Do the escalating right-wing attacks on democracy portend an authoritarian or fascist political outcome for America?

Bob Sheak, February 26, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

This post considers evidence on how extreme the Republican Party and their supporters, still under the influence of Trump, have gone in their efforts to subvert democracy and create the conditions for the party’s ascendance to a position of uncontested power. They have not yet succeeded in toppling democracy or establishing a one-party state, but they are moving in that direction. It is an authoritarian project, infused with rising fascist/Nazi tendencies. At the same time, there are major forces of resistance to them, which are identified in the last section of the post. American democracy has not been so threatened from within since perhaps the Civil War, though there have been far-right racist ideology and practice throughout the country’s history.

 A divided society and its affects on American democracy

There is much written about the fragility of American democracy, with titles such as How Democracies Die (published 2018), authored by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors of government at Harvard University.  They capture the concern about the anti-democratic, radical right forces in the U.S. in the following paragraph.

“American politicians [on the Right] now treat their rivals as enemies, intimidate the free press, and threaten to reject the results of elections. They try to weaken the institutional buffers of our democracy, including the courts, intelligence services, and ethics offices. American states, which were once praised as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies, and even rescind voting rights. And, in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, a man with no experience in public office, little observable commitment to constitutional rights, and clear authoritarian tendencies was elected president” (p. 2).

It’s now reasonable to suggest that American democracy is under greater attacks than since the Civil War in 1860-1865. Indeed, authors are writing books about how America is on the verge of a contemporary Civil War. See, for example, Barbara F. Walter’s book, How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them (published 2022), and Stephen Marche’s The Next Civil War (published 2022). Walter argues that Americans have too long trusted that “peace will always prevail” [and] “[t]hat our institutions are unshakable, that our nation is exceptional.” However, there are disruptive changes occurring.

“In the past decade, our country has undergone a seismic change in economic and cultural power. Our demographics have shifted. Inequality has grown. Our institutions have weakened, manipulated to serve the interests of some over others. American citizens are increasingly held captive to demagogues, on their screens or in the government.”

Amid these changes, “violent, extremist groups, especially on the radical right, have grown stronger. Since 2008, over 70 percent of extremist-related deaths in the United States have been at the hands of people connected to far-right or white-supremacists’ movements” (p. xix).

The partisan political and cultural divisions appear to be unresolvable. Trump, the Republican Party, their billionaire and corporate funders, supported by a Trump-loyal base of tens of millions, want to transform the institutional framework of society and basically rewrite or ignore the U.S. Constitution in ways that would end Democracy and many individual rights    

They are not only supported by avid Republican Party efforts in Washington but also at the state and local levels, where they hope to create an electoral system that guarantees them victory regardless of the popular vote. In these efforts, they have the support of a partisan Supreme Court and influential right-wing media.

What do they want?

The leaders of this broad reactionary movement want a free enterprise economic system in which corporations and businesses are little regulated, certainly the end of anti-trust laws, and have low taxes.

They want to privatize as many public functions as they can, including the public schools, National Parks, the minerals offshore in the ocean, the prisons, and wherever there are profitable opportunities. They want to further limit government assistance to the poor. They support the interests of pro-gun advocates, of those who want to abolish the legal right to abortion, of evangelicals who want to make their version of Christianity the national religion. Insofar as there are public schools, they want to ban books they find objectionable, eliminate any teaching of the country’s racist history, and move as quickly as they can to replace public schools with for-profit charter schools and vouchers that give parents the option to homeschooling or, if available, sending their children to a charter school.

Diane Ravich has compiled extensive evidence that charter schools, vouchers and other alternatives to public schools rarely succeed in raising test scores, graduation rates, and they tend not to accept disabled students or students who have a poor education record. (Her book: Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.) Unfortunately, the opposition to public schools has had major detrimental effects. Ravich lists them, referring to disrupters, or active opponents of public schools, as “it.”

“It has diminished the status of the teaching profession. It has created national teacher shortages. It has discouraged creative and thoughtful teaching. It has undermined the transmission of knowledge and skill in history, science, literature, foreign languages, and the arts. It has reduced time for physical education, recess, and play and given it to testing and test preparations. It has demoralized students and teachers alike. It has crushed the spirit of learning. It has failed to produce the miracles and benefits that it promised” (p. 11).

International network of right-wing “leaders”

There is also an international dimension to the right-wing assaults on democracy. Journalist Sarah Kendzior writes:

“Trump is part of a complex illicit network including individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and more – some of whom do not have loyalty to any particular country. Their loyalty is to themselves and their money” (Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, p. 8). CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Brenna Williams report that by July 19, Trump as praised authoritarian leaders 15 times, including Kin Jong Un (North Korea), Recep Tayyip Erdogon (Turkey), Xi Jinping (China), and Vladimir Putin (Russia) (https://cnnn-com/2019/07/02/politics/donald-trump-dictators-kim-yong-un-vladimir-putin/index.html).

Also see John Feffer’s new book, The Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response. In addition to the far-right leaders already referred to, Feffer identifies as authoritarian leaders Rodrigo Duterte (Phillipines), Narendra Modi (India), Victor Orban (Hungary), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil). Beyond the leaders, there are right-wing political parties, still minority parties, in most European countries.

Authoritarian, fascist, Nazi ambitions

The right-wing amalgam in the U.S. includes authoritarians, fascists and Nazis (or neo- or proto-Nazis), as well as moderates who often become the silent enablers by going along with their more extreme colleagues.

Most mainstream and liberal/leftist newscasters and commentators use the term authoritarian but avoid the terms fascism and Nazism as going to far and outside the realm of rational discourse.

My argument is that they are wrong. The threat of the multifaceted anti-democratic right-wing is growing and has been and continues to be involved in projects aimed at creating a virtual one-party, Christian, white-privileged state and institutional structure, with a “strongman” like Trump as the autocratic leader. (See Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (published 2020).

Under these circumstances, strong terminology is needed to educate and warn citizens of the threat, with the hope that we become informed citizens and will engage in activities that countering the right-wing.   

Authoritarian

A political party and/or movement can be described as authoritarian in the making if there is, as in the United States, a dominating right-wing leader (Trump), a powerful and incipiently dominant right wing political party (the Republican Party), support from many rich and powerful interests (rich and corporate backers), along with wide ranging popular support (Trump’s huge base). At the same time, there would be room in such in authoritarian system for other but marginalized political parties. This can be referred to as a “minimization” strategy, that is, aimed at minimizing the influence of opponents.

Fascism

In a fascist state, there would be the exalted leader, his/her political party, and an institutional apparatus that is designed to eliminate other parties, repress political dissent, and stigmatize, discriminate, and punish those defined as “enemies” (e.g. liberals, leftists, people of color, LBGTQ persons). This is an eliminationist strategy, which when successful creates a one-party state.

Nazism

History Articles says that fascism and Nazism are virtually the same, except that  Nazism differs from Fascism by its acceptance of the need for racial “purity” and for its anti-Semitism (https://heeve.com/modern-history/difference-between-fascism-and-nazism.html). Here’s some of what they point out at History Articles.

“Fascism and Nazism, the two extreme right-wing political ideologies that emerged during the World Wars in Italy and Germany, respectively, had a lot in common. Both were influenced by the rise of nationalism, fear from communism, crisis of the capitalist economic system and dissatisfaction with the outcome of World War I. Both ideologies were also marked by the cult of the leader, use of violence and rejection of both democracy and communism although both borrowed several elements from the Russian communism including the cell system and strict hierarchy….

“There were several important differences between Fascism and Nazism, and rejection of the concept of race and anti-Semitism is what differentiated the fascist ideology from Nazism the most.” 

Paxton’s conception of “fascism”

Robert O. Paxton is an American political scientist and historian specializing in Vichy France, fascism, and Europe during the World War II era. He is Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science in the Department of History at Columbia University. In his renown 2004 book, The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton defines fascism in the following terms.

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and be compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethnical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion” (p. 218).

According to Paxton, fascism is a process that is expressed through stages, that is, it is a political project and movement that develops over time, not in one grand political swoop. He identifies five stages: (1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.” He continues: “Though each stage is a prerequisite for the next, nothing requires a fascist movement to complete all of them, or even move in only one direction” (p. 23).

