The right-wing assault on American democracy heats up

Bob Sheak, February 6, 2021

Does democracy in the U.S. have a future? Biden, his administration, and Democrats presently represent the best, hopefully effective, prospect for salvaging democracy from minority rule by a Republican Party dominated by Trump. But the Biden administration, Democrats of all stripes, and those who oppose what Trump and the Republican Party stand for will face a massive Trump base who believe the election was stolen from their leader, obstruction from Republicans in the Congress, and large swaths of the rich and powerful who will use their vast resources to oppose the tax cuts, regulatory reforms, and other policies that will be advanced by the Biden administration. This post compiles evidence on how these forces pose a more dire threat to American democracy than in many generations, perhaps since the Civil War.

Trump’s populist base

What they like about Trump

Trump has served to unify disparate right-wing forces into an unquestioning populist base of support for him. This populous base includes advocates of unfounded and conspiratorial views of society, some committed to the use of violent methods to achieve their goals, along with overlapping special interest groups devoted to maximum gun rights, closed borders, Christian nationalism, white supremacy, those who question the reality of the pandemic refuse to wear masks and are angered by the lockdowns, and those opposed to covid-19 vaccines. This is a population that generally takes Trump’s word as definitive, while rejecting the views and evidence from scientists, experts, the “dark state” of government civil servants, and the “fake news.” Emotions trump evidence. Indeed, some see Trump as chosen by God. They love his admonitions invoking “law and order” and his disparaging statements on the “black lives matter” movement. The nationalistic “America First” rhetoric of Trump leads them to think that his policies are bringing back American businesses from abroad or keeping such businesses from outsourcing their businesses to other countries. It also likely makes them feel patriotic, the true and only patriots. In line with such sentiments, many of them accept the idea that the Democrats are “radical socialists” and electing them will take the country down a path toward some sort of totalitarian regime where all individual “freedoms” are lost. Many of Trump’s base are motivated less by economic distress than by ideological commitments and special interests. Robert A. Pape, political-science professor at the University of Chicago and Keven Ruby, Senior research associate of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, find that “a closer look at the people suspected of taking part in the Capitol riot suggests a different and potentially far more dangerous problem: a new kind of violent mass movement in which more ‘normal’ Trump supporters—middle-class and, in many cases, middle-aged people without obvious ties to the far right—joined with extremists in an attempt to overturn a presidential election” (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/02/the-capitol-rioters-arent-like-other-extremists/617895).

 Trump has appointed conservative judges to the federal and supreme courts. He’s won the support of white evangelicals by picking Mike Pence as his vice-president, by de-funding of Planned Parenthood, meetings with evangelical leaders, and by his judicial selections. His anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have been greeted with enthusiastic responses, though not much of his touted 2,000 mile “wall” has been built. Innumerable asylum seekers have been kept out of the country and children have been separated from their families. His statements that the Covid-19 pandemic is overblown or a hoax and that there is no need for “lockdowns” have been accepted and have fostered an anti-mask movement, spurred the anti-vaccine movement, and confirmed their fears of a repressive state. Trump’s supporters got and imbibed a lot more. They got his support of the “proud boys,” Anon, and other extremist groups. They got his contradictory positions on the pandemic, often saying that it was not such a problem, there is no need to wear masks, it will go away by itself, and offering hairbrained solutions. They got the lack of a national plan and coordination for combating Covid-19. They got his racism and sexism. They got a fossil-fuel energy policy that encouraged fuel inefficiencies, pollution, and the steady advance of global warming.

As the growing body of evidence of the attack on the Capitol building on January 6 indicates, there were thousands of Trump followers eager to come to Washington, some ready to break the law, commit violent and lethal acts against police and other law enforcers, threaten elected lawmakers with death. Their goal was to stop Congress from finalizing Biden’s presidential victory, and somehow making it possible for Trump to eventually be declared the president for his second term. Such a presidency would have been unrepresentative of the majority of Americans and authoritarian in its foundation. There was a religious overlay to it all. Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham report, document this point https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/us/how-white-evangelical-christians-fused-with-trump-extremism.html).  

“Before self-proclaimed members of the far-right group the Proud Boys marched toward the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, they stopped to kneel in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus.

“The group, whose participants have espoused misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, prayed for God to bring ‘reformation and revival.’ They gave thanks for ‘the wonderful nation we’ve all been blessed to be in.’ They asked God for the restoration of their ‘value systems,’ and for the ‘courage and strength to both represent you and represent our culture well.’ And they invoked the divine protection for what was to come.

“Then they rose. Their leader declared into a bullhorn that the media must ‘get the hell out of my way.’ And then they moved toward the Capitol.

“The presence of Christian rituals, symbols and language was unmistakable on Wednesday [January 6] in Washington. There was a mock campaign banner, ‘Jesus 2020,’ in blue and red; an ‘Armor of God’ patch on a man’s fatigues; a white cross declaring ‘Trump won’ in all capitals. All of this was interspersed with allusions to QAnon conspiracy theories, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic T-shirts.

