This is an article by Michelle Goldberg from the Nov. 22 New York Times. In it she discusses the various techniques the present day Republican Party has put in place to prevent Democrats from ever again influencing public policy in any meaningful way. I hope you will be able to open the article and read it if you have not already done so.
As she ticks off the things they have done over the last forty years, it becomes clear that what they have in mind is a one-party America run for the benefit of a white, male, evangelical Christian minority that won’t hesitate to use its Second Amendment rights to intimidate and suppress.
If you are a Democrat, things seem hopeless. And things look particularly grim if you are a Democrat who is non-white, or maybe someone who identifies as LGBTQ (will five letters do?), or maybe even if you are a woman, things begin to look pretty hopeless.
I grew up in a one party state. Yes, it was right here in Texas. It was the Democrats then. We went through the whole process of picking candidates to run against a Republican nominee in the General Election. The democratic primaries usually offered the voters real choices. But the Republican never won. And many of the Democrats who won could easily match conservative cred with today’s Republicans, including the racist part.
The Republicans never won, that is, until some rich Texans decided they had had enough when the Democratic Party started doing the unthinkable — electing liberals. And some of the conservatives the Democrats had elected to state offices moved into national office and began to act like liberals. Rich Texans decided it was time to build a Republican Party that could take care of business — literally.
They have been very successful in stamping out liberal social policy and taking care of the business-first agenda but, until the last twenty or so years the parties continued to compete with a degree of consensus on the rules and an ongoing commitment to the legitimacy of our elections. And as time went on, either party had a chance to win an election with a good candidate, enough money, and a level playing field.
Republicans have now committed their party to getting rid of the level playing field.
What is particularly unnerving (and this should be to Republicans and Democrats alike) is the growing use of threats of violence and the ability to carry them out. One youngish-looking Republican conservative was caught on video at a conference asking “When do we get to use the guns?” Conspiracy theory echo chambers and maximum gun freedom provide a dangerous mix for democracy.
When I think about the future of our country, I see plenty of reasons to fear for our children and grandchildren. If there is one principle that has united Republicans across the decades, across state lines and across the interest divide on which Trumpists and Never-Trumper Republicans agree, it is the principle of minimalist government when it comes to personal freedom for white Anglo-Saxon cis-gender males and the corporate sector. The minimalist government part is interpreted as gun freedom, anti-vaxxing and anti-masking and anti-abortion for the little people and anti-taxing and the death of regulation for business classes.
This is an ideology that has little appeal to most Americans who understand their history and how government is supposed to work. Donald Trump spent four years doing his best to dismantle much of our government, its longstanding policies and the guardrails that kept us all more or less on track. And now he and his followers are doing their best to dismantle democracy itself.
Those who think this kind of populist autocracy will bring about a joyous resurrection of freedom in an oppressive America that threatens to disarm them, take their ranches, and make them take vaccinations should take a look at what most often happens in countries where citizens look to autocratic leaders to eliminate bureaucratic control over their lives.
What often happens, is that the strong leaders destroy government agencies and diminish the services that government provides, services that are often unnoticed until they are gone. The services that provide for public health and safety may not be missed at first. And support for the police usually turns out to be a corps of brown-shirted thugs that answer only to the supreme leader.
But a world without government services as we knew them in the 20th Century slowly descends into that Hobbesian hell where all our lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Most educated people who grew up in a democratic environment understand the importance of these services. But there are many whose education in these matters has been the “research” they do on the Internet and cable television. This kind of populism has always had a certain appeal in America to a less educated minority, but Internet connectivity has turned them into a manipulable political base whose allegiance might be mobilized by anyone willing to appeal to the instincts that motivate them. It was easy enough to sell snake oil when you sold it from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. You might have been able to sell enough to make a living, but you be would never be able to make addicts of an electorally-meaningful segment of a national market.
One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the way this kind of thinking takes hold in that other population that has the ones that support our consensual commitment to democracy and a love of the country that shelters and provides necessary government services for them. That consensus begins to erode once that base of fundamental political ignorance begins to take power — in cities, counties and school boards, in state legislatures, courts and the state and local boards that control elections.
As the cancer grows, more citizens tend to align with the malignant forces. And it’s not because they believe in the cause or the person leading it. In Germany, good people went to the polls and elected the Nazi Party and Hitler to lead the nation. People who might once have found little to admire in Hitler began to see that, once he had power, he would use it ruthlessly. Some would decide that it was a matter of self-interest to align with Hitler and the Nazis.
That can happen here. Increasing numbers of citizens begin to accept false narratives that undermine their faith in our democratic institutions and the legitimacy of the process. The combined influence of voter suppression, gerrymandering and campaigns based on fear and strategies to instill a sense of hopelessness lead otherwise moderate voting citizens to begin to give their support to the one who ultimately will win, reward and punish.
People switch sides to protect their own interests and you are on your way to becoming a closed society with a fascist government.
Then the big surprise. They do not govern. The exert lots of power to do a few of the things that appealed to voters’ most base instincts but they do not govern. They are solely interested in remaining in power. We had the Mubaraks, the Gaddafis Today we have the Orbans, the Erdogans, the Dutertes, the Putins, the Bolsonaros, and Xi Jinping. There are more. And they would love America’s company so we would quit trying to push their people in the directions of democracy. Meanwhile they will continue entriching themselves and their friends while they deny their citizens their rights and the products of effective government they should be able to expect from their leaders.
So why was I able to be a little hopeful this Thanksgiving Day?
It is because there will always be some who will say no to authoritarians. It may cost them their lives but their steadfastness and courage will always inspire. And as long as there is inspiration, there is hope.
Now is the time to determine which person we will be. Will we turn out to be a part of the soft center that yields? Or will we steadfastly and courageously say no?
I say no.
And that is the founding purpose of this series of reports from south of town, Lake Jackson. Join me, friends. Stay active. Support the arts, your church, public education, libraries, science, the rights of women, voting rights of all citizens, honest media, the spirit of generosity and candidates for office who believe in the necessity and efficacy of government. Know truth and insist on it with everyone you meet.
Never fear the truth. It will make you free. And it will give you hope in what, at times, can look like a dystopian future.