What fascist stage is Trump, the Republicans, and their supporters?

Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, makes the case that “America is now in fascism’s legal phase, or what Paxton refers to as “stage 2” (https://theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/22/america-fascism-legal-phase). There are movements on the Right that want to destroy democracy and there is a political party, the Republican Party or the dominating segment of the Party, that has long held significant power in the political system and is pushing for a far-right, anti-democratic agenda

The Republicans reached the third stage of power temporarily during the years of Trump’s presidency. However, after the 2020 elections, the Republicans are now the minority party in the federal government, though in the U.S. Senate, where there are 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, Republicans can stop Democrat-initiated legislation by employing the filibuster and portray Biden and the Democratic Party has been ineffective.

The filibuster

According to the Senate’s cloture rule, 60 members are required to end debate on most legislation, by-pass the filibuster, and move to a vote. There are alternatives to this rule, one called “reconciliation,” but even then it would require 51 votes to get around the filibuster rule. The Democrats only have 50 Senators, plus the vice-president’s vote under certain circumstances. But at least two Democratic senators are opposed to going around any Republican filibuster. So, Democrats have neither the 60 votes to invoke cloture and end a filibuster or the 50 votes to invoke a rule that only requires a majority vote. As it stands, the U.S. Congress is gridlocked because of Republican obstruction, supported by two Democrats. Republicans hope that by obstructing the Democratic agenda they can de-legitimize the Democrats and increase their chances of winning elections.

Republicans have a political advantage in the states

At the state level as of February 11,2022, Republicans have an advantage. according to Ballotpedia, as “Republicans controlled 54.4% of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 44.3%. Republicans held a majority in 62 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 36 chambers. One chamber (Alaska House) was organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition” (https://ballotpedia.org/State_legislative_elections,_2022). This is troubling because of the continuing influence of Trump and because right-wing legislation can be advanced and passed into law.

More on what the fascist Republican are doing to undermine democracy

Jason Stanley writes:

“The contemporary American fascist movement [embodied in the Republican Party or parts of it] is led by oligarchical interests for whom the public good is an impediment, such as those in the hydrocarbon business, as well as a social, political, and religious movements… As in all fascist movements, these forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump.”

The fascist rhetoric and actions occur in a context of historical and institutional racism, a “police militarized to address the wounds of racial inequities by violence, and a recent history of unsuccessful imperial wars have made us susceptible to a narrative of national humiliation by enemies both internal and external.”

Trump has helped to galvanize right-wing forces and shape them “into a cult, with him as leader.” Stanley continues: “We are now well into the repercussions of this latter process – where fascist lies, for example, the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, have begun to restructure institutions, notably electoral infrastructure and law. As this process unfolds, slowly and deliberately, the media’s normalization of these processes…” That means if a far-right party is to become viable in a democracy, it must present a face it can defend as moderate, and cultivate an ambiguous relationship to the extreme views and statements of its most explicit members.”

They cultivate violence

Stanley suggests this: “In the face of the attack on the US capital on 6 January, even the most resolute skeptic must admit that Republican politicians have been at least attempting to cultivate a mass of violent vigilantes to support their causes. In the context of Black-led protests, the right has been able to call for law and order, stronger police reactions, and spread rampant disinformation.”  

Stanley refers to an article by Rachel Kleinfeld, who “documents the rise of the legitimation of political violence in the US. According to the article, the “bedrock idea uniting right-wing communities who condone violence is that white Christian men in the United States are under cultural and demographic threat and require defending – and that it is the Republican Party and Donald Trump, in particular, who will safeguard their way of life.” Such conditions provide an opportunity to justify political violence, involving “a dominant group threatened by the prospect of gender, racial and religious equality turning to a leader who promises a violent response.”

A partisan Supreme Court

The judiciary is part of the Trump/Republican agenda to undermine democracy. Here’s what Stanley writes.

“The Roberts court has for more than a decade consistently enabled an attack on democracy, by hollowing out the Voting Rights Act over time, unleashing unlimited corporate money into elections, and allowing clearly partisan gerrymanders of elections. There is every reason to believe that the court will allow even the semblance of democracy to crumble, as long as laws are passed by gerrymandered Republican statehouses that make anti-democratic practices, including stealing elections, legal.”

The Republican embrace of Trumpian fascism is complete

Bill Blum is a former administrative law judge and death penalty defense attorney, his articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, ranging from The Nation and The Progressive to the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine. Blum finds the evidence compelling that Republicans have embraced Trumpian fascism, that the Biden coalition is fraying, and that in the 2022 and 2024 elections “the GOP and Trump have another opportunity to impose their will and vision, deal a death blow to what remains of our diminished democracy,” and, meanwhile, “the takeover is accelerating” (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/02/12/republican-embrace-trumpian-fascism-complete-and-now-must-be-defeated).

Blum refers to Trump’s latest “Save America Rally,” held in Montgomery County, Texas, on Jan. 29. There, “the former president went beyond his usual tirades about the ‘big lie’ of the stolen election and Mike Pence’s cowardice, ranting that he would consider pardoning the Capitol insurrectionists if he is reelected in 2024. ‘If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,’ he declared. ‘And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.” Blum points to one of the implications of Trump’s statements on the prospect of pardons, that is, they are “endorsement of political violence and the promotion of alternative realities, both hallmarks of classic and, now Trumpian, fascism.”

“At his Texas rally,” Blum reports, “Trump also called on his supporters to stage massive demonstrations if he winds up getting indicted or sued as a result of investigations led by the Justice Department, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin BraggNew York Attorney General Letitia James, and Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis. Without mentioning James, Bragg or Willis—all of whom are Black—by name, Trump vowed, ‘If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or corrupt, we are going to have the biggest protests we have ever had.’”

“Following Trump’s remarks, Willis sent a letter to the FBI, asking for a ‘risk assessment’ of the courthouse and government center where she works, and for security assistance.

“The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, responded to Trump’s speech with abject genuflection. On February 4, the RNC voted to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for serving on the House select committee investigating the insurrection. In its formal censure resolution, the RNC condemned the pair for ‘joining in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse.’ [The RNC later attempted to clarify that the resolution applied only to non-violent protesters.]

Blum continues: “There are countless other examples of the GOP’s fascist transformation. To cite just a few, there was the party’s decision to pledge loyalty to Trump rather than adopt a new platform for the 2020 elections. There were the ‘coup memos’ written by attorneys associated with the Trump campaign. There were the fake Electoral College certifications prepared by party operatives in several swing states. All occurred amid a constant drumbeat of white grievance and nationalism broadcast by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.”

Blum refers to Robert Paxton’s “five stages of fascism.” He argues that America is now in the early phase of stage 3, in which Republicans are well into the process of acquiring power.” He writes: “The election of Joe Biden offered only a temporary reprieve.”

Are most Trump Republicans fascist?

Rich Barlow addresses this question in an interview with Jonathan Zatlin, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history at Boston University who teaches a course in Comparative European Fascism. Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Barlow’s article was published on Feb. 11, 2022 (https://bu.edu/2022/are-trump-republicans-fascists?).

Barlow asked Zatlin whether the Republican Party can be described as either fascist or fascist-leaning. Zatlin emphasizes that the conditions in pre-WWII Germany that gave rise to Hitler and the Nazis do not apply to the situation today in the United States. Germany had experienced a defeat in that war, in which millions were killed or traumatized, the economy was in shambles, there was soaring inflation, many soldiers, among others, found it difficult to find paid work, there was rampant poverty, and bureaucrats in government did not value democracy.

At the same time, as already considered, Trump and the Republican Party have engaged enough in fascist (or Nazi) practices to indicate they are in stage two of a process that, if successful, will culminate in either a fascist or authoritarian state and political system. While not using these terms, Zatlin following description reflects their meaning.

“…there’s no question that they’re violent antidemocrats who are also violently racist. And the Republican Party is in danger of becoming the party of violence, antidemocracy, and racism. If there is any kind of similarity with the interwar period [in Germany], it’s that you have conservatives willing to collaborate for political reasons with people who are often violent and racist and antidemocratic.”

Moreover,

“…the last president did try—and it seems Republican parties locally as well as on the state level are trying—to put public officials into office who don’t have democracy as a value, who believe violence is a legitimate part of public discourse, which it obviously isn’t. It’s a form of politics that is deeply disturbing, because it means the Republican Party has allied itself with antidemocratic values, violence, and racism.”

