Thursday, October 19, 2023

America's Angry Children and the Real Future of Democracy

It appears that a significant number of people in my personal demographic---mostly older white folks, more of them rural than suburban, more of them much more religious than I---neither understand democracy or reject it. They may not know they reject democracy because they don't in fact understand it.

In all cases their behavior resembles that of petulant children (with apologies to real petulant children) or of authoritarians. These folks like authoritarians so long as they look like them or fuel their grievances and claims. What we are seeing while the world burns, war rages in Europe and Middle East, and the country is less than a month from closing down is not a Republican Party that is merely dysfunctional. That is far too kind and understates the problem.


It would be an error to think there is a mature and governing majority within the larger Republican Conference or that it is but a few raging children, like Jordan or Gaetz, who need to get out of the way. The fact of the matter is that the current R-Maga Congress was elected by their voters not to govern. The majority of these elected representatives voted overwhelmingly not to certify the last election and cannot or simply will not admit that it was legitimate. It's hard to believe anything they say because they will say anything.


Those who are not election deniers will resume drowning government in their bathtub of grievances, conspiracies, and fantasies because that makes their voters feel good. The point of being elected isn't to do the difficult business of democratic government, it is merely to please those who vote and give you money.


What we have before us as a country might be called a Cold Insurrection but in fact appears to be its own kind of Slow-Walking and Not Without Violence Civil War. Trump just said on his platform that the people have "other rights" to secure the "justice" of his First Amendment rights, which should include threats and calls to violence directed at anyone who disagrees with him. By that he clearly meant that the Second Amendment somehow gives people the right to overthrow the government should it appear that the rule of law does not suit them. 


Leaving aside that even this current corrupt SCOTUS could not endorse as a majority that utterly ridiculous interpretation of "the right to bear arms," it is nightly stated on Fox and Newsmax to titillate their viewers. Jim Jordan's stated aim is authoritarian rulership, that is, government not by democracy and compromise but instead absolute rule or more cynically by simply rejecting the function of any government.


The real problem is that Republican voters have apparently internalized every bit of the cynicism that Trump and the GOP opportunists around him use to manipulate them. They care not for any connection between national politics and the health and security of the United States. They have never known a United States that is as broken as they hope to make it, so their soothing lies and fantasies of destroying the deep state are more like the next good show on TV.

Ironically these voters, a fairly significant portion of whom, rely on the government for their very survival in the form of Social Security, Medicare, etc., must rely on everyone else (aka Democats) who they deride as the “deep state" to keep the country functioning. Wouldn't want Big Government to take away their Medicare, now would we? Unfortunately, and I say this with no glee, Republican voters are apparently that stupid.


That they prefer to vote for masters of performative nonsense, like Jordan and Gaetz, needs no further explanation: all of the Angriest Children and all but a few in not yet gerrymandered districts will get landslide reelections. But it matters not that these are the Angriest Children because the entire party has proven itself rotten to the core. Shall we ask Liz Cheney?


The MAGA voter will reelect representatives who do nothing for “forgotten” working families because it is Democrats who have somehow left them behind. Fox makes sure to stoke that grievance every day because anger secures eyeballs and makes for profit. Elected MAGA grifts on the endless narrative of discontent, conspiracy, and blame because that is more lucurative than serving their constituents with law making. Benghazi! Hunter Biden! Whatever the flavor of the day is, there's room for more soothing lies that capitalizes on ignorance and performative anger.


"Conservative" Never Trumpers argue that MAGA is not conservative. But this is yet more nonsense. Theirs has always been welfare for the rich and corporate profit over every other consideration: their trickledown economics, "private sector solutions" for medical care, education, the environment, even civil rights have been nothing but catastrophic folly. 


"Conservative" ideals---smaller government, tax relief for the rich, deregulation---have been shown time and again to produce only more economic disparities and civil injustices. They bought the Gipper's lies because it sounds great and fills the pockets of their donors. Why this isn't obvious to any who claim decency when even their own economists admit to their motives is yet another characteristic of their failure. Follow the money to figure out why they don't care. 


But there are no "conservatives" even of this ilk left in Congress who aren't merely MAGA. MAGA doesn't care about any of these "conservative" objectives unless it profits them and keeps them in power. The usual failed conservative policies only serve this cynical objective. And to be clear: there are no elected Republicans who are not MAGA. Trump is almost certainly their standard bearer and they will all fall in line.


We can reasonably ask why so many rural white voters, especially of a certain age, vote as they do for policies that don't serve their actual lives? First, like all Americans, they think this way because they have never had to live under a government that has actually been so dysfunctional as to cease operation, or has been burned down, or defunded. Jordan and the Angriest Children have made careers only out of encouraging such nihilism. This makes them unfit to govern but effective politicians because they never intended to govern.


They will get elected by gerrymandered majorities and if given power will only foster more chaos: it's not a quirk, it's a feature. But here's the more important point that strikes home at the real problem before us: they actually do deliver what their voters want. Peering into living rooms blasting Fox, the MAGA voter wants a good show, and that means show trials, passion plays, and, above all, confirmation of their own misery while watching other people also feel unsettled and angry. The miserable also want "those people" who are coming for their stuff to be miserable or dead: it's not merely we didn't get ours, it's that they got ours. This is the message coming out of their information silos and anything to the contrary is "fake news."


To admit otherwise would be to admit their own mistakes and failures and, well, that just won't do, MAGA voters are incapable of recognizing serious legislators because by definition they reject compromise. They call this recalcitrant nihilism being "principled" when in fact it is an ignorance of the democratic system itself. When democracy gets in the way of their world view and, more significantly, their tender self-esteem then that doesn't matter either.


You can't be committed to democracy if you don't understand it and MAGA voters are more like a case study in widespread group Dunning Kruger Effect than actual citizens of a functioning republic. Fox and elected MAGAs know to keep the circus lively and tell their viewers how smart they really are.


They've done the research, you know, on things like vaccines by reading stuff on the internet that proves the Deep State is trying to anniliate them. That science saved so many of them from disease and death isn't even a distant memory---that can be as soon as fifteen minutes ago given attention span---but because they never learned the truth. They were too busy listening to Republicans like DeSantis and watching Fox.


MAGAs have been told that Trump will win in a landslide and that their favorite representative will stand by their president. Gerrymandering likely insures that their elected representatives remain in place to take their money and grift on their grievance. But it won't matter if they lose because they will not accept the results.

We're headed either for another January 6th Insurrection or a Speakership that will not accept the Electoral College results. Any of them are capable of rejecting votes because they don't believe every American actually should get to vote. Republican "leadership" knows that they are going to need to be the vote counters to win in the crucial places and have long realized that majority elections at the presidential level are irrelevant to their rulership goals. There would be a need to burn down the government should they lose because they could not control the outcomes.


They are actively engaged of course in doing just that: controlling process and outcome to assert their rule, which makes them wealthy and keeps the TV appearances coming in. If this sounds too cynical, I suggest we merely consider what is in fact happening right before our eyes.


The threat to democracy extends to the Russians, the Chinese, the Saudis and other authoritarians who see our failures more clearly than we do. But if the hopes of the American people rest with the American people then I say we're in for much worse than we can blame on others. Is there any reason to believe this Cold Insurrection will fail? Landslide victories from Democrats and a wise Joe Biden easily elected to a second term defeating Trump who will likely already be a convicted felon is perhaps our only real hope for better.