Coop Scoop: The Crisis of Democracy Is Already Upon Us (Resend)
Do we have the courage to name the rising system?
September 29. 2021
By Marc Cooper
It was at the first major protest against the Vietnam War in 1965 that the then-president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Paul Potter, made his now historic speech demanding that Americans must “name the system” that permitted such a useless and bloody conflict in the first place.
Ironically, or maybe logically, Potter never did name the system(s) he was alluding to. To openly condemn Capitalism and Imperialism at that date just would have been a bridge too far, he thought. It was enough to imply it.
We have made some progress in the last half century in that specific regard. Yet, there is an obviously emerging new variant “system” in the U.S. that few dare to name.
It’s called Fascism. It’s real. It’s a growing threat. And if we do not call it what it is, so much more difficult it will be to thwart its victory.
Maybe, it’s a case of Crying Wolf. Too many liberals have for the last four decades so blithely, reflexively and thoughtlessly written off all Republicans as fascists, that the word no longer has any impact. Among others, including Democrats, maybe it’s a case of a reverse American Exceptionalism i.e. believing without foundation that it cannot happen here.
And as far as the media goes… well… it took the The New York Times ten gruesome years to call torture as such after the Bush admin legalized it.And under Trump, it took a year or two before the MSM dared to brand this psychopathic liar as a liar. And we are still waiting for them to affirm that the former president is, indeed, mentally ill.
At this point, you might be asking why am I writing about this issue during a week in which the media seems obsessed with the factionalism inside the Democratic Party as well as the debt limit argument? A simple answer: I firmly believe the split among Democrats is mostly posturing and that a compromise deal on the two infrastructure bills will be reached. And ditto on the debt limit. I might be wrong and if I am we will have to totally reboot as it will spell the early demise of the Biden era.
More to the point, none of this matters a whit if American democracy — with all of its shortcomings—falls victim to authoritarian rule or, fascism.
Too far out? Please remember that in the 1930’s, Germany was the leading modern nation on Earth. It had a fragile democracy, but it had one. Germany was the leading country in science and engineering and arguably so in the artistic and cultural realms.
Adolph Hitler’s first attempted and failed coup in 1923 was a tiny tragicomedy by a fringe party and did not look that different than the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Ten years later, with a massive but still minority vote of 43%, Hitler was peacefully swept to power in a coalition deal with the more moderate German Nationalists — a party that resembled the current U.S. Republican Party.
I don’t draw these parallels blithely. There are plenty of differences between the US in 2021 and Germany in 1933. We do, however, overlook the parallels at our own peril.
Let’s, then, coldly scrutinize the present situation we confront.
Donald Trump has infected the entire body politic with his noxious Big Lie — one that is believed, accepted, tolerated or conveniently overlooked by almost half the electorate and by the entire institutional Republican Party. Trump’s grievance politics perfectly mimics the National Socialist claim of the “stab in the back” that ended Germany’s role in World War One and that led to a short-lived socialist government.
Blaming the one percent of the population that was Jewish for all of Germany’s woes is really not very different than the current American penchant for fearing and demonizing immigrants and “urban centers” i.e. cities with large Black populations.
We do not have any substantial Nazi Party in the U.S. But we do have a Republican Party that openly, blatantly and relentlessly assembles and orchestrates an insurgent force in the light of day that disregards the constitution, basic democratic norms, and both incites and obeys a growing mob of deranged voters who are every bit as paranoid and unreachable as Hitler’s core followers and who buy into, amplify and spread every conspiracy theory to be found.
Fake news. Fake COVID. Communist Democrats, a rejection of all experts, officials and “elites” if not “cosmopolitans” as the Nazis preferred.
Openly Fascist jokers like Tucker Carlson dredging up the Nazi-born “Replacement Theory” on network TV; governors of major states punishing adults and children alike for taking precautions against COVID; elected representatives incessantly talking about second amendment solutions; sprinkles of True Believer know-nothings showing up at Republican rallies armed with AR-15’s and wearing body armor; roving gangs of thugs and bullies swarming school board meetings; incessant attacks on local election officials forcing their resignations; hearings in Congress like that on Tuesday morning where Republicans chide top military officials for submitting to democratic and civilian control; thousands upon thousands of American cops refusing vaccination mandates; an entire congressional conference that tried to obstruct the January 6 inquiry; top-level January 6 co-conspirators resisting subpoenas to testify; a Supreme Court that rubber stamps every piece of anti-democratic and toxic excrement emitted by Republican state houses; one state legislature after another rewriting laws so that they alone might decide from where their electoral votes will be certified; and, as I write, the virulent rash of Qanon-backed “audits” of the 2020 election from Arizona to Texas to Wisconsin and who knows where next and not to really count the votes but rather to convince Americans that the entire electoral system cannot be trusted.
Need I go any further? Oh, yeah, there is that ginormous issue of what NY Times columnist David Leonhardt calls the “Red Covid.”
That’s shorthand for the prolongation and deepening of the pandemic due to official Republican urging to resist health safety measures, the absurd but chilling comparison of masking to dictatorship, and the ludicrous furthering of the bogus notion of “medical freedom” — from a party that consistently opposed public health care. Leonhardt notes:
“Since Delta began circulating widely in the U.S., Covid has exacted a horrific death toll on red America: In counties where Donald Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote, the virus has killed about 47 out of every 100,000 people since the end of June, according to Charles Gaba, a health care analyst. In counties where Trump won less than 32 percent of the vote, the number is about 10 out of 100,000…
“In much of the rest of the world, vaccine attitudes do not break down along right-left lines, and some conservative leaders have responded effectively to Covid. So have a few Republican governors in the U.S. “It didn’t have to be this way,” German Lopez of Vox has written.
“What distinguishes the U.S. is a conservative party — the Republican Party — that has grown hostile to science and empirical evidence in recent decades. A conservative media complex, including Fox News, Sinclair Broadcast Group and various online outlets, echoes and amplifies this hostility. Trump took the conspiratorial thinking to a new level, but he did not create it.”
If all the above is NOT an emerging Fascist coalition, then I call upon you to depict it as something else. What would you like to call it in order to sleep better at night?
And if you didn’t know it before the current crop of tell-all Trump books that just blossomed, you now have a crystal clear, undeniable record of the former president’s favoring of authoritarian and anti-democratic thinking and maneuvers.
We also now have access to the so-called Eastman Memo, a jarring, once-secret document by Trump lawyer John Eastman, laying out a methodical six point plan to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump in power.
Thanks should go to Mike Pence who wanted to help out the plan but did not have the courage to do so after consulting with Dan Quayle (!) who warned him off.
How about that for a nettlesome thought? Democracy survived the 2020 election only because of the good will of Mike Pence and Dan Quayle (the latter who had been called a Fascist by Democratic voters perhaps 50 million times).
More disturbing, while the Eastman memo got some initial coverage after CNN unearthed it, it has already been consigned to the Memory Hole, rather than commanding ongoing center stage scrutiny. Eastman himself is still working, undisturbed, at a prestigious think tank in California that seems to have no problem harboring advocates of dictatorial rule.
Perhaps the clearest voice on the rise of American Fascism came last week from neo-conservative Robert Kagan — yet another Republican who was commonly mis-categorized by Democratic voters as a Fascist. (Yes, Virgina, there is a big difference between a neocon and a fascist). Writing in the Washington Post, Kagan issued a Code Red warning:
“The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:
“First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.
“Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way.…
“Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process…
“The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.
“Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy…
Make sure you read the rest, if you can stomach it. If you need a sub to the WaPo to read it, it’s worth the money.
Kagan’s pointing to “chaos” is not accidental. This is the fixed and repeated pattern of almost all dictatorial and fascist movements. Create and spread chaos while vying for power. And promise when you come to power you will guarantee order and stability.
All of which brings me to Joe Biden and the Democrats.
Biden was a Central Casting pick to run against Trump. He was, in his way, the orderly antidote to the reckless Donald Trump.
Biden was not, however, the right guy to lead what should have been but is not yet the post-Trump era. My fix is that people, everywhere, respond to strong leadership. They respond too well at times, which is another contributing factor to authoritarian regimes. But a Goldilocks measure of strength —not too strong, not too weak— is called for in a possibly transformational moment like the last year.
Floating regally above the political fray, as Biden has attempted, just won’t cut it. He is failing and failing the country.
Biden and the Democratic Party as a whole have paid lip service to the fascist threat (without naming it of course) but their posture has been and continues to be very weak tea. Look no further than the now defunct police reform bill, which could have and should have passed in the first month of Biden’s tenure, after, of course, scrapping the hideous filibuster. If the Democrats cannot bring about basic reform of the police tell me how they are going to stem a fascist assault?
The president, inexplicably, breathed some life into what was a moribund GOP by letting a faction of the party buy into his “infrastructure” plan. Why? If the Democrats have the votes for a bigger package, the so-called reconciliation “human infrastructure” package, why not just fold that smaller “bi-partisan” package into the big brother package and leave the Republicans in the cold?
And as to that second package, just which genius in the Democratic Party decided to brand this massive social safety net bundle as “infrastructure” thinking this would somehow cause a mass rush to the Democratic side.
Why not sell it for what it really is and mobilize voters around critical components of the bill like expanded health care, cheaper drugs, better senior care, permanent child tax credits, a heavier tax burden on the wealthy and critical climate control measures?