Zatlin says there are lessons to be learned about how not to repeat Germany’s Nazi period.

“You don’t make compromises with them. You have to call these things out. It’s important to call conspiracy theories out and debunk them. It’s a difficult thing to do, but all these things need to be called out. You cannot make alliances with people like this, because these ideas are so corrosive. [They] will swallow you whole. You cannot make idiotic statements like violence is part of democratic discourse.” 

The elections in 2022 and 2024 will determine for perhaps generations whether American democracy continues or not

Only history, perhaps the next elections in 2022 and 2024, will help identify whether the right-wing politicians can win elections on the basis of their anti-democratic agendas.

Thom Hartman sees evidence that fascism will be on the ballot in the mid-term elections of 2022 and that it, along with the 2024 elections, poses the biggest battle ever for the survival of American democracy. These two elections “will almost certainly determine what form of government we’ll have for at least a generation” and whether America will “become freer and more democratic [or] devolve into a 21st century form of Trumpy fascism?”

(https://commondreams.org/views/2022/01/03/make-no-mistake-fascism-is-on-ballot-2022).

There is little doubt that Trump aspires to be an autocrat in a right-wing, one-party state and that has enormous, though still minority, support, with an electoral base in the tens of millions.

What America would become in 2025 Under Trump

Columnist Thomas B. Edsall considers what some experts think about “what America would look like in 2025 under Trump,” and in the event that “the Republican Party wins the White House in 2024 and the House and Senate along the way?” (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/02/opinion/trump-republicans-2025.html).

Edsall refers, as one important example, to how Trump “is an Orban worshiper — that’s Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary. On Jan. 3, Trump announced his support for “Orban’s re-election,” declaring: “He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my Complete support and Endorsement for re-election as Prime Minister!”

Orban had become a darling on the American right

Among others, Edsall quotes from an article in Foreign Affairs by Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, political scientists at Barnard and Georgetown. They argue that Orban has “emerged as a media darling of the American right,” receiving high praise from Tucker Carlson, “arguably the single most influential conservative media personality in the United States.”

The two authors summarize Orban’s anti-democratic record: “Orban consolidated power through tactics that were procedurally legal but, in substance, undercut the rule of law. He stacked the courts with partisans and pressured, captured or shut down independent media.” The prime minister has an “open assault on academic freedom — including banning gender studies and evicting the Central European University from Hungary. Cooley and Nexon find that these actions are analogous to “current right-wing efforts in Republican-controlled states to ban the teaching of critical race theory and target liberal and left-wing academics.”

They continue. Trump and Orban “are both opportunists who’ve figured out the political usefulness of reactionary populism. And Trump will push the United States in a broadly similar direction: toward neopatrimonial governance. During his first term, Trump treated the presidency as his own personal property — something that was his to use to punish enemies, reward loyalists and enhance his family’s wealth. If he wins in 2024, we’re likely to see this on steroids.”

Edsall cites an additional statement from Cooley on Orban’s appeal to the right flank of the Republican Party, that is, to his “ideology — which rests on redefining the meaning of ‘the West” away from liberal principles and toward ethnonational ideals and conservative values — and his strategy for consolidating power is to close or take over media, stack the courts, divide and stigmatize the opposition, reject commitments to constraining liberal ideals and institutions and publicly target the most vulnerable groups in society.”  

Cécile Alduy, a professor at Stanford who studies French politics and the far right, responded to Edsall in an email:

“If in 2024 Trump or a Ron DeSantis wins the presidency and Republicans control both the House and Senate, the general agenda would be a backlash against any anti-discrimination, against inclusive policies implemented by the Biden administration, for an attempt to shift further the Supreme Court pendulum toward anti-abortion, for originalist constitutionalists, for implementing voter suppression policies and for federal funding limitations on some forms of speech (critical race theory, the teaching or research of segregation, antisemitism or racism in the States) as well for as a return to extremely restrictive anti-immigration policies (rebuilding the wall, for curbing down further visa and green cards and for increasing deportations).”

