Trump has given birth to a dangerous new “lost cause” myth. We must fight it | David Scourge
AAmerican democracy is in peril and almost everyone who pays attention is trying to find the best way to put it. Should we in the intellectual classes position our warnings in satire, in whining, in social science, in historical analogy, in the philosophical wisdom that we glean from so many who have taught us about 20th century violence and authoritarianism? Or should we just scream after our vacation naps?
Some of us take our pens and do what we can. We quote from wise scribes such as George Orwell on how there can be a latent fascist waiting to emerge in all humans, or Hannah Arendt on how democracies are inherently unstable and liable to be ruined by aggressive and skilled demagogues. We turn to Alexis de Tocqueville for his astonishing perspectives on American individualism as we like to believe his claims that democracy creates greater equality. And ah! how we love the fabulously open and infinite democratic spirit of Walt Whitman. We breathe in Whitman’s verses and are captivated by the hypnotic power of democracy. “O Democracy, for you, for you I sing these songs”, wrote our most exuberant democrat.
Read enough of the good Whitman and you will be able to believe again that American democracy may still be “the indissoluble continent … with the long-standing love of comrades.” But for now, we cannot rely solely on the genius of our wise ancestors. We must face our own mess, start the fight in front of us, and prepare for the worst.
Our democracy allows a twice impeached crime-prone ex-president who publicly instigated an attempted coup against his own government and who still operates as the gangster leader of his political party to reside peacefully among us while he is investigated for his wrongdoing. We believe in the rule of law and therefore await verdicts from our judicial system and a legislative inquiry.
Yet Trumpism unleashed on January 6, and every day before and for five years, a crusade to slowly poison the American democratic experience with a movement to overturn decades of pluralism, racial and gender equality and scientific knowledge. To what end? Establish a hopeless white utopia for the rich and the wronged.
On this January 6 anniversary, is it time to sing fervently Whitman again, or is that the only rational response to shouting? First the cry.
On January 6, 2021, an American mob, orchestrated by the most powerful man in the country, along with many allies in Congress and the media, nearly destroyed our indirect electoral democracy. To this day, only Trump’s laziness and incompetence can explain why he failed to sack Vice President Mike Pence in the two months leading up to the coup, installed a real lackey like Mark Meadows, and set up the formal disruption of the counting of electoral votes. The real coup needed weapons, and fortunately senior military officials have made it clear that they will oppose any attempt to impose martial law. But the blow continues by failing; it now takes the form of voter suppression laws, a virulent doctrine of state rights applied to all kinds of legislative actions installing Republican loyalists in the electoral system and a propaganda machine capable of popularizing lies, large and small.
The lies have now crept into a Trumpian lost cause ideology, building its monuments into ridiculous stories millions of people believe in, and codifying them into laws to make the next election easier to steal. If you repeat the terms “electoral fraud” and “electoral integrity” enough times on the right networks, you have a movement. And “Replacement Theory” works well alongside a thousand repetitions of “Critical Race Theory”, both devoid of definition or meaning, but both frightening. The Liberals sometimes invite contempt with their dedication to diversity training and their insistence on fighting for words rather than real inequality. But it’s time to see the real enemy – a long-standing American-style neo-fascist authoritarianism, seductively useful for the grievances of the discontented, and threatening to steal our microphones halfway through our odes to joy. .
Yes, disinformation must be fought with good information. But it must also be fought with a fierce policy, with an organization, and if necessary with bodies, in a non-violent way. We have an increasingly dangerous population on the right. Who do you know who really wants to compromise with their ideas? Who on the left will volunteer to be part of a delegation to discuss the fate of democracy with Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy or Fox News’ foghorns? Who on the right will come to a symposium with 10 of the best writers on democracy, its history and philosophy, and help create a plan for American renewal? As a culture, we are not in the mood for such reason and courtesy; we fight, and it has to happen in politics. Otherwise, it might still be 1861 in a very new form. Sadly, it will likely take even more shocking events than January 6 to bring our political culture through and beyond our current crisis.
And if and when we are in 1861 again, the new secessionists, namely the Republican Party, will have a dysfunctional constitution to exploit. The ridiculously undemocratic US Senate, now 50/50 between the two parties, but where Democrats make up 56.5% of the population and Republicans 43.5%, bodes well for those determined to thwart majority democracy . And, of course, the Electoral College – an institution more than two centuries old, and one that even our first demagogue president, Andrew Jackson, advocated abolishing – offers undying hope to Republicans who may continue to lose popular votes but win. presidency, as they have done in two of the last six elections. The democracy?
What now for the song? Well, read on. Of all the democracy books of recent years, one of the best is James Miller’s Can Democracy Work? Brief history of a radical idea, from ancient Athens to our world. Political philosopher and historian, Miller offers an intelligent journey through the turbulent past of this great human experience to find out if we can really govern ourselves. It demonstrates how thin the lines are between success and disaster for democracies, how great victories turn into reactions and big losses, and how the dynamics of even democratic societies can be utterly amoral. New intolerant ruling classes sometimes replace the tyrants they overthrow.
“Democratic revolts, like democratic elections,” Miller writes, “can produce perverse results. History still awaits us. But in the end, through examples like that of Václav Havel in the Czech Republic, Miller recalls that “the ideal survives”. Democracy requires the “best laws”, Havel intoned, but it must also manifest itself as “human, moral, intellectual and spiritual, and cultural.” Miller makes history to show that democracy is almost always a “conundrum, not a recipe.” Democracy is much more difficult to maintain than autocracy. But it must be renewed.
Or just choose Whitman’s Song of Myself, all 51 pages long, from the opening line, “I Celebrate and Sing Myself,” to her thoughts on how lucky you are to just be alive. Continue to a few pages later when a “runaway slave” walks into Whitman’s house and the poet looks into her “spinning eyes”, and heals “the galls on her neck and ankles,” then in her embrace. of “primordial”, complete democracy halfway through the song, where he accepts “nothing that all cannot have”. Finally read until the end, where the poet finds a blessed oblivion, bequeathing himself “to the earth to grow the grass that I love”. Whitman’s “sign of democracy” is everywhere and in everything. Both the democratic instinct and the authoritarian instinct are deep within us, forever at war.
After January 6, it’s time to get ready to sing, scream, and fight.