Musings on Contemporary Waffle
After the events of last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, it should be a lot clearer to most of us who hadn’t quite understood it before, just how the U.S. Republican Party operates as the autocratic Trojan Horse within America’s democratic process.
The party of Lincoln long ago stopped being that honorable thing, losing that mantle to the Democratic Party around the time of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
The tactics of the Republican party today, and especially its most egregious practitioners of the bulwark tactics against carrying out (and caring about) the majority will of Americans — on topics of health care, the environment, worker rights and protections, and racial equality, etc. — are not that different from what was happening in the Eastern Block of European countries under communist rule, or in China and Russia and elsewhere today.
It’s instructive to make the comparison because, as scholars of political history know well, there is a distinct difference between democratically principled political behaviour and autocratic behaviour masquerading as democratic activity, and that for either case it could be the “left” or the “right” practicing either behaviour.
And so, it’s important for us to be able to identify the difference. With the US, it happens to be the “right” — or what has become the right-wing of American politics — where autocratic tactics are now on full display on a daily basis.
To help us along, then, here’s a layman’s quick primer on what America’s autocrats look like and how they do what they do.
The first thing that an autocratic political movement has to do is present the opposition as the actual enemy rather than a legitimate democratic and viable opposition that simply represents a different constituency. This demonization of the opposition is essential, because the goal of autocracy is to institute governance that forces people to do the political class’s bidding.
This is very different from having benign laws and expecting citizens to follow them for their own good. By demonizing the opposition, the autocratic side strives to either push their own restrictive rules that enable their desire to rule according to their whims, or prevent the opposition from passing laws that do not align with those whims.
Which brings us to the next tenet of laying the foundations for autocratic rule – never look weak. This tactic is clear from Mitch McConnell’s complete shutting down of the Senate to enact any laws that a Democratic Congress passes. But McConnell has refused to table legislation in the Senate not always because he simply didn’t want to give any wins to the Democrats. He did this also because some of his own side may have voted against him, for what were often obviously wildly popular measures with a majority of Americans, and thus expose the true minority status of the Republican side. As we saw on Wednesday, this is just a more subtle form of the idea that “might is right”, and also “white”.
As long as it maintains a patina of respectability and the message is controlled that a vote is not happening for the reason that Democrats didn’t try hard enough, or some other lie to vilify and always deflect responsibility back to the opposition, then Republicans’ autocratic nastiness will continue to be unassailed, as long as they retain control of the chamber.
Which brings us to the next tenet of autocracy – don’t lose the power you won democratically, but do feel free to do everything you possibly can to keep that power undemocratically, while you pretend that you care only about upholding democracy.
This is exactly where the dichotomy of the influence of, and “useful idiot” metaphors towards, the outgoing president comes in. If we look back to 2016, we can clearly see the wheels turning in the heads of the crop of Republican senators whose sinister agendas have become only too obvious after the storming of the US Capitol. Ted Cruz was an opponent of the current president, until he wasn’t; and he has become, in fact, his greatest Machiavellian acolyte to eventually (he hopes) usurp the leadership of the class of the electorate over whom the current president has the most influence.
Looking back at 2016, the turning of coats that took place, where opponents of the outgoing president became his strongest supporters, exposes this trick of autocrats to pretend support, then try and usurp influence, and eventually (they hope) crash the political system itself, for their benefit.
Which brings us to today.
The shame that is being heaped on some Republicans after the Capitol insurrection may seem like a death knell for them, but it is in fact not incompatible with the autocratic rulebook at all. Do you believe that the culpability of a Kevin McCarthy, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz to incite things further and then ignore the effects of that egging on will make them “realize their mistake?”
Hardly. And so, the rule book continues with, my favourite hypocrisy of them all — the call for “unity”.
Let’s disassemble this very important stage of the autocrat’s strategy — a sudden desire for “unity”, also known as a wish for everyone to “just get along”, or to “put this behind us”. What do these phrases really mean coming out of the mouths of attempted seditionists who couldn’t care less how many people died in the Capitol insurrection, or that it even happened at all, or that they share responsibility for it happening?
What would be political suicide for true democratic leaders (these actions would immediately lead to censure) is simply an attempt to appear democratic when that is the last thing you are. What could be more democratic than espousing unity?! After all, isn’t that what a democracy strives to do, to represent the wishes of the majority of the citizenry (in brood terms as far as what is good for society)? Sure.
But that’s not what it really means for autocrats like McCarthy, Hawley, and (especially) Ted Cruz. First, the lack of unity is primarily their fault. They have seeded and propagated the lies that have caused the division in the first place (that there was massive voter fraud, that the election was stolen, that President-elect Biden will not be a legitimate president; and therefore, that the election results must be overturned, etc. etc.)
As soon as their lies blow up in their faces, even as spectacularly as theirs have with the culmination of an armed insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday, the call for “unity” is pulled out of their trick bag.
And the cycle begins again; which is, of course, the final and most important tenet of the autocrat’s rule book — to Keep Trying. And so, always deflect responsibility for your blunders, ineptitude, and shear evil intent along the long road to autocracy. Always blame the other side for anything that goes wrong with your autocratic plans.
And, most important, do it with the high rhetoric and great hair expected of a sitting senator or president!
But, definitely, do avoid allowing easy analogies that expose your lies in the first place. For example, if I were to say that you getting upset at the analogy that aiding an insurrection is like a victim of a house invasion being chastised for daring to get upset at the invaders, just respond that I’m being “divisive”, that I want to “cancel” you; and that you have only ever wanted there to be (wait for it …) — “unity”!
See how it works?
What these horrid creatures within the decrepit Republican Party really mean by “unity” is that you need to agree with them if you want anything from them (for isn’t agreement unity)? Therefore, you must not call them on their shit, do not expose their intentions, do just agree.
That’s what they mean by “unity”.
Well, there is a time when the chicken’s come home to roost, if only for a little while. And the time has probably come for some of these pathetic so-called democratic politicians who espouse so-called unity, after being responsible for the divisiveness in the first place. Constant, unremitting lies have a way of collapsing on themselves and allowing the truth to stick out like a beacon of light.
I’ve always believed that there is a self-healing mechanism in the human soul, though it is not in everyone’s individual soul, apparently. Over time, things do improve for those who have been wronged, people’s minds often do change about things they were wrong about, and justice does eventually get served, if only in history books, unfortunately.
But not so fast — we’re not there yet. We’re not ready to sigh and say that time will heal these wounds, another favourite salve of autocrat’s to cover their tracks.
Protecting democracy also means using democracy and its structures, which serve us and itself, for its and our protection. The rules that autocrats within a democracy like to pretend they uphold, things like law and order and equality, are their worst enemies when in the hands of true democrats, because it forces these autocrats to start telling the truth and be held accountable for their attempt to destroy that democracy. Only democracy can save itself.
The election was not stolen, children in cages is wrong, women and minorities have the same right to life and protection and opportunities as (white) men. And violent overthrow needs to be punished and all political supporters of it held to account, and — as a minimum — be disqualified from further positions of public authority, including and especially the out-going president of the United States.
It is required by this — or any — real democracy.