On Dec. 15, DeSantis proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which would give parents the right to sue school systems if they believe their children are being taught “critical race theory,” with a provision granting parents the right to collect attorneys’ fees if they win.

“The enactment of laws encouraging citizens to become private enforcers of anti-liberal policies has become increasingly popular in Republican-controlled states. Glenn Youngkin, the newly elected governor of Virginia, created a tip line that parents can use to report teachers whose classes cover “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory.”

Alduy also refers to “a parallel strategy focused on abortion,” and gives the following examples.

“Texas Republicans enacted the Texas Heartbeat Act in May, legislation that not only bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected but also turns private citizens into enforcers of the law by giving them the power to sue abortion providers and any person who knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter.

“Winners of such suits would receive a minimum of $10,000 plus court costs and other fees.

“The use of citizens as informants to enforce intrusions of this sort is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with democratic norms — reminiscent of East Germany, where the Stasi made use of an estimated 189,000 citizen informers.”

It is not a cake walk for the Trumpian Republicans and their supporters. The majority of voters support the Democratic Party, want to preserve and strengthen the public schools, want restrictions on gun rights, want to preserve multiculturalism, want to continue the separation of state and religion, want to end institutional racism, want to advance gender equality, want to raise taxes on the rich and powerful, want to protect Social Security and expand Medicare, and want a efficient infrastructure.

The resistance to the fascist/Nazi right-wing

Indeed, in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received over 81 million votes, the highest in American history.

Pew Research identifies some of the policy preferences of “the Democratic coalition” (https://pewresearch.org/politics/2021/11/09/the-democratic-coalition). Here are the key general findings.

“…the groups that form the Democratic coalition are largely united in support for a robust role of government and a strong economic and social safety net, as well as in their skepticism about corporate power. However, there are notable differences across the coalition around views of U.S. military might and – to some extent – views related to criminal justice and immigration.

“And in several key issue areas – including environmental policy, gun policy, abortion, racial equality and other topics – differences across the coalition are less about the issue itself than in the intensity of support for liberal positions and policies.

“This is also the case when it comes to some aspects of economic policy. Despite sharing the beliefs that economic inequality is a problem in the country, that the economic system favors powerful interests and that government should play a role in addressing inequities, the Democratic-oriented groups differ both in their views about the magnitude of the problems and in their level of support for proposed solutions.

“In several other domains, divides seen in past typologies across the Democratic-oriented groups – particularly over social issues – are now areas where there is generally more agreement among Democrats than in the GOP coalition.”

The Biden administration was successful in significant ways during the first year.

In an article for Newsweek, Inigo Alexander identifies Biden’s 7 biggest achievements (https://newsweek.com/joe-biden-biggest-achievements-first-year-president-1670763).

1) The U.S. Congress passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package,” despite opposition from most Republicans. It was passed by the Senate in August, 2021, and by the House in November. It “drastically increased investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport, national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems.

2) The $1.9 trillion COVID relief deal. “In March, the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package designed to help the country combat the ongoing COVID pandemic.” The package included provisions for “direct payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens, temporarily extended unemployment support by $300 per week, channeled approximately $20 billion into the COVID vaccination program, as well as providing $25 billion in rental support and a further $350 billion into state, tribal and local relief efforts.” There were also provisions to address child poverty and nutritional issues, as well as “almost $30 billion in restaurants and hospitality and raised the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support by 15 percent,” and “an extra $120 billion were invested into K-12 schools across the nation.”

3) The highest appointment of federal judges since Reagan. Biden “appointed 41 federal judges in his opening year at the White House. This is more than double those appointed by his predecessor Donald Trump and is the most a president has appointed in their freshman year since Ronald Reagan in 1981,” 80 percent of whom are women and 53 percent people of color.

The president has also been mindful of issues of representation in his appointments over the last year, as 80 percent of the new federal judges are women and 53 percent are people of color.

4) Halt on Federal Executions. “President Biden is an opponent of the federal penalty and therefore reinstated a national freeze on federal executions, which had been in place for 17 years until former president Donald Trump ended the pause.” In July, 2021, the Biden administration restored “the pre-Trump status quo and imposed a suspension on federal executions while the Department of Justice assesses the existing procedures and policies.”