“The blend of cultural references, and the people who brought them, made clear a phenomenon that has been brewing for years now: that the most extreme corners of support for Mr. Trump have become inextricable from some parts of white evangelical power in America. Rather than completely separate strands of support, these groups have become increasingly blended together” (

Thomas B. Edsall also highlights the influence of Christian nationalism in Trump’s base as documented by experts who study it (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/opinion/christian-nationalists-capitol-attack.html). He writes: “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.” For example, among many references, he quotes the authors of two recent books on the subject..

Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, professors of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Oklahoma, describe Christian Nationalism in their book “Taking America Back for God”:

It includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.

The two authors “calculate that roughly 20 percent of adult Americans qualify, in Perry’s words, as “true believers in Christian nationalism.” They estimate that 36 percent of Republican voters qualify as Christian nationalists. In 2016, the turnout rate among these voters was an exceptionally high 87 percent. Whitehead wrote that ‘about 70 percent of those we identify as Christian nationalists are white.’”

Edsall also quotes Katherine Stewart, the author of the recent book titled “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” who comments on Christian Nationalism as follows.

It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.”

Moreover, Edsall points out that “much of the focus of coverage of the attack on the halls of the House and Senate was on the violence, [and] the religious dimension went largely unnoted. Edsall asked Perry about the role of the religious right in the capitol riot and he replied by email: “The Capitol insurrection was as Christian nationalist as it gets,” adding:

“Obviously the best evidence would be the use of sacred symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc. But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.

Perry finds the evidence clearly “reflects a mind-set that clearly merges national power and divine authority, believing God demands American leadership be wrested from godless usurpers and entrusted to true patriots who must be willing to shed blood (their own and others’) for God and country. Christian nationalism favors authoritarian control and what I call ‘good-guy violence’ for the sake of maintaining a certain social order.”

What it is that Trump’s populist base ignores, dismisses, or rejects

If little else, they got his thousands of tweets, his performances at rallies, and appearances on Fox News – all laden with over 30,573 lies and misleading claims as tabulated by Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-fact-checker-tracked-trump-claims). Wikipedia provides a concise summary:

During his term as President of the United StatesDonald Trump made tens of thousands of false or misleading claims; one report gave the number as 30,573.[1][4][5][6] Commentators and fact-checkers have described this as ‘unprecedented’ in American politics,[7][8][9][10] and the consistency of these falsehoods became a distinctive part of both his business and political identity.[11] Trump is known to have made controversial statements and subsequently denied having done so,[12][13] and by June 2019, many news organizations had started describing some of his falsehoods as lies,[14] which are false statements that the speaker knows are false. The Washington Post said his frequent repetition of false claims amounts to a campaign based on disinformation.[15] According to writer and journalist Nancy LeTourneau, the debasing of veracity is a tactic.[16]

“As part of attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election, Trump and his allies repeatedly and falsely claimed there had been massive election fraud and that Trump had really won the election.[6] Their effort was characterized by some as an implementation of ‘the big lie’”[17] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veracity_of_statements_by_Donald_Trump).

What else did they get from Trump? They got tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich and corporations. They got wholesale deregulation and hollowing out of government agencies and the loss of environmental, occupation, consumer, and other protections. They got the bashing and an almost elimination of the Affordable Care Act, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, without a replacement. They got his general opposition to unions and to increases in the minimum wage, along with his readiness to at least partially privatize Social Security. Yes, he signed an initial and large COVID-19-relief bill and gave a one-time boost to farmers. But they also got state and local government that were strapped for funds under pandemic conditions and the erosion of public services. In Foreign policy, they saw Trump’s American First policy advance friendly ties with the authoritarian regimes, undermine relations with allies in Europe, withdraw from nuclear-weapons treaties with Russia and Iran, break records in military spending, and sideline diplomacy as a principal tool in international relations.

The ever-right-wing tilt of the corporate community

The U.S. economic system revolves around the power of mega-corporations, billionaires, oligopolistic or monopolistic arrangements in most sectors of the economy, corporate boards that are independent of outside influence and that are interlocked with the representatives of other corporation and especially big banks. The top corporate executives (sometimes called oligarchs or corporate elites) make their decisions based on the interests of shareholders, including the executives themselves. Every sector has a trade association that reflects the interests of the mega corporations. The corporations fund think tanks, political action committees, political ads favorable to selected candidates, faux grassroots groups, and armies of lobbyists, who have ready access to lawmakers and who even help to write and edit legislation. Given their control over vast assets, the corporate oligarchs also have the ability to influence the economy through their investment decisions.

