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How We Start Beating the Right, Right Now
From reading the headlines you’d think that the MAGA-Authoritarian-Christofascist-Oligarchy-Republican coalition’s power has peaked, and that the danger to democracy is fading. All kinds of talk of Democrats holding onto to both Houses, Trump finally getting his legal comeuppance, and Republican infighting reflecting recognition of circumstances changing for the worse.
This misplaced optimism is perhaps best exemplified by historian Thomas Hicks. He recently wrote: “Five years ago, I began to worry about a new American civil war breaking out. Despite a recent spate of books and columns that warn such a conflict may be approaching, I am less concerned by that prospect now. I am less pessimistic than I was back then.
Oddly enough, the main things that give me hope arise from former president Donald Trump’s attack on the electoral process, culminating in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. At the time I feared that the unprecedented insurrection was the beginning of a sustained war on American democracy. Yet nothing much happened. Rather, with the executive branch crippled and the legislative branch divided, the judicial branch of the federal government held the line. Again and again, both federal and state courts rejected claims of election fraud. Now those who alleged fraud without substantial evidence are themselves being investigated. Hundreds of people who invaded the Capitol, attacked police and threatened lawmakers were tracked down and charged with crimes. It was as if the American system had been subjected to a stress test and, albeit a bit wobbly, passed.
Moreover, the Capitol invaders turned out to lack the courage of their convictions. Having broken the law, they shied away from the consequences. Unlike the civil rights activists of the 1960s, they did not proudly march into jails, certain of the rightness of their cause, eager to use the moment to explain what they had done and why. They lacked the essentials that gave the civil rights movement and others sustainability: training, discipline, and a strategy for the long term.
More recently, the House select committee examining how Jan. 6 came to pass has established a factual record that cannot be denied. While unfortunately not truly bipartisan, it also shows part of the legislative branch of the federal government finally awakening and responding to the attack that branch suffered. The Justice Department’s slow but steady pursuit of Jan. 6 perpetrators “at any level” targets those who thought they could speak or act without repercussions. And the American people are paying attention. A recent NBC News poll found that “threats to democracy” topped the list of pressing issues facing the nation.
It is beginning to feel to me like the wave of hard right — not “conservative” — reaction has crested. As we saw in the recent vote in Kansas, the Supreme Court’s ruling against abortion has awakened many women, and some men, to the dangers of letting that court go wildly out of step with the American people.
In addition, the events of the past few years, most notably the pandemic and some natural disasters, have reminded many Americans that there is a place for good and effective government, especially in providing the basic societal needs of public health, public safety, air and water quality, and roads and other forms of transportation. That revived appreciation is one more reason I think the danger of civil war is receding.
So, while the patient is not yet healthy, I see some signs that the fever is breaking and the prognosis is improving,” Why I’ve stopped fearing America is headed for civil war, By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, September 5, 2022, at 8:00 a.m. EDT.
Ricks is hopeful, which is usually a good thing, thorough and contemplative, always a good thing, and beguiling, which is where the problem starts to set in – because in the final analysis he is dead wrong. Our continuing structured intelligence and systems analyses indicate that Republican ecosystem power if far from peaking, that the danger to American democracy continues to grow, and that analyses such as Ricks’ continue to take the starch out of the fight required to change this dynamic. You can catch up on our analyses here, (Recent Analysis Results), and in previous Substack newsletters.
We do though see a glimmer of light that can point the way down the dark hallway if we’re sober about what needs doing. We explore the opportunity in this piece.
Collectively, the Rittenhouse acquittal, “Dobbs” and Trump Special Master rulings present us with an interesting dichotomy. They denote a critical, momentous phase transition in United States history but are, at the same time, nothing special or anomalous from a historical perspective, and not indicative of anything sudden. Rather, they reveal the banal truth underpinning America from its founding -- that a two-tiered justice system and a legal system skewed by money yields neither justice nor protection -- and that a country of laws but no justice creates both individual cognitive and collective cultural dissonance that must eventually resolve itself. Unfortunately, the resolution is neither individual catharsis nor cultural and sociopolitical consensus -- but the opposite.
