Solidarity in Poland to MLK and the civil rights movement right here in the United States. 

Atkins seems to agree: 

The future of American democracy looks exceedingly grim under threat from a far-right authoritarian movement—and it’s not clear that any particular electoral or legislative response by Democrats can fix it. In short, it will take an unprecedented all-of-society approach to bring together many competing interest groups—from leaders of the business community to marginalized workers and everyone in between—to stop the MAGA train in its tracks.

So yes, we should try to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Yes we should turbocharge our GOTV efforts. Yes, we should call out and mount legal challenges to extreme gerrymandering and obviously partisan Congressional redistricting.  Yes, we should push back against anti-democratic legislation to take the electoral process out of the hands of neutral administrators. Atkins believes that while they hold any political power at all, “Democrats should do everything in their power to pass bills that improve Americans’ lives, drag Manchin and Sinema to do whatever is possible to shore up majoritarian democracy, and run the best, most popular and effective campaigns possible.” 

But those things alone cannot stem the tide against a determined fascist party in a thermostatic two-party system.

Conservatives are guaranteed to make every attempt to turn America into the next Russia or Hungary. It will take coordinated, overlapping solidarity among both regular people and elites across various institutions to stop it.

Even Bill Kristol agrees, writing, “We have to be the source of our own rescue, the cause of our own liberation. And that work we have only just begun.” 

We Americans—white ones anyway—have long had the luxury of living in a country where we could rely on the mechanisms of official power to protect us from the more sinister forces that would do us harm and undermine our free and open society. That is not the norm in most of the world. We now find ourselves in that harsher, bare knuckles world. 

We better beginning acting like it.

*********

Photo: Solidarity protest in Poland, 1982. Chris Niedenthal / Forum.

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