The US Capitol building on a black solid background with a distorted, glitch effect.

State of Disunion

The GOP Has a Choice: Democracy or its Base

The US will either end up a multi-racial democracy, or it will become a single party state ruled by a white minority. Unfortunately, Republicans may just determine our fate.

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When rioters, incited by President Trump’s incendiary remarks, stormed the U.S. Capitol just two weeks prior to the inauguration of Joe Biden, it finally drove home that Trump’s base is fundamentally a violent, autocratic, and anti-democratic movement. It was also the starkest example of the similarities between Trumpism and previous fascist movements: It uncomfortably reminded me of Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, where he showed up with 25,000 of his armed supporters at the capital with one demand: Name me prime minister.

While some of the people assaulting the capitol building really had no plan other than selfies and mayhem, others showed up prepared to tear down the U.S. government by violence. Many were veterans, police officers, and even Trump-supporting state legislators. Banners among them proclaimed their support for Trump, “Jesus 2020,” nationalist militias, the Confederacy, and QAnon. Others wore clothing with Nazi motifs like “Camp Auschwitz Staff.”

Once inside the building, some insurrectionists in tactical gear, armed with pistols, explosives, and flex cuffs, made a beeline for the House and Senate Chambers. They were apparently targeting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Vice-President Mike Pence, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). While it is unknown what they planned to do once they captured high-value lawmakers, it is worth noting that they had been howling for Pence’s death after he refused to overturn the election, and they erected crude gallows on the Capitol steps. Five people died, including a police officer who was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. All of this was broadly similar to the 2020 plan hatched by Trump supporters in Michigan to kidnap and execute the Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Resistance to the mob by police was sporadic. One Capitol Police officer was bludgeoned to death, and another heroically lured rioters away from senators at great personal risk. Others allowed the mob in and even took selfies with them, sparking fears of collusion. Very few arrests were made on the day of the assault, and most were gently escorted out of the building in the hours that followed. It’s also worth remembering that regimes fall when the security apparatus steps aside and lets the rioters win; such was the case with the securitate in Romania, stasi in East Germany, and the SAVAK in Iran. Thus, the public had no idea how prepared some of the rioters were, nor how close they came to succeeding.

Trump supporters online widely regard the insurrection as a victory, and a demonstration of their power. One freshman Congressman from Arizona admitted that he voted to overturn the election after the attack because he was afraid of the mob. Reporting after the fact indicates we were within minutes if not seconds from a potential massacre.

Steps are being taken to ensure that the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration don’t see a repeat of the storming of the Capitol. Some of the online mechanisms for fomenting insurrection are being shut down: Trump’s Twitter account has been permanently suspended (though he still has the official White House Twitter account). Parler, a popular haven for far-right conspiracy theories and people planning the riots, has been removed from both Apple and Google apps and de-hosted by Amazon cloud services.

Unfortunately, none of these steps address the real issue. The movement supporting Trump is autocratic. It is fascist. And it controls the destiny of the GOP. The Georgia special elections saw Democrats win both seats, as turnout from the general election decreased more for Republicans than it did for Democrats. A great deal of credit goes to Stacey Abrams; however, Trump helped by convincing his base that the elections were rigged, likely driving down Republican turnout. It sent a clear message to the GOP: If the Trump base doesn’t show up for elections, GOP candidates will lose in the general.

There is also a fear that even those Republicans in completely safe districts and states will lose primary elections if they don’t keep the crazed, violent Trumpist base happy. Trump’s family has promised to support primary challenges of any Republicans who were insufficiently loyal to him during the attempts to overturn the election. The results in the Georgia election drove home how viable these threats could be. These demands for loyalty are absolute, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) found out. After spending four years as Trump’s leading sycophant, he suddenly found himself a target of the Trumpist-base’s ire. As they screamed and cursed him out of Reagan National Airport, one of the Trump supporters yelled, “It’s gonna be like this wherever you go, for the rest of your life!”

Polling data suggests that unless something fundamentally changes, the protester is probably right. A YouGov poll after the assault on the Capitol found that 45% of Republicans approved of it, and 68% didn’t think that it was any sort of threat to democracy. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans in the House voted to overturn the election, but only seven Senators followed suit. This disparity helps highlight the solution to what we just witnessed.

The Biden administration, and control of the Senate on Vice-President Kamala’s tiebreaker vote, give the opportunity for Democrats to move legislation to the floor. Some of the legislation passed by the House during the 116th Congress would take key steps toward preserving democracy and de-radicalizing the Republican party.

The For the People Act (HR 1) expands voter registration, voting access, limits removing voters from voter rolls, and provides for states to establish independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions among other provisions supporting improved election security. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (HR 4) restores the provisions of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965, and helps ensure future conservative courts will not strike it down (as John Roberts’ court did to the original VRA). The Protecting Our Democracy Act (HR 8363) is aimed at preventing some the abuses of the Trump administration from happening again including limits on pardons, defining emoluments, preventing the President from directing funds by fiat, protecting the independence of government watchdogs, and other fundamental guardrails against kleptocracy, corruption, and autocracy.

Unfortunately, unless Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pulls off some parliamentary magic and makes these bills related to budgetary measures (allowing them to pass with a simple majority through reconciliation), they’re going to have to get a filibuster-proof majority in support of these bills. Or, alternately, they will have to strike down the filibuster, but this is highly unlikely: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already indicated he won’t support ending it.

The Senate is highly undemocratic in and of itself. States with 10% of the population can block most legislation and have done so. Republicans represent a minority of the population but have held control of the upper chamber for more than a decade. The U.S. is in a crisis unlike any we have seen since the Civil War, and it is only getting worse. The GOP is beholden to a base that is radicalized and completely out of touch with reality, and the fault lies mostly with the GOP itself.

Over a decade ago they decided via mechanisms like Project REDMAP that they were going to be a minoritarian-rule party that rules forever via voter suppression, gerrymandering, and appealing primarily to a white Christian base. The mayhem in the Capitol is in great part a consequence of this decision to win by only representing an unrepresentative sub-population. Republicans have openly admitted that they wanted a system where their “politicians get to pick the voters.” The voters they picked are the ones who stormed the Capitol building with the intent of kidnapping and potentially murdering politicians who stood against them.

We have reached a point where either the United States and Democracy or the Republican Party as it is currently configured survive. We will be a multi-racial democracy, or a competitive autocracy ruled by a white minority. They are mutually exclusive events. If the GOP continues along this path, they will be fully consumed by radicals as fewer and fewer people identify as Republican, leaving only the most devoted, who are further and further radicalized by the dark corners of the internet, Newsmax, and OANN. Eventually, the GOP will manage to control both chambers of Congress, and with most members reliant on the mob for their political and literal survival, will vote to functionally end democracy in the U.S. In turn, many states will be inclined to leave.

Legislation designed to increase participation in democracy and reduce Republican reliance on the fascist half of the base is likely our only hope of avoiding this outcome in the long run. While some Republicans, like Josh Hawley (R-MO), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) would likely love to live in a theocratic fascist state, there’s hopefully still tenRepublicans left in the Senate who don’t. Until they do, supporting conspiracy theories and anti-democratic measures will represent the “dark side” of the quick and easy path to power for most new Republican candidates.

It is undeniable that Republicans would lose power in the short run as they allow the political system to realign again, for the first time since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. They have effectively painted themselves into a corner. However, we know that the past four years have made most Republicans in the Senate miserable. They have been obligated to humor, ignore, defend, or otherwise excuse every temper tantrum, racist comment, conspiracy theory, right-wing talk-show host, and effort to end democracy as a result of having chosen the far right as the only voters who matter to them.

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