Now that the 6 January Congressional Committee’s introduction to its final report is out and being dissected by all the punditing pundits and head talking talking heads — it will soon be a double header with the actual report being published tomorrow (if I publish in time, big if, right?) — we should consider carefully what its conclusions mean for our democracy.
While it is gratifying to hear people and pundits (not that pundits aren’t people, well, maybe) describe the coup as an assault on democracy and describe the Republican Party as completely given over to authoritarianism and even describing them as Nazis, I have to say that they don’t go far enough.
Essentially, the Republicans across the country beat our democracy to within an inch of its life and dumped it in a garbage dumpster like some serial killer in a Netflix b-grade made for digital export movie would. Luckily, it didn’t die as all the punditing pundits pundited it would.
Disillusioned with Democracy Lacks Urgency
Here’s an article by the popular writer and lawyer, Terri Kanefield, where she characterizes Trump’s and the Republican Party’s billionaire backers as being disillusioned with democracy, not as being Nazis bent on installing pseudo-democratic, single-party, minority-rule authoritarianism.
To be fair, this piece was written weeks before the committee released its preliminary report, and she does go on to describe Trump as the Republican’s wrecking ball for our democracy. The problem is that she describes the Republican Party’s rejection of democracy, thusly: They are mostly in agreement with Trump’s goals and they don’t care if he breaks laws. They don’t think democracy is working any longer, so they reject the laws and norms that underlie our democracy.
Whereas, Ye Olde Blogge would describe it as, They don’t give a rat’s ass about democracy and never have! They see it as an impediment to achieving their goal, which is to transfer the nation’s wealth to the one percent as quickly as possible and leave the rest us to live in Cancer Alley, drink Flint water, pay for Texas utilities, and die as quickly and quietly as possible when we stop contributing more than we cost. They smell blood in the water and are going in for the kill.
There is a difference in urgency.
The 6 January Committee Report Summary
The conclusions reached by the committee can be summed up thusly:
- There was a widespread, organized, multi-pronged coup against our country in which Trump and the Republican Party used multiple means including courts, fraudulent electors, a pressure campaign against state officials, and finally a violent insurrection to stop the peaceful transfer of power to the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election.
- Trump, John Eastman, and others knowingly committed multiple crimes in pursuit of this coup and should be prosecuted for them.
- Many coup participants not only were in office at the time of the coup, but remain in office now, waiting for another chance in 2024.
The difference isn’t that these people have suddenly tired of democracy and started believing that it no longer works, they’ve always been against a liberal pluralistic democracy and have always been for a very limited minority-rule democracy vis-a-vis the Confederacy where the state exists to further enrich the rich and squeeze every farthing of value it can from the non-rich before casting them onto the ash heap of refuse where every other spent resources is.
Weakening Democratic Institutions
The problem is that we’ve survived the 2018, 2020, and 2022 challenges to our democracy where had our coalition not held together and we weren’t able to get our voters to the polls in spite of voter suppression and voter nullification laws, we would’ve lost our democracy and be living in the #GOPDystopia.
However, Trump and the Congressional Republicans have succeeded in weakening many of our democratic institutions from the electoral infrastructure, to the judiciary, to the cabinet offices, to the Congress itself so that fighting their authoritarianism becomes all the harder. As Timothy Snyder says, the way to strengthen democracy is to use its institutions and protect its institutions. Now that they are substantially weakened, we will have a much harder time doing that.
The other problem is that we have a substantial percentage of the electorate (about a third by my reckoning) willing to vote for the authoritarians and their naked antidemocratic racist misogynistic rhetoric. We have a majority of white people who regularly fall victim to the racist dog whistles of the Southern Strategy and vote Republicans into office even if it isn’t in their own best interest.
As Kanefield, helpfully, points out (links are mine):
Political scientist Karen Stenner explains it this way: As liberal democracy expands and includes more people, it becomes more diverse and complicated. The growing diversity and complexity trigger authoritarian reactions in people who are averse to complexity and cannot tolerate diversity
This is particularly true when an increasingly diverse electorate threatens the power and status of the ethnic majority. Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, Harvard political scientists, put it this way:
“It is difficult to find examples of societies in which shrinking ethnic majorities gave up their dominant status without a fight.” (How Democracies Die, p. 207.)Terri Kanefield Disillusioned With Democracy
The issue is that many of the institutions of democracy, especially the Congressional ethics committees, are not up to the task of saving our democracy. As The 6 January Committee has identified representatives and senators that played a role in the coup, and they either still sit in Congress or were re-elected. Our democracy is not and cannot be safe unless and until they are all held accountable and removed from office.
Yet, somehow, the representatives — all save one, Mo Brooks who lost his bid to be Alabama’s senator — have all been reelected, and Senator Ron Johnson returned for six more years. In other words, there is electoral support for authoritarianism from white voters, as Ye Olde Blogge and many others have been shouting from the rooftops for years.
Some Good News
The good news is that for the first time in twelve years, a majority of Americans will live in states ruled by Democratic governments. Caveats: (a) It is a bare majority, 140 million versus 137 million and (b) it is not a majority of states. Republicans still control 24 state governments to Democrats, 18. The skew of Republican states towards rural underpopulated states is worrisome and may still deliver an authoritarian state to us.
There is further good news, though. Just like in 1929 and the Crash, people worried that Americans would stage some kind of communist revolution and overthrow the government. Instead, we collectively waited until the 1932 election, while people literally starved to death, to elect FDR and his New Deal curbs on the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism. And, just like the Hoover supporters of that era, the Republican Party has been dedicated to undoing the social safety net and returning us to boom-and-bust capitalism because that is the fastest surest way to enrich the one percent.
Just like then, the American people rose up and spoke with a quavering and sometimes cracking voice in 2022 and denied the Republicans any kind of victory that could completely unmake our democracy. Unfortunately, it was not the resounding defeat that was necessary to cause the Republicans to change course.
Not that it would really matter. Republicans have been on this course since the 1880’s, there is no reason to expect that they would ever really truly deviate from it.
What this really tells us and what the punditing pundit class who get paid the big bucks and want you to subscribe to their substacks and pay them even more money miss is that we barely survived 2022 and will face another test in 2024.
The only way we survive 2024 is if we accomplish the Himalayan task of keeping our coalition together and getting voters registered, keep them registered, and then get them out to vote.
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