5) Commitment to Combating Climate Change. Biden and most Democrats are supporters of “the need for a “greater effort to tackle the climate crisis.” Biden’s administration did some good things. Biden had the U.S. re-join the international Paris Climate Accord. In November, Biden “joined an agreement aimed at reversing deforestation as well as presenting a 100-country strong pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.” And in December, “Biden ordered all government agencies to immediately halt the financing of new international carbon-intensive fossil fuel projects, and instead work towards clean energy use.”

6) Support for Transgender Service Members. In his first week as president, “Biden issued an executive order to overturn Trump-era ban on openly transgender members of the U.S. military,” a ban originally ordered by Trump during his first year in power.”

7) Reduced unemployment. By the end of his first year in the White House, “Biden has managed to reduce the rate of national unemployment from 6.3 percent when he took office to 3.9 percent in December.

2022 has been a rough year for Biden, his administration, and congressional Democrats. They have been unable to muster the votes to overcome Republican filibusters in the U.S. Senate against two voting rights’ bills and the Build Back Better bill. In addition, inflation has become a problem, which Republicans blame on too much Democratic spending. The advice of health experts to deal with the ongoing pandemic, get vaccinated, social distance, wear masks, along with mandates that closed businesses and schools, has ended up fueling the anger of many in Trump’s base.

Amid the political turmoil, many analysts believe that Republicans have a good chance of winning the 2022 mid-term elections and taking back control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate. If this should occur, it would be the result of Republican efforts to gerrymander congressional districts in the states in their favor, to suppress the votes of opponents, and to rig the administration of how votes are counted. It would not be the result of the support of the majority of Americans.

In the states

In the states, Diane Ravitch documents the resistance of pro-public-school parents and organizations against charter schools, vouchers and anything that would divert public funds away from the public schools. See Ravitch’s expertly documented book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

And David Pepper’s recommendations in his book, Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines, are informative and offer ideas on how to reclaim democracy at the national, state, and individual levels. On the latter, he writes:

“Share the truth as much as you can. Make sure your networks know what’s really happening, and how they can help. Educate yourself and “keep sending letters to the editors of local papers.” At election time, vote as early as you can and “spend the rest of the election helping make sure other voters vote too. You can do that by helping a candidate, a party, or other organizations who get the vote out.”

Thom Hartmann quotes John Hennen, professor emeritus of history at Kentucky’s Morehead State University, who says, “We must build a democratic resistance that amounts to a counter-fascist coup…” And: “Every American who cares about freedom, self-governance, and the ideal of democracy must now rise to the occasion. The upcoming elections will be political wars with stakes unlike those seen by any living citizens.” “Professor Hennen’s colleague, Brian Clardy, a Murray State University history professor emeritus tells us straight up: ‘The Democrats have to remind people that next year and in 2024, democracy itself will be on trial.’”

Concluding thoughts

The growing attacks from the Right on the country’s political system may yet be unsuccessful. It will take a major effort by the democratic opposition to avoid such an outcome.

Meanwhile, the country is severely divided. Tens of millions of people unquestioningly follow Trump, despite his torrent of lies, his greed, his aspiration to be an autocratic president, his ties to white supremacists and other extremist groups, and his admiration for far-right leaders and organizations around the world.  

The country is also saddled with extraordinary debt, an economic system that generates gross inequalities, millions of armed Trump followers waiting for the word from their leader to take action, accelerating climate crises, environmental degradation, and more. To top it off, Trump again expressed admiration for Putin’s “savvy” in invading the Ukraine and threatening to invade other Eastern European countries, disregarding Putin’s vague threats to use nuclear weapons if he doesn’t get his way. Almost immediately, his views were viewed online by millions of his supporters. New York Times journalists Davey Alba and Stuart A. Thompson report that pro-Putin sentiment spread online, following Trump’s praise of Putin (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/25/technology/russia-supporters.html)

They write: “The day before Russia invaded Ukraine, former President Donald J. Trump called the wartime strategy of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ‘pretty smart.’ His remarks were posted on YouTube, Twitter and the messaging app Telegram, where they were viewed more than 1.3 million times.”

There have never been such challenges. One of the greatest challenges presently is internally driven.

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