Trump and the Republican Party have advanced a neoliberal economic agenda the origins of which can be traced back to at least the Reagan administration of the 1980s. It is an agenda that appeals to much of the business and corporate sectors, including policies favoring tax cuts, deregulation, anti-unionism, lucrative government contracts for weapons producers, the avoidance of negotiated prescription drug prices, the continuing prioritization of fossil fuels, privatization of public services that can yield a profit, subsidies for corporations while favoring reductions in programs for the poor and middle-income populations, and little concern for equity in the supply and delivery of government programs and services. Democrats have often bought into some of this neoliberal ideology and practice. But the Republican Party has long been the principal beneficiary of corporate largess.

There was news that some corporations were abandoning Trump and the Republicans after the lawless mob, incited by Trump, stormed the Capitol building, ransacked it, terrorized, injured and killed police, searched for Democratic lawmakers to harm, and called for Trump to be the president, despite the overwhelming evidence he had lost the election fairly. In the aftermath, Robert Reich, prolific author and Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, reports that “dozens of giant corporations have said they will not donate to the 147 members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of Trump’s lies about widespread fraud, which rules out most Republicans on the Hill” (https://www.newsweek.com/ceos-democracy-biden-trump-1564286). For example, according to Reich, “After locking down Trump’s account, social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are policing against instigators of violence and hate, which hobbles Republican lawmakers trying to appeal to Trump voters.” Reich continues: “As a result of moves like these, CEOs are being hailed – and hailing themselves — as guardians of democracy. The New York Times praises business leaders for seeking ‘stability and national unity.’ Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, says ‘our voice is seen as more important than ever.’ A recent study by Edelman finds the public now trusts business more than nonprofit organizations, the government or the media.”

Reich finds all this to be hogwash, writing: “For years, big corporations have been assaulting democracy with big money, drowning out the voices and needs of ordinary Americans and fueling much of the anger and cynicism that opened the door to Trump in the first place.” He refers to a study by political scientists, Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page, which “concluded that the preferences of the average American ‘have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.’ And: “Instead, lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the moneyed interests—those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.” He gives the following example: “The capture of government by big business over the last several decades has infuriated average Americans whose paychecks have gone nowhere even as the stock market has soared.” In Reich’s view, it was such economic losses and despair that fueled the rise of populist movements on the right and the left after “the 2008 financial crisis when Wall Street got bailed out and no major bank executive went to jail, although millions of ordinary people lost their jobs, savings and homes.”

Reich also has critical statements about the hypocrisy of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who “shut Trump’s Facebook account,” declaring “you can’t have a functioning democracy without a peaceful transition of power,” but who has “amplified Trump’s lies for years.” Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey closed down Trump’s account, but only “after Democrats secured the presidency and control of the Senate.”

Reich’s final words are telling.

“If the corporate CEOs are really committed to democracy, they “would permanently cease corporate donations to all candidates, close their PACs, stop giving to secretive ‘dark money’ groups, and discourage donations by their executives.

“They’d stop placing ads in media that have weaponized disinformation – including Fox News, Infowars, Newsmax and websites affiliated with right-wing pundits. Social media giants would start acting like publishers and take responsibility for what they promulgate.

“If corporate America were serious about democracy it would throw its weight behind the “For the People Act,” the first bills of the new Congress, offering public financing of elections among other reforms.

“Don’t hold your breath.

“Joe Biden intends to raise corporate taxes, increase the minimum wage, break up Big Tech, and strengthen labor unions. The fourth branch is [corporations are] already amassing a war chest for the fight.”

The Republican Party stays ensconced in the Trump orbit

Jim Rutenberg and a team of reporters at The New York Times compiled a detailed account of what Trump and his allies did in the 77 days between the election of Joe Biden and the inauguration of the new president to foment the lie that the election was stolen from Trump and that Trump, not Biden, should be the president (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/trump-election-lie.html). Their report is based on “interviews with central players, and documents including previously unreported emails, videos and social media posts scattered across the web.” They write: “Hours after the United States voted, the president declared the election a fraud — a lie that unleashed a movement that would shatter democratic norms and upend the peaceful transfer of power.” Furthermore, they write: “In coming days, a presidential transition like no other will be dissected when he stands trial in the Senate on an impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection.” Yet his lie of an election stolen by corrupt and evil forces lives on in a divided America.” The evidence documents the failed legal efforts by Trump lawyers to challenge the electoral votes in swing states, but how many in the Republican Party and the majority of Trump’s supporters went along with the claim, even as the electoral votes were being certified in state after state and Trump’s lawyers were losing 60 court cases in failed attempts to challenge the election results. But there were always those around Trump who reinforced his increasingly bizarre ideas that he would have won the election, if it had not been for fraudulent mailed-in ballots, manipulated voting machines, and other baseless claims.

