Democracy is an obstacle to an agenda based on fear.
For the last few years, I have worried that progressives were losing faith in the Constitution. My fear was that dysfunction in Washington would convince progressives that the system of government created by the Constitution no longer worked. I worried that a critical mass of progressives would abandon attempting to win elections and collaborating with moderates and conservatives to enact legislation and take to the streets.
Progressives may yet lose faith in the Constitution but, for now, remain a solid force within the Democratic party. Despite the slow wheels of government resulting from the Constitution’s checks and balances, progressives are not yet ready to storm the Capitol and hang Mitch McConnell.
The right wing, by contrast, has already left the Constitution behind. Led by Donald Trump and other “new Republicans,” extreme conservatives have sought to achieve their agendas through the courts rather than legislation, by executive action by-passing Congress, and, in January 2021, by violence and terrorism.
The right wing has lost faith in democracy. Their actions reflect a belief that, if democracy works, they lose. Because most Americans support reasonable immigration policies, racial justice, and equity, fighting climate change, the right to abortion, and separation of church and state, a functioning democracy is an obstacle to the right-wing agenda.
The January 6 assault on the Capitol may prove to be but the first battle of a war against the Constitution. Led by a President whose career in real estate development was built on circumventing laws and regulations, Trump’s followers sought to block Congress from certifying the 2020 election. The goal was to keep Trump in office despite his electoral loss. Supporters of the coup attempt, then and now, are fine with having a president who was not elected by the people.
The story of Trump is a troubling one, replete with a history of racism, petty and grand theft, and a propensity to lie in the face of overwhelming evidence. Trump, we are learning from the House Select Committee on January 6, knew that he had lost the election but championed half-baked legal analyses and false claims (most created by his followers) to claim the election was stolen.
It may seem obvious that Trump’s claims would disintegrate as courts rejected his false claims, but Trump’s strategy continues to be to double-down on lying while at the same time attempting to set the stage to overturn future elections that he, his followers, or his ideological successor might lose.
Trump, by sheer force of his willingness to argue the ridiculous, has made himself indispensable to a movement that is sufficiently out of sync with mainstream America to never win national power. That is why his followers tolerate him despite evidence of tax fraud, sexual assault, and petty grift.
Trump’s followers, both those who marched on the Capitol and those who continue to dismiss the seriousness of the insurrection attempt, are not so much supporting Trump as attempting to fight democracy. Trump should thus be seen as a means to an end rather than as the end itself. Right-wing extremists want a leader who will deliver policies that correspond to what they think they believe. This means preventing immigration, freezing racial equity, preventing racial reconciliation, and limiting government. By dismantling “the deep state,” the right-wing sees the possibility of their policy agenda winning notwithstanding the wishes of most Americans as expressed through their representatives and President sent to Washington.
If the theory that the right-wing has abandoned democracy is correct, we are in deep trouble. If the right-wing does not regain power by election, it could turn to more serious strategies, which could include bombings, kidnappings, and murders. Efforts could also be made to intimidate moderates and liberals from voting. In short, domestic terrorism. Far-fetched? Read up on what the Proud Boys were up to on January 6.
The fear that right-wingers will turn to enhanced violence is not speculation. They have already done it. A plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmore was foiled, but only after elaborate plans were developed. Pre-meditated attacks on gay-pride events have occurred. And, of course, racially motivated mass shootings have become common.
Does the right want a dictator?
The indifference with which right-wingers have responded to the deadly January 6 insurrection suggests the right is ready to embrace an autocrat, or benevolent dictator (benevolent to the right-wing at the expense of others). Trump was delivering what the right-wing thinks it wants–people of color “put back in their place,” LGBQT people put back in the closet, and a government that operates to perpetuate the status quo. If urban schools do not improve, for example, black progress does not occur. If income security and protection of civil rights are low priorities, the U.S. becomes a less attractive destination for immigrants. The list goes on.
Do not expect right-wingers to call for a dismantling of our system of government openly. Instead, listen to their chants of “USA! USA!” and then listen to what the crowd is cheering. In the case of Trump, it often calls for building border fences, incarcerating Hillary Clinton, or cracking down on crime. Extremists say they want to make America great again. Nothing could be further from the truth.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.