The underlying national glue has been melted, and the irreconcilability of the components that were only held together by that glue has become apparent. This dynamic is analytically intriguing if also maddening and dispiriting – and may in fact be systemically and historically like – even linked to -- the dissolution of the Soviet Union just 30 years ago. We’ll pursue the possible connection in a forthcoming piece.
While not anomalous, the Rittenhouse trial result was egregious because he was charged with multiple crimes (first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless endangerment, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18), yet acquitted by the jury of the first three with the final charge being dropped by the judge. No one disputed that he killed both victims -- and nobody but ardent Trumpists bought the defense’s claims of self-defense. Unfortunately, there were enough of those on the jury to prevent a conviction on a single count. Rittenhouse got away with cold blooded murder and then – nothing happened. While liberal white males may have been shocked by this outcome – I assure you that most women and people of color were not because, for them, it was the same damn thing they’ve seen from the American justice system since the nation was founded.
“Dobbs” was an affront to the nation because it was decided by the court of last resort, broke with precedent, and offered no valid legal reason for breaking with precedent in the particular case it decided. It was an exercise in raw political power by the one branch of government that is supposed to be totally apolitical. “Dobbs” did light a match, even started a fire, but the utter failure of Democratic politicians and liberal white males to fall on their swords to protect women’s rights means that this particular fire simply smolders, when what we require is a conflagration.
Judge Cannon’s ruling in support of Trump’s request for a Special Master exemplifies the legal impunity the right wing has been busy establishing the last 50 years. Alarmingly, this is perhaps not the worst aspect of the case. Trump is suspected of espionage – and was caught dead to rights in possession of, hiding and moving highly classified documents – establishing the fact that he committed espionage – not just the possibility of it. Based on his position, access, and predispositions, it is possible that Trump committed more damage to national security than all previous traitors and spies put together. Notably, the others were immediately arrested, then promptly convicted and incarcerated -- on much less evidence, yet Trump walks the streets.
And as bad as Trump’s actions are, he’s the perpetrator and we expect criminals to act like one. Judge Cannon has no excuse – she is a sworn officer of the law given an extra layer of scrutiny before being elevated to the bench. And she is deliberately jeopardizing U.S. national security and the lives of countless intelligence assets around the globe to protect a criminal because they are partners in a criminal network. This is the textbook definition of corruption, and marks us as a banana republic. Where is the outrage?
We particularly note Judge Cannon’s ruling as demarcating a phase transition instead of constituting simply one more outrage because, until the last six years, this is the kind of decision that a judge would not have made because she would have felt bound by precedent, fairness, and probity – he/she would have been concerned that making such a ruling would have ripped the mask off the (in)justice system. We are less concerned with the ruling itself than that things have devolved so far that judges are making these rulings with no concern for anything other than the impact on right wing strategy and defendants.
Note the certainty Judge Cannon must possess that there will be no sanction for her unprecedented ruling – at only 41 years old she would have had to worry, in previous times, about significant blowback. Either she is assured there will be none, or she is assured that in the worst-case scenario, she will be professionally and financially protected by the right-wing oligarchy. Thus, impunity squares a circle, and the only losers are, well, us, truth, justice, and the American way.
With these three events, there could not be a bigger example of the what people like to call the two-tiered justice system, which is a euphemism for a deliberate system of injustice masquerading as an aspirational or imperfect one.
These rulings are the result of a long-term right-wing strategy whose effectiveness has been accelerated by dark money, network effects, and vicious cycles, in a manner that will have taken its own leaders by surprise – as the lack of post-Dobbs exploitation indicates – but that they will rapidly adjust to – so that in a few short months these rulings will rapidly fade into the background in the face of new outrages that will similarly be underestimated by the press, Democratic Party and most Americans – all befuddled with the same ridiculous combination of blindness, hopefulness, and cowardice.
