The GOP rewrites the fascists’ playbook and America’s future is put on hold…
A Fatal Flaw
The Republican Party is exploiting the Achilles Heel of American Democracy. Their “white Christian nation” ploy is a last resort attempt to wrest power for their dwindling base. Like all great superhero origin stories, Achilles was done in by his one frailty-an undipped heel. Our forefathers managed to weave into the fabric of our founding documents the means of our own undoing. Amid all the philosophical enlightenment that set us apart from the European monarchies, the founders could not deal with their unenlightened views on race, women’s rights, and the power of money and property to corrupt-an opening that would soon become our Achilles Heel.
The Founders rejected a democracy in favor of a republic once they were confronted with the weakness of a “pure democracy:”
Americans had used the doctrine of popular sovereignty — “democracy” — as the rationale for their successful rebellion against English authority in 1776. But they had not yet worked out fully the question that has plagued all nations aspiring to democratic government ever since: how to implement principles of popular majority rule while at the same time preserving stable governments that protect the rights and liberties of all citizens.
Among the differences inherent in that choice was an attempt by some to insure “fairness” and to avoid the twin tyrannies of minority and majoritarian rule. For Founders like Madison, there was a need to overcome the “Goldilocks dilemma” — that there must be a delicate balance in governance to insure a central government strong enough to hold together a nation with competing interests. At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin rose to give the assembled Founders a reason to put aside their differences and to ratify what all agreed was a flawed document:
“…when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.” He thought it impossible to expect a “perfect production” from such a gathering, but he believed that the Constitution they had just drafted, “with all its faults,” was better than any alternative that was likely to emerge.
The flaws were evident at the inception and for the sake of expediency, Franklin urged them to agree to put off for a later time the solutions to their disagreements. Throughout the period leading up to the convention, there was debate in the Federalist Papers arguing that the early governing document, the Articles of Confederation, would yield a weak government that would be unable to compete on the world stage and too weak to control internal disagreements:
In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay and Madison argued that the decentralization of power that existed under the Articles of Confederation prevented the new nation from becoming strong enough to compete on the world stage, or to quell internal insurrections such as Shays’s Rebellion. In addition to laying out the many ways in which they believed the Articles of Confederation didn’t work, Hamilton, Jay and Madison used the Federalist essays to explain key provisions of the proposed Constitution…
— PERSPECTIVES ON THE CONSTITUTION: A REPUBLIC, IF YOU CAN KEEP IT, By Richard R. Beeman, Ph.D.
Of Angels and Men
The argument was not merely theoretical at the time. The Founders were well aware of contemporary thought and were looking to break new ground in terms of governance. Kings and despots had ruled throughout history based upon might and birth. There would be no “divine right” in their America. Much of their thinking was informed by the political writings of John Locke. Locke argued against the paternalistic styles of governance and in its place devise a social contract between citizens and their government that recognized a natural law based on reason. Other 17th and 18th-century philosophers also contributed to the Founding Fathers’ libraries.
Echoes of Hobbes, Montesquieu, and Rousseau could be heard in the writings and debates that were raging. Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay, authors of the Federalist Papers, in order to advance the debate discussed how their new nation would incorporate the new governing philosophies — what to keep, what to toss.
Madison writes in Federalist 51:
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary…”
The dilemma suggests that men are imperfect and, therefore, need to rein in illiberal tendencies. In their wisdom (some may dispute just how wise), they wrestled with the problem of a majoritarian form of government because they felt that majorities might retain the power to govern but may not always do so in a moral or ethical way. Madison helped devise the Bill of Rights to protect minority rights while proposing that the nature of a diverse citizenry with many competing interests would help preserve tolerance:
A larger republic, Madison suggested, could more easily balance the competing interests of the different groups (or “factions”) within it. “Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests… You make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.”
- History.com, referring to Federalist 10
The current Republican Party is taking advantage of Madison’s lack of modern perspective. Autocracy, the absolutism of a small but powerful minority, is as prominent a threat to democracy as a tyranny of the majority. There is little doubt that the policies being promoted by these Republicans are embraced by a minority of the governed. But they have come upon an organizing principle that Madison and the other Founders may not have anticipated. Madison was concerned with competing views and uncoupling of rights based upon ideas. He envisioned a fairly homogenous culture that would curtail (in his words) “ a common motive.” He was betrayed by his own prejudices as he failed to recognize damning defects woven into the Constitution regarding race and the assumption that a ruling class could only be white, propertied, and male.
Fascists and Friends
As Madison wrote the words “…less probable that a majority will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens,” he couldn’t foretell the predicament the nation would be confronted with today. The motive for most Republicans in their headlong race toward an autocracy is predicated on race. The white nationalism that the Republican Party has now embraced is like a specter from the past. White man rule would by Madison’s own reckoning become an anachronism as the nation aged and became more diverse. Republicans have pounced upon this as their organizing principle to infect the nation. They have recognized that the interests that would ultimately counterbalance an overbearing majority, were made up of competing minority interests that could be splintered and divided. Polling data demonstrate the unpopularity of most Republican policies. Americans do not fundamentally disagree on “culture war” issues that Republicans employ to separate us.
They have borrowed heavily from the classic fascist playbook that uses lies and distraction to infiltrate and weaken the opposition. They have co-opted major news organizations and have spread their false narratives by denouncing the media through the alternative outlets comprised of social media. Using the laws and accommodations that have greased our political systems — in some cases for convenience, in others to game the system — -Republicans have foisted their radicalized agenda on the rest of us. The red and blue states’ divide, nurtured and unleashed by extra-constitutional devices like the Electoral College and gerrymandering, neutralize the intent of voters.
To be sure, Democrats in the past have benefitted from these arcane political arrangements. Republicans, however, have been far more focused on employing them to shape a national agenda that represent their narrow interests. Responsible gun laws, women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gay citizens have been decimated despite holding popular favor among voters and possessing the added authority of reason.
In Federalist #51 Madison makes the point that government is not an instrument to please winners and losers, majorities or minorities:
…the goal of government is not security nor happiness. Justice is the end of government and the goal of civil society. If you let the majority rule the minority will be at risk. If there is no way to realize the majority’s legitimate interest there will only be factions and discord. Therefore the majority must have a will and be frustrated and limited in what they can do.
Republicans have found the antidote to Madison’s push to place Justice at the center of the republic. The Bill of Rights as a codicil to the Constitution was added to guarantee essential rights and liberties, as well as reserving rights to the people and the states. The amendment process that it introduced was a recognition that there was a need to provide a method to identify and cure past or future governmental overreach. Republicans have discovered that these same “protections” could be co-opted for the benefit of the few to divide us. Theirs is a “rolling fascism” that has blended corporate greed and individual grievance to undermine the government. In their view, the protections afforded citizens to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have gotten in the way of their desires to protect their own preordained right to rule in a white Christian nation, as they would propose our Founders intended.
The playbook is rather brief and fairly obvious, the Republican Party has reduced Madison’s “smaller factions” to a rabble of bickering rivals who compete for, rather than share, rights. They and their corporatist allies want to be overlords who dole out privileges instead of rights and reward loyalty instead of patriotism. Truth in their world is optional. As in advertising, it is to be avoided when it taxes profit. Welsh politