There is a Crack in Everything : Global Democracy or A Fascist Haunting

by Mindy Clegg

An election official outside and voters outside a voting location in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Lorie Shaull at flickr

The mid-term elections are less than a month away—voting has begun in many places, including here in Georgia with some of the usual struggles already unfolding. In a normal mid-cycle election like this one, control of the house, senate, or both would flip to the minority party—so says common knowledge. This year seems a toss-up. The polls since this summer have kept swinging back and forth between the Democrats hanging onto the house, and expanding their control over the senate, to the GOP taking both, but barely. Ordinarily, the minority party sweeps Congressional elections and that would make perfect sense—the party in power rarely gets it right when they control Congress and the presidency. But this year, the GOP continues its march toward right-wing authoritarianism. The party is wildly out of lockstep with the majority opinions on most of the major issues facing the country. Yet many voters seem poised to hand over control of at least one house in Congress to them. Why? It seems to largely stem from a mistaken belief the GOP has a better set of economic policies (they don’t) and that inflation is thanks to the Democrat’s recent policies (it largely does not seem to be). Far too many people are treating these upcoming elections as normal, ignoring the plethora of red flags being waved in our face. This is not a full-throated defense of the Democrats, whose policies are a mixed bag. I do believe that we face a serious existential crisis that must be averted. The far right-wing represented by the former president have a stranglehold on the Repubilcan party. Despite the very real limitations of the Democratic party, they are better if we wish to maintain a democratic form of government. We should avoid support for the GOP based on their violent, anti-democratic (small d) rhetoric.

Let’s take one race as an example. Here in Georgia, sitting Senator and pastor of Ebeneezer Baptist Raphael Warnock faces a challenge from former football player and Heisman trophy winner Herschel Walker. Two Black men competing for a Senate seat should be a moment for historical celebration given our state’s tortured and violent history of racism. Unfortunately, the GOP backed a scandal-ridden candidate who is highly unqualified for the job. Walker was hand-picked by Trump and has at times pushed forward some of Trump’s conspiracy theories. In addition, he’s been credibly accused of acts of violence against former partners. Walker seems to be holding onto a core set of supporters, though, with Warnock barely edging him out in recent polls. For some, they want to vote for a football hero while others embrace the ride-or-die tribalism of partisan politics. Meanwhile, Warnock has shown he can deliver for his constituents, playing a role in getting price controls for prescription drugs in the Inflation Reduction Act and working across the aisle on several issues. The GOP seems to be in no mood for bipartisanship as of late. Warnock is just the sort of Democratic centrist that should poll well among independent and moderate Republicans. Instead, he’s been painted as a “woke” fanatic. Warnock has proven to be an effective problem-solver, something we desperately need more of in Congress.

Problem-solving seems of little value to the GOP base. They embrace winning in whatever form—and that’s from the moderate wing. The most puzzling aspect of their continued success is that the GOP is out of step with much of the electorate and with the values many Americans regularly express. When challenged on issues like abortion, they offer positions at odds with their actions. GOP candidates across the country have denied that the goal is a national ban on abortion if they win Congress. But Sen. Lindsey Graham offered just that back in September. That does not track with the claims of “state’s rights” coming from some candidates who know they are running on the unpopular side of an issue. Abortion is not the only issue of importance this election—the future shape of the economy is also on the ballot. Voters say that they trust the GOP with the economy more than the Democrats. Historic inflation rates has been a useful wedge for Republicans running against Democrats this cycle. But even there, they seem uninterested in doing more than offering tax cuts. On twitter, one poster tweeted an image of what he said was a Congressional committee meeting to deal with inflation. Not a single Republican showed up.

