We’re approaching what some are calling a “break-glass moment.” Democrats, and the democracy they’re named for, cannot afford the loss of either the 2022 or the 2024 elections. And there’s an excellent chance both will be stolen.
The situation grows more poisonous by the day, and we don’t seem to be getting the urgency we need from people with skin in the game. Especially the press, who remain committed to the “both sides are equally bad” narrative. While that narrative is effective at attracting clicks — and advertising dollars — it has also given Republicans cover to indulge their basest instincts, and to launch coup-like operations on institutions that can’t take much more stress.
I have lived long enough to witness the long, inexorable degradation of the Republican party. It is no longer a party in the sense we want that word to mean. It has become, rather, a tumor that has already metastasized, and now threatens our very existence as a nation.
I do not use that metaphor lightly. I recently re-read Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn’s masterpiece of 1964. It was written in conditions of harsh censorship, when any criticism of the Soviet state was punished severely. Solzhenitsyn was, in fact, exiled to the West for writing books like this.
Cancer Ward, as the name implies, likens the Soviet state — and the Communist party that controlled it — to a malignant growth spreading through the body, invading vital organs, infecting systems and defenses, destroying life from within.
Solzhenitsyn wrote from his own experience — an eight-year sentence in what he later famously named the “Gulag Archipelago” — that vast forced-labor prison system, where many millions were worked to death in the mines of Russia’s frozen east. His crime? He made a joke about Stalin in a letter to a friend.
We are not yet at that point, and most Americans have no clue how lucky that makes us.
But we’re heading in that direction, faster than even the Republicans who want it are prepared for. Our own tumors have been growing and spreading for many years, and their growth is noticeably accelerating.
They were there half a century ago, taking root at the local level — infiltrating school boards, town councils, and church organizations. They spread to the judiciary, again starting local, and moving up into state and federal jurisdictions. Over time, they took over state legislatures and governorships, and gerrymandered themselves into unprecedented power at the federal level. Along the way they assembled a vast media empire to crank out the propaganda that keeps their believers ignorant and angry.
They were patient. They played a long game — two steps forward, one step back — pretending to be what their electorate wanted, while following their own subtler agenda of corporatist looting.
Then suddenly Trump came along to supercharge the process. At last, they could stop pretending. At last, they could be as malignant as their true natures allowed. Trump led by example, convincing them that cruelty and greed were as American as apple pie and race-baiting.
Cruelty and greed are, to be sure, crucial components of the fascist playbook. As defined by Stalin, — and refined by dictators in countries large and small ever since — the playbook is currently enjoying great success all over the world. The list of countries experimenting with total control of their populations — and where corruption and cruelty is being institutionalized — is steadily growing. The U.S. could soon make that list.
The playbook lays out the plan. Corrupt the judiciary, buy off the industrialists, marginalize academics and scientists, co-opt the police and military, scapegoat Black people or some “other” of your choice — Jews are a perennial favorite. And, above all, get the media under the tightest control possible — especially the Internet.
Once these things are done, and not necessarily in that order, democracy is effectively over.
In this country, this is still a work in progress, but the progress is distressing. Much of it is happening in plain sight. The Republican party seems to think this is their big moment — the moment they can truly put women and non-whites in their place — and they’re happy to gloat about it.
But are they really ready? Those mainstream Republicans who were always fascists in their hearts will now have to face the reality of getting what they think they want. They’ll have to learn to live with the lies they’ve swallowed. And with the repulsive people who now own them.
There is no sense that they understand the implications of what they’re doing, how it stands to mess up their own lives. They’ve never understood what a government does, let alone how to run one. Vandalism is all they know.
How does someone like Mitch McConnell feel right now? Now that his pet judiciary is finally getting serious about shredding the constitution — including rights he might someday wish he had back — is he comfortable? Remember, Mitch is hardly a beloved figure in Trump-world, and he could even now be on some Proud Boy’s removal list. Does he not understand this?
If ever the situation called for effective journalism, it’s now. There’s an alarm that needs sounding and it’s time for journalists to drop the pretext of objectivity and sound it. They need to cover Republicans the way they would cover an approaching hurricane, with the same sense of emergency. There aren’t two sides to a hurricane.
They need to stop treating this coup as normal. Not just for our sake, but for their own. Republicans have been gunning for the media since the days of Spiro Agnew. Once they know they can annul the Bill of Rights, freedom of the press will be the first to go.
In Russia, where freedom of the press has always been on life support, Putin has added a few wrinkles even Solzhenitsyn wouldn’t recognize. Journalists, for instance, are now occasionally thrown from tall buildings.
Republicans look on in envy.