Republicans in Congress vote against the certified Electoral College election results

The last-ditch effort to reverse the state certified electoral college votes that gave Biden the election by a margin of 306 to 232 was planned for January 6, the date when a joint session of the U.S. Congress counted the certified votes of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Except for the inauguration of the new president scheduled for January 20, the counting of the electoral votes by the U.S. Congress was the last time members of Congress could offer objections to the votes from a state’s certified results. As this process was underway, Trump-supportive legislators raised objections to the electoral vote in Arizona. At the same time, thousands of Trump supporters left a rally organized by Trump and his allies a walked down to the Capitol, and violently invaded an under-secured Capitol building with the purpose of stopping the count through disruption and intimidation to force the Congress to give the “stolen” election back to Trump.

Republicans in Congress and across the country were then faced with whether Trump should be held accountable or not. In the Congress, Democrats revolved to impeach Trump for inciting the riot/insurrection, while most Republicans opposed impeachment based on their controversial interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that impeachment only applies to a sitting president or that Trump had a First Amendment right to express his beliefs regardless of their merit or consequences. They came to avoid the facts of the insurrection and whether Trump had incited it and, by and large, opposed the Democrats decision to impeach Trump.

Republicans in Congress oppose the impeachment of Trump

The impeachment resolution passed along party lines in the U.S. House, with all 222 Democrats voting for impeachment and 197 Republicans voting against it, along with 10 Republicans voting for it, and 4 not voting (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/13/us/politics/trump-second-impeachment-vote.html). The Resolution H.Res.24 charges Trump for “inciting violence against the Government of the United States” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-resolution/24/text). The Resolution continues:

“On January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide”. He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore”. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.

“President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.”

Republicans ignore the evidence of Trump’s complicity in the riot/insurrection

What is the evidence? There is a detailed 80-page account of the riot/insurrection in the House impeachment brief titled “Trial Memorandum of the United States House of Representatives in the Impeachment Trial of President Donald J. Trump” that was carried by House manager to the U.S. Senate on January 25 at: https://D://Democrats%202021/house_trial_brief_final.pdf. Another useful source was authored by Jim Rutenberg and his colleagues in an article for The New York Times, “77 days Trump Campaign to Subvert the Election” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/trump-election-lie.html). And yet another rich source, with 492 references, is Wikipedia’s account, “2021 Storming of the United States Capitol” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol.) Despite the evidence, most Republicans in the U.S. Congress and across the country refuse to consider it or consider it to be the work of some shadowy leftist force.

Wikipedia’s analysis of riot/insurrection incited by Trump

“The storming of the United States Capitol was a riot and violent attack against the 117th United States Congress at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Part of wider protests, it was carried out by a mob of supporters of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, in a failed attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.[2] The Capitol was placed under lockdown while lawmakers were evacuated. Five people died from the event, while dozens more were injured.[36]

“Called to action by Trump,[37] thousands[38] of his supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., on January 5 and 6 in support of his false claims that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from him,[39][40] and to demand that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress reject Joe Biden‘s victory.[41] On the morning of January 6, at a “Save America” rally on the Ellipse, Trump repeated false claims of election irregularities[42] and urged the crowd to “fight like hell”.[43]:01:11:44 At the president’s encouragement,[44] thousands of the protesters then walked to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress was beginning the Electoral College vote count to formalize Biden’s victory.

“Many of the crowd at the Capitol, some of whom had gathered earlier, breached police perimeters and stormed the building.[45][46] These rioters occupiedvandalized, and looted[47] parts of the building for several hours.[48] Many became violent, assaulting Capitol Police officers and reporters, erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, and attempting to locate lawmakers to take hostage and harm. They chanted “Hang Mike Pence”,[49] blaming him for not rejecting the Electoral College votes, although he lacked the constitutional authority to do so.[50] The rioters targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA),[51][52] vandalizing and looting[53] her offices, as well as those of other members of Congress.[54]

“Upon security being breached, Capitol Police evacuated the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. Several buildings in the Capitol complex were evacuated, and all were locked down.[55] Rioters occupied and ransacked the empty Senate chamber while federal law enforcement officers drew handguns to defend the evacuated House floor.[56][57] Improvised explosive devices were found near the Capitol grounds, as well as at offices of the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and in a nearby vehicle.[58][59]

“Trump initially resisted sending the D.C. National Guard to quell the mob.[60] In a Twitter video, he called the rioters “very special” and told them to “go home in peace” while repeating his false election claims.[61][62] The Capitol was cleared of rioters by mid-evening,[63] and the counting of the electoral votes resumed and was completed in the early morning hours. Pence declared President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris victors and affirmed that they would assume office on January 20. Pressured by his administration, the threat of removal, and numerous resignations, Trump later committed to an orderly transition of power in a televised statement.[64][65]