One more reason why the national political narratives attached to the incipient Republican campaign are “crime…inflation…the border…defunding the police…runaway spending… CRT…and incompetence” while the grand narrative regarding the upcomg Democratic campaign is…what? Infrastructure and Reconciliation Infrastructure? Please.
Meanwhile, the bolloxed-up “debate” between different Democratic factions around the big social welfare bill, along with an assist from the news media, has descended into a mind-numbing argument over the total amount of spending rather than over what real needs American society have that must be addressed. Most Americans cannot fathom ten million dollars. Does anybody really think that an argument over $2 trillion vs. $3 trillion really resonates with more than a small fraction of the population?
Helluva job, Dems. A great way to undermine your own agenda.
The official Democrats apparently have not yet gronked the fact that voters do not decide elections primarily on “issues” but rather heavily factor in personality, image, and party tribalism. Indeed, as my long-time friend and colleague Micah Sifry points out in his latest The Connector newsletter :
And that means, simply, that Trump could enter the 2024 election with an initial 45% of the vote, making his re-election a palpable possibility, no matter how fucking crazy he might be.
How do we get out of this predicament, if at all? First, I think, by recognizing what responsibilities we the voters have. Now that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have a stranglehold on public policy, perhaps we should understand this is what happens when we outsource social change to the Democratic Party without first or concurrently building a robust social movement that networks local organizing efforts and puts real pressure on the Democrats (and everybody else).
Sitting back and cheering for AOC or contributing a few bucks to this or that online “change” organization is hardly a prescription for social change, let alone a barricade against fascism.
I will just note, in passing, that the American Left (or what’s left of it) has also forfeited on the issue of stemming the onset of authoritarianism. Much like the German Communists in the 1930’s thought their primary enemy were the Socialists, dubbed by Stalin as “Social-Fascists” and not the rising Nazis who would soon smash both parties, much of the American left has spent its energy these last years on accusing those closest to them as politically incorrect and as being their primary foe, rather than the rising system that goes un-named. Or, worse, there is a pocket of influential “leftist” public intellectuals, like Glenn Greenwald, who have jumped the shark and have decided that the Democratic Party is a greater threat to freedom than the Republicans (and have had no problem filling hours of air time along with Fox Fascists like Tucker Carlson).
Then, there are some American lefties who actually believe that a collapse of the system will somehow hasten a Socialist Dawn Really? That’s based on exactly what level of ground-level organizing by leftists over the last 40 years?
No matter what transpires in 2022 or 2024, Americans are going to have break out of their civic apathy and phobia about political activism if the Republic is to be maintained and if progress is to flourish.
The Democrats can also start to change course after this horrible, awful, unnecessary and alienating struggle over “infrastructure” is laid to rest. I have very little optimism in this regard, but there is, nevertheless, a way forward.
It can be summed up as COVID MANAGEMENT + NATIONALIZATION OF THE ELECTION.
The primary concern on the mind of voters is getting out of the pandemic and getting their kids safely back to school. Biden got off to a very good start and then, somehow, bungled just about every aspect of COVID relief since Delta struck.
Just who, please, is the designated administration public voice on the pandemic? You know, the guy or gal who should be appearing daily on TV and giving firm guidance? Is it Biden? Fauci? Or the frightful CDC director Rachel Wolensky who generates another tsunami of confusion every time she opens her mouth?
I don’t think it a Herculean task for the administration to decide just who the outstanding and trusted and forthright and reassuring Covid czar should be. All I know is that at this most perilous point in the pandemic, it seems nobody is home and everyday brings a new variant on guidance. I mean, is the third shot a booster? Or is it the completion of a vaccine series? Does fully vaccinated mean two or three shots and so on.
Until and unless the administration pulls it together on COVID, it is going to continue to bleed public support.
Second: the Democrats and that includes President Biden must, I repeat, MUST begin to immediately nationalize the 2022 election — or prepare for a catastrophic defeat in the midterms a year from now.
The California recall shows us that the most potent weapon in the Democratic arsenal remains Donald Trump and the descent of the Republican Party into pro-fascist madness.
The ONLY “issue” that the Democrats must pound away on, relentlessly, is the threat to democracy posed by Trumplicans. Whether they name the rising system or not, they must not falter from warning voters that any vote for the Republicans, especially down-ballot in the congressional races and even local elections, will contribute to the erosion of democracy and an elevated threat of authoritarian rule. Nothing else will be effective. Nothing else will stand a chance. And even that might not work.
Yes. It can happen here. And it is happening. Let’s not slump into denialism or fantasy thinking. The future of this country is on the line today, now, this minute. ++
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