What is the actual phase transition we posit? For reference, the previous transitions included that from “the last best hope of earth” (1789 – 1865), to aspirational democracy managed by a benign oligarchy (1865 – 1968), a period marked by multiple “externalities” that primarily impacted women, black, brown and recent immigrants – with the negative effects being prophylactically balanced by national culture and myths – all of which was hidden and/or denied -- but nonetheless not actually sinister. Then we rapidly transitioned through “managed democracy with reduced aspirations” (1968 – 2016), which was evidently just a way station on the ever-accelerating descent of America to its current state.
The current state (2016 – present) is best characterized as an unabashed autocracy/oligarchy/Christofascist state -- animated theoretically by capitalism, neoliberalism, and anti-progressivism, and emotionally by hate, envy, inadequacy, and misogyny -- propelled by ignorance and propaganda -- and regulated by fear, violence, and an unequal and regressive legal system.
The dates and terms in the previous paragraph are arguable, but not really that important. The point is, the important things in the United States (equality, health, quality of life, politics, economics, culture, comity, justice, truth, aspirations) are going in the shitter, and the rate at which they are doing so is accelerating.
The good news – the phase transition presents a rare opportunity to jolt the left out of its crippling equilibrium of slumber-occasionally-interrupted-by-outrage, into one marked by intent and continuous action that at least has the chance of restoring American democratic ideals and pursuing actual and equal justice under the law.
We’re not the only people to note this opportunity -- which we came to through our structured systems analysis process -- so it is very likely to represent reality as opposed to blind hope.
Biden’s recent speech is one proof point of a phase transition because it means that conservative Democratic Party and White House strategists believed the speech would be well received.
The Lincoln Project was an early indicator that the right had gone too far for the most thoughtful and patriotic Republicans, and although it has been somewhat quiet lately, it has proven itself a key force come election time.
Thom Hartmann’s timely piece (Hartmann piece) details the opportunity from a socioeconomic perspective, saying among other key things that: “we’re on the cusp of a great turning in American history.”
John Stoehr’s “The Decaying Politics of White Boomer Men,” AlterNet, Sep. 9, 2022 (Stoehr article) argues similarly that the relevance and dominance of white male boomers is rapidly fading, and we suggest that both the recent over-the-top MAGA fascist spasms and liberal white male/mainstream press reluctance to address the threat forcefully represent different reactions to mutual realizations of fading relevance.
That said, the post-Dobbs Democratic Party bump is not the bellwether of hope and reversal of fortune many are touting it as. Without methodical, strategic reinforcement, it will turn out to be but a temporary roadblock delaying the right’s achieving its next pernicious objectives.
What needs to happen rapidly to exploit the transition event:
1. Number one, and by far the highest priority, is the requirement for liberals, the Democratic Party, and progressives to align within a common strategy. We’ve previously detailed such a strategy. (Proposed Strategy)
2. Related, that strategy must explicitly assert American citizens’ rights to have the society they want as their preeminent right, without which all others are nothing more than colored bubbles. This right is not circumscribed, defined, or bounded by the temporary form of government they endorse to best achieve that end, it is not wholly encompassed within the definition of the word “democracy,” and we as citizens are not ruled forever by principles articulated by a handful of white men 250 years ago, or by unequally applied laws and corrupt judges, because the right to have the society we want is more fundamental and important than is any reactionary requirement to adhere to outmoded ways.
3. The relentless execution of defensive, offensive, and consolidation actions – linked to the strategy -- to defeat Trumpism, Fascism, and Neoliberalism; assert the meta-right noted above, and establish a new form of government that enables and protects the meta-right and all its derivatives.
High concept? You bet. Small ball doesn’t work – that’s the game Democrats have been playing for fifty years – with a cumulative losing streak just as long. It’s the game the right has been beating us at – and they are unabashed. Why do we hesitate to stop losing and re-assert the very rights we thought we had won via the Revolutionary War? We have a unique opportunity, but the arc of history will not bend towards justice on its own – we must put our collective weight on it.