“The assault on the Capitol was widely condemned by political leaders and organizations in the United States and internationally. Mitch McConnell (R–KY), Senate Minority Leader, called the storming of the Capitol a “failed insurrection”[66] and said that the Senate “will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation”.[67] Several social media and technology companies suspended or banned Trump’s accounts from their platforms,[68][69] and many business organizations cut ties with him. A week after the riot, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection, making him the only U.S. president to have been impeached twice.[70]

“Opinion polls showed that a large majority of Americans disapproved of the storming of the Capitol and of Trump’s actions leading up to and following it, although some Republicans supported the attack or at least did not blame Trump for it.[71] As part of investigations into the attack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened more than 400 subject case files and more than 500 grand jury subpoenas and search warrants were issued.[72] More than 179 people were arrested and charged with crimes.[35] Dozens of people present at the riot were later found to be listed in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, most as suspected white supremacists.[73] Members of the Oath Keepers anti-government paramilitary group were indicted on conspiracy charges for allegedly staging a planned mission in the Capitol.[74][75]

Republicans continue to find its politically expedient to rally around Trump

Paul Krugman provides a succinct analysis of the Republican responses in an article titled “The G.O.P. Is in a Doom Loop of Bizarro” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/opinion/republican-lies.html). Krugman argues that Trump will continue be the dominating force in the Republican party. He writes: “On Tuesday Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who has said that Donald Trump’s role in fomenting the insurrection was impeachable, voted for a measure that would have declared a Trump trial unconstitutional because he’s no longer in office. (Most constitutional scholars disagree.)” And: “On Thursday Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader — who still hasn’t conceded that Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency, but did declare that Trump ‘bears responsibility’ for the attack on Congress — visited Mar-a-Lago, presumably to make amends.”

At the state level, Republicans were also singing their support of Trump or his policies.. “The Arizona state party censured the Republican governor for the sin of belatedly trying to contain the coronavirus. The Texas G.O.P. has adopted the slogan “We are the storm,” which is associated with QAnon, although the party denies it intended any link. Oregon Republicans have endorsed the completely baseless claim, contradicted by the rioters themselves, that the attack on the Capitol was a left-wing false flag operation.”

If anything, their commitments to Trump are solidifying. Krugman puts it this way: “As hard-liners gain power within a group, they drive out moderates; what remains of the group is even more extreme, which drives out even more moderates; and so on. A party starts out complaining that taxes are too high; after a while it begins claiming that climate change is a giant hoax; it ends up believing that all Democrats are Satanist pedophiles.” This describes the process under which the Republican Party has trended. Krugman points out: “This process of radicalization [extremism] began long before Donald Trump; it goes back at least to Newt Gingrich’s takeover of Congress in 1994. But Trump’s reign of corruption and lies, followed by his refusal to concede and his attempt to overturn the election results, brought it to a head. And the cowardice of the Republican establishment has sealed the deal. One of America’s two major political parties has parted ways with facts, logic and democracy, and it’s not coming back.” The power of the Party lies in their ability to rig elections so as to limit the Democratic vote and, perversely, to win the support of Trump’s loyal base.

House Republicans stand by Marjorie Taylor Greene

Catie Edmondson reports that on February 4, House Democrats “pressed past Republicans’ objections to remove the Georgia freshman from her two committee posts in a vote without precedent in the modern Congress (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/04/us/politics/marjorie-taylor-greene.html). All 219 democrats, joined by 11 Republicans, voted for Greene’s removal from the Education and Budget Committees and, in effect, from all committees, while 199 Republicans voted against the Democratic initiative. As widely covered, Greene has made outlandish and violence supportive statements in recent years and since she was elected in November to represent the very Republican 14th Congressional District in Georgia. In response, Edmondson writes, “the House voted to strip Ms. Greene of her committee assignments for endorsing these false claims, bigoted language and violent behavior.”

In November 2018, as reported by Ana Lucio Murillo, “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—who’s spread several false conspiracies, including that the Parkland, Florida, school shooting was staged—also pushed a bonkers theory that a historic California wildfire in 2018 was caused by a laser beam from outer space, Media Matters reports (https://www.dailybeast.com/marjorie-taylor-greene-spread-bonkers-conspiracy-theory-that-laser-beam-from-space-caused-wildfire). In a post to her Facebook page in November 2018, Taylor Greene said there were ‘too many coincidences to ignore’ surrounding the Camp Fire, writing that ‘oddly there are all these people who have said they saw what looked like lasers or blue beams of light causing the fires.’ She also suggested that that a vice chairman at ‘Rothschild Inc, international investment banking firm’ may have been behind the fire. The laser beam conspiracy theory has been circulated online by QAnon supporters, who claim the Camp Fire was intentionally started to make way for a high-speed rail system in the Golden State or to financially benefit an unknown group.”

