[Column] America’s continuing insurrection

Posted on : 2022-01-10 16:08 KST Modified on : 2022-01-10 16:08 KST
John Feffer
John Feffer
By John Feffer, author and co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies

The defeat of Donald Trump in 2020 was supposed to put an end to America’s official foray into delusional politics at the national level. The quashing of the Jan. 6 insurrection — and the brief, near-unanimous revulsion among members of Trump’s party for that violence — provided some hope that the fever dream of an illiberal takeover had passed.

The last year has demonstrated quite the opposite.

Trumpism, which started out as a simple-minded rejection of the liberal status quo, has become something else: a thorough rejection of democratic procedures and a darkly conspiratorial hatred of federal power. This corrosive ideology is now orthodoxy within the Republican Party, and that party remains popular enough — and ruthless enough — to win back control of Congress this year and, potentially, the White House in 2024.

Those who adhere to Trumpism have recast the insurrectionists as heroes — “patriots who love their country,” in the words of Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase — and are determined to block all efforts to determine who was ultimately responsible for what happened that day.

Consider the recent congressional debate over the investigation into the events of Jan. 6 and whether Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, should be charged with criminal contempt for refusing to show up to testify.

When the issue came up for congressional debate, Trump’s lapdogs talked about immigration, Hunter Biden, mask mandates — in short everything but Meadows’ contempt of Congress. By contrast, Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL), labeled the House select committee’s work to investigate the events of Jan. 6, 2021, “evil and un-¬American.”

The Republican Party takes these positions because it can safely count on the support of all those members who haven’t fled the party already because of Trump. According to recent polling, nearly 70 percent of Trump voters think that Biden was not legitimately elected president in 2020. Worse, 40 percent of Republicans believe that violence against the government can be justified.

Even more serious acts of resistance are taking place outside of Washington.

For instance, Republican-led states have banned vaccine mandates in defiance of Washington. By mid-December, 19 states had pushed through 34 laws restricting access to voting, setting up a confrontation with a federal establishment committed to ensuring free and fair elections.

Texas has led the way in criminalizing abortion, passing a bill that deputizes individuals to enforce the law by filing civil suits against abortion providers. More than 20 states have prepared legislation to ban abortion as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which the Trump-packed Court seems increasingly likely to do next summer.

On these and other issues — gun control, environmental standards, immigration, schooling — Republican governors are pretending as if Biden weren’t in fact elected in 2020.

The residents of Florida and Massachusetts speak the same language, use the same currency, and salute the same flag. On practically everything else, from gun control and environmental standards to immigration and schooling, they could already be living in different countries.

The current polarization of political attitudes in the United States reflects much deeper demographic and cultural shifts in this country. Whites are increasingly anxious about their loss of dominant status as the white population dropped for the first time ever in the 2020 census. Poverty remains endemic in rural America where Republicans are strongest, with extreme poverty counties existing only in the countryside, while predominantly Democratic states have only gotten wealthier over the years.

The Democratic Party’s strategy has been to try to resolve this last issue of economic inequality through targeted stimulus spending. The party is also fighting to promote voter access in the hopes that greater turnout boosts its electoral chances.

But that’s what Republicans want to stop at all costs.

The insurrection of Jan. 6 was a frightening reminder of the fragility of American democracy. Ultimately, however, the would-be revolutionaries were just a relatively small band of malcontents urged on by a disgruntled president and a few members of Congress. What has happened in the year since is less visibly violent but potentially more troubling. The insurrection has been institutionalized within a political party and implemented across half the states.

The rioters were repulsed. Many were eventually arrested and thrown in prison. This larger insurrection, organized by a powerful party, urged on by right-wing media, and funded by deep-pocketed donors, won’t have to storm the barricades. They’re already in power — and they want more.

At the moment, it’s hard to imagine any presidential candidate taking office in 2024 and healing this rift. As long as the two parties continue to aspire to take control of the federal bureaucracy — and federal resources — one side won’t kick over the game board and walk away from the match. The problem arises when a major party, like the Republicans, develops such disgust for federal authority that it decides not to play the game any longer.

So, is the game up for American democracy?

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