Some in the Democratic party have been pushing back against the narratives that the GOP is better with the economy. In a recent hearing Rep. Katie Porter did what she does best and brought facts to the hearing on inflation. She questioned Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute about how corporate profits relate to inflation. Heather Digby Parton over at Salon noted just how little Trump actually did in his term, and how little would get done in Congress if the GOP took one or both houses. Their push for tax cuts is central to their economic plans, which would expand instead of shrink the deficit (as historian Heather Cox Richardson noted). But they’d also start investigations into Biden and the January 6th committee, and gut social security and medicare, all while “holding the debt ceiling hostage.” She notes that some believe this would cause a global financial crisis.

They would not limit their damage to our shores either. In addition to the possible global economic crises they unleash, the GOP would also upend the global political order. But in truth they wish to reoriented American empire to align with their professed values, just like they wish to use the coercive power of the state to oppress other Americans. Trump and his supporters wish to throw our lot with European authoritarian regimes under the guise of ending American empire. The Republicans expressed support for authoritarian leaders around the world, especially Victor Orban and Vladimir Putin. Richardson pointed out that the GOP might well end funding to Ukraine at what seems to be a critical moment. The United States already has a serious problem with supporting authoritarian regimes such as the Saudis, and the GOP seems eager to support others in the name of “dismantling” American empire. It seems far more likely that once control is consolidated at home with regards to the far right’s wish list, that a new world order would emerge aligning US interests with far right, ethno-national, religiously-oriented regimes like Hungary and Russia, as described by Suzanne Schneider at Aeon recently. Many in the American far right see such countries are being in the vanguard of ethno-nationalist politics. They would love to deploy similar “illiberal” policies here in the US. Schneider notes that, despite their rhetoric around freedom and supporting the Constitutional order, the goal of this new right movement is less about freedom for all and more about harnessing “the coercive and unprecedentedly invasive powers of the state.” The contrast she notes was how the earlier wave of nationalism of the 18th and 19th centuries “were tied… to a liberal political project built around individual freedoms, democracy and rule of law.” Whatever the real world limitations of this historical change, these concepts left enough cracks that led to systemic, progressive change. The MAGA crowd would roll back the most progressive gains in the past century.

In general, the Republicans reside on the unpopular side of nearly every major issue. Yet polls show that even some of the more extreme candidates are within striking distance of their Democratic opponents. Part of that could stem from ignorance of the deeper goals of the MAGA movement, a motley collection of right-wingers. Local elections matter here, as people like Steve Bannon have focused on local and state elections in order to push through a structural changes to the Constitution via a Constitutional convention. This would be to ensure a right-wing minority rule for years to come. But such extremists might not be the real threat to our democratic system. Recently, David Adler argued in the New York Times that the real problem come from centrists. Many who identify as centrists support a strongman figure. We should ask why so many people seem willing to hand over power to a single individual or a class that has promised to fix our problems, but have no real solutions to offer (recall Trump’s insistence that “only I can fix it” coupled with his lack of real platform?). This seems a case of people searching for simple answer to a complex set of problems. As Hank Green recently argued in a vlogbrothers video, be wary of those proposing simple solutions to complex problems.

I would argue that the way to solve our problems is more democracy (within a structure that preserves and guarantees our rights). Democracy is not merely a structure, rather it is a choice—a conscious decision to embrace diversity and even a bit of uncertainty. Unlike the fearful “illiberal” democracies of Orban and Putin, a truly democratic system embraces all everyone as valuable and sees it as a strength for figuring out complex problems. The concept that one belongs to a particular group because of some inborn characteristic—a concept favored by ethno-nationalists and religious fascists—falls down under harsh examination. Human beings can and do thrive within diversity. Once we understand that all our structures can be chosen and remodeled to serve our needs and fix our problems, we can do the hard work to tackle the actual problems facing us all. This seems far better than giving into made-up moral panics that only serve the needs of a select few by keeping us angry and divided. We get nowhere by expecting everyone to be precisely like us. We move forward by embracing difference and understanding it as a strength, drawing on it for real world problem-solving. As such, we should reject the fear-mongering of the GOP until they clean their house of their fascist wing and offer us a coherent set of policies based on more than tax cuts and hate.