At the Feb. 4 hearing on Greene’s committee status, Edmondson reports that Greene “expressed regret…for her previous comments and disavowed many of her most outlandish and repugnant statements. She said she believed that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks ‘absolutely happened’ and that school shootings were ‘absolutely real’ after previously suggesting that aspects of both were staged” and then maintained “her comments as ‘words of the past’ that ‘do not represent me,’ and she warned that if lawmakers wanted to ‘crucify’ her, it would create a ‘big problem.’” However, she misled her House colleagues when she told them that “she had broken away from QAnon in 2018,” portraying herself as a naïve victim. She said: “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true,” she said, “and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret.”

Edmondson points out that these statements do “not square with a series of social media posts she made in 2019, including liking a Facebook comment that endorsed shooting Ms. Pelosi in the head and suggesting in the same year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been replaced with a body double, an element of QAnon’s fictional story line.” Wilkins notes: “While campaigning last year, Greene posted an image of her holding a gun alongside Squad members, with a caption reading: “We need strong conservative Christians to go on the offense against these socialists who want to rip our country apart.” Edmondson notes that Democrats were “particularly incensed by Ms. Greene’s previous calls for violence after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”

Republicans continue their efforts to limit the Democratic vote

Of course, the Republican Party has a long history of efforts to make voting difficult and gerrymandering congressional districts within states. One can find illuminating analyses in Ari Berman’s book, Give Us the Ballot: Our Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, and Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy.

Michael Wines addresses this issue in a timely article with the headline “After Record Turnout, Republicans Are Trying to Make It Harder to Vote” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/30/us/republicans-voting-georgia-arizona.html). He reports that “in statehouses nationwide, Republicans who echoed former President Donald J. Trump’s baseless claims of rampant fraud are proposing to make it harder to vote next time — ostensibly to convince the very voters who believed them that elections can be trusted again. And even some colleagues who defended the legitimacy of the November vote are joining them.” Wines cites evidence from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University that “state legislators have filed 106 bills to tighten election rules, generally making it harder to cast a ballot — triple the number at this time last year.” He continues: “Republicans who for more than a decade have used wildly inflated allegations of voter fraud to justify making it harder to vote, are now doing so again, this time seizing on Mr. Trump’s thoroughly debunked charges of a stolen election to push back at Democratic-leaning voters who flocked to mail-in ballots last year.” He gives these examples. “In Georgia, where the State House of Representatives has set up a special committee on election integrity, legislators are pushing to roll back no-excuse absentee voting. Republicans in Pennsylvania plan 14 hearings to revisit complaints they raised last year about the election and to propose limitations on voting.” And in Arizona, “Republicans have subpoenaed November’s ballots and vote tabulation equipment in Maricopa County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Phoenix. Legislators are taking aim at an election system in which four in five ballots are mailed or delivered to drop boxes.” Wines includes the following information.

  • In Arizona, where Democrats captured a second Senate seat and Mr. Biden eked out a 10,500-vote victory, lawmakers are taking aim at an election system in which absentee ballots have long been dominant.
  • One bill would repeal the state’s no-excuse absentee ballot law. Others would pare back automatic mailings of absentee ballots to the 3.2 million voters who have signed up for the service. One ardent advocate of the stolen-election conspiracy theory, State Representative Kevin Payne of Maricopa County, would require that signatures on all mail ballots be notarized, creating an impossibly high bar for most voters. Yet another bill, paradoxically, would require early ballots that are mailed to voters to be delivered by hand.
  • In Georgia, where Mr. Biden won by fewer than 12,000 votes, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, have repeatedly defended the election results. The two are nevertheless supporting stricter voting requirements.
  • A proposal by Republicans in the State Senate to eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots — a quarter of the five million votes cast in November — has drawn opposition even before it has been filed. But Republicans broadly support a bill to require submitting a photocopied identification card such as a driver’s license with both applications for absentee ballots and the ballots themselves. Mr. Raffensperger has said he supports that measure and another to make it easier to challenge a voter’s legitimacy at the polls.
  • Bills in Arizona, Mississippi and Wisconsin would end the practice of awarding all electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the statewide vote. Instead, they would be allotted according to votes in congressional districts — which in Republican states are generally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. In Arizona, the Legislature also would choose two electors.
  • In Texas, a state with perhaps the nation’s strictest voting rules and one of the lowest levels of turnout, the state party has declared “election integrity” the top legislative priority. Among other proposals, legislators want to cut the time allotted for early voting, limit outsiders’ ability to help voters fill out ballots and require new voters to prove they are citizens.
  • Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Legislature have mounted one of the most aggressive campaigns, even though any laws they enact probably would have to weather a veto by the state’s Democratic governor….A handful of Republican state lawmakers want to abolish no-excuse absentee voting only 15 months after the Legislature approved it in an election-law package backed by all but two of its 134 G.O.P. members who cast votes. The main supporter of the bill, State Senator Doug Mastriano, has claimed that Mr. Biden’s victory in the state is illegitimate, and spent thousands of dollars to bus protesters to the Jan. 6 demonstration that ended in the assault on the Capitol….Rolling back the law appears a long shot. But there seems to be strong Republican support for other measures, including eliminating drop boxes for absentee ballots, discarding mail-in ballots with technical errors and ending a grace period for receiving ballots mailed by Election Day.

Kenny Stancil also reports on the voter suppression move by Republicans in 28 states, pointing out that “[a]lready this year, 106 bills have been introduced in 28 states—including 17 under complete GOP control, where passage is more likely—to undermine access to the franchise. According to the Brennan Center’s report, ‘These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) limit successful pro-voter registration policies; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges’” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/02/05/downright-scary-gop-introduces-100-voter-suppression-bills-28-states). Stancil cites Ari Berman who on Thursday, Feb. 4 in an article for Mother Jones wrote that Republicans are ‘weaponizing Trump’s lies’ about fraud in an attempt to roll back voting rights after last year’s historic turnout and expansion of mail-in ballots.” Democrats in Congress could put an end to voter suppression. Stancil points out “at the federal level, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to expand ballot access” with bills like the “For People Act” that “would establish at least 15 days of early voting in federal elections, allow for automatic voter registration, restore voting rights to former felons, and bar states from prohibiting mail-in and curbside voting—along with a slew of other changes to election and campaign-finance laws.” To accomplish passage, all 50 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, plus Vice-President Kamala Harris, will have to unite in this effort to get around the filibuster.

Trump or Trumpism continues to be a dominant force in the Republican Party?

Sabrina Tavernise addresses this trend and presents evidence that Trump will continue to be a dominating force (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/18/supporters-of-donald-trump.html). For a large percentage of the 74 million people who voted for Trump in the November 2020 election, 11 million more than he got in 2016, and even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, “interviews in recent days show that their anger and paranoia have only deepened, suggesting that even after Mr. Trump leaves the White House, an embrace of conspiracy theories and rage about the 2020 election will live on, not just among extremist groups but among many Americans.” Tavernise refers to polls that “indicate that only a small fraction of Americans approved of the riot in Washington last week. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 8 percent of adults and 15 percent of Republicans support ‘the actions of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week to protest Biden’s election as president.’ That is far from most voters, but enough to show that the belief in a stolen election has entered the American bloodstream and will not be easy to stop.”

The narrative that the election was stolen from Trump remains prevalent in the Trump base. Tavernise quotes Lucan Way, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who writes about authoritarian regimes. Lucan believes that the “election was stolen” narrative is ‘dangerous’ but it has “become part of the political landscape.” She continues: “The country’s political divide is no longer [only] a disagreement over issues like guns and abortion but a fundamental difference in how people see reality. That, in turn, is driving more extremist beliefs. This shift has been years in the making, but it went into hyper-speed after the Nov. 3 election as Mr. Trump and many in his party encouraged Americans, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to believe the results were fraudulent. The belief is still common among Republicans: A Quinnipiac poll published Monday found that 73 percent still falsely believe there was widespread voter fraud.”

Also cited by Tavernise, Lilliana Mason, a political psychologist at the University of Maryland, thinks that polarization is now “the threat to democracy.” Mason and Nathan Kalmoe found in their research that the share of Americans who say it is “at least a little bit justified” to engage in violence for political reasons has doubled in three years, rising to 20 percent after the election, from 10 percent in 2017. The trend was the same for both Republicans and Democrats. But the election was a catalyzing event: The Republicans who said they condoned violence became more approving after it, Professor Mason said. Democrats stayed about the same.” Furthermore, “Professor Mason said she worried that more violence and attacks on elected leaders and state Capitols could be coming, saying the country could be in for a period like the Troubles, the conflict in Northern Ireland in which sectarian violence kept the region unstable for 30 years.” Disturbingly, they found in “interviews with Mr. Trump’s more fervent supporters, people expressed a pattern of falsehoods and fears about the coming Biden administration.” And: “As events like the riot have raced ahead, so have conspiracy theories explaining them. They have blossomed in the exhausting monotony of coronavirus lockdowns.”

Henry Giroux, who holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy, implicitly agrees with Tavernise’s view on Trump’s continuing political influence (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/18/why-trumpians-will-live-on). Giroux argues that “Trumpism is a new political formation, blending white supremacy, voter suppression, market fundamentalism and authoritarianism, and it will survive long after Trump leaves the White House.” From his viewpoint, the January 6 attack on the Capitol reflected influences that had been building for years, involving “conspiracy theories, lies, the dark web, white rage and hatred of those its adherents consider ‘enemies of the people.’ The attack, he writes, is “reminiscent of thugs roaming the streets of Germany in the 1930s brutalizing dissenters and ‘others’ in the deranged Nazi notion of racial and political cleansing.” Such notions and emotions have been fueled “through the language of violence and division, aided by right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart,” is “rooted in [a long history of} ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, white supremacy, systemic police violence and anti-immigration bigotry,” and has “lately been normalized as a right-wing populist movement, which Trump brought to the surface of American politics and has worn like a badge.” Trumpism must be resisted, Giroux maintains, and this will require an educated citizenry, “a new language, politics and sense of purpose” that could be facilitated if Joe Biden’s administration would “establish a national effort — criminal investigations, hearings, trials and public assemblies — to hold accountable those who committed crimes under the Trump regime and to educate the public.” It will take such a process to reclaim and actualize “the ideals of justice, compassion, freedom and equality.”

Concluding thoughts

The right-wing forces discussed in this post are daunting. The combination of Trump, his massive and subservient base, the profit-first corporate community, and a Republican Party dominated by Trump, all together represent a formidable political force that could lead to a right-wing Republican government in coming elections. In such an eventuality, the erosion of our Democracy would accelerate.  Given the right conditions over the next 2-4 years, Republicans could regain control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. They already control the Supreme Court. With Trump at the helm, more extreme Republicans in Congress and state houses, they could further undermine the values and institutions that support democracy, more equality, and social justice and unleash and advance policies that lead to less democracy, more inequality, heightened racism and xenophobia, the marginalization of science, experts, and regulatory agencies, unregulated environmental degradation, a wholesale repression of dissent, and other developments that, if not contested, will end up creating a country with a combined “1984” and “1933 Germany” heinous quality.

To counter this right-wing alliance of forces, the Biden administration needs to solve the epoch suffering from the pandemic and take significant and expeditious steps in implementing “relief” to millions of citizens who are in need of work, unemployment insurance, a decent minimum wage standard, affordable housing and medical insurance, and other essential of life. And, with fiscal and monetary policy, they need to boost the economy to offer on-going opportunities through support of renewable energy, appropriate infrastructure and transportation (e.g., electric cars) projects. At the same time, the Biden administration must build the capacity in the economy and the public sector to produce all that’s required to quell Covid-19 viruses, ensuring adequate supplies and simultaneously supporting and coordinating the distribution of the supplies. Along with the economic stimuli of and revenue generated by these policies, the government can raise revenue to pay for them by increasing corporate and progressive income taxes, a wealth tax, and a transaction tax on short-term stock sales.

The Republicans in the U.S. Congress will oppose these initiatives and try to obstruct the policy initiatives coming from the Biden administration. The Biden administration can avoid Republican obstruction by advancing some of its priorities through executive action. David Dayen introduces “an executive action tracker” on the American Prospect website and examines some of Biden’s initial actions (https://prospect.org/day-one-agenda/iintroducing-the-executive-action-tracker). He offers the following examples, among others.

“We…gave Biden partial credit for rejoining the Paris Agreement, as a prelude to developing more advanced emission reduction targets for the 2025–2030 period, to be negotiated at the next global climate talks, which we called for. Another climate policy that was part of our Day One Agenda was a recalculation of the “social cost of carbon,” which would be folded into all cost-benefit analysis on whether to reduce carbon emissions. The Biden team took action on that on day one. In another climate-related item we called for, Biden directed agencies across the government to purchase clean energy and green the fleet with zero-emissions vehicles produced in America with high labor standards. Climate policy has seen the most aggressive executive action thus far.

“Perhaps the most tangible executive action Biden has taken also deals with federal procurement. His January 22 executive order initiated a process to increase the minimum wage for federal employees and contractors to $15 an hour. This is likely to affect a quarter-million workers across the country, who work in federal buildings or provide services paid for by the federal government. The process is only just started, but Biden is overwhelmingly likely to affirm this action within his first one hundred days.”

Policies that require congressional action can be advanced by negating the use by Republican of filibusters and delay through fine-tuning the procedure called reconciliation, which allows legislation already passed in the House to pass in the Senate with a simply majority. The first apparently successful use of reconciliation by Democrats in the Senate is about the $1.9 billion Covid Relief bill (https://www.npr.org/2021/02/06/964604727/biden-democrats-prepare-to-go-it-alone-believing-most-of-country-is-on-their-side).

There are reasons to be optimistic about the ability of the Biden administration to achieve its goals. Biden has just won the presidential election with over 80 million votes, more than and any other president ever received in American history. With some policy successes in the Congress and with significant changes achieved through executive action, the administration and Democrats can win voter support again, especially when combined with creative voter education, coalition building, grassroots organizing, support for state and local Democrats, and well timed and effective communication with voters and potential voters. It can happen. Democrats are on the cusp of passing a large Covid relief package against Republican opposition, nullifying the filibuster. Democratic House managers have conveyed an impeachment brief to the Senate and insist that the evidence of Trump’s complicity in the insurrection and its destruction and harm be made public (https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/jamie-raskin-trump-testify). So far, in its domestic policies, the Biden administration has the feel of a twenty-first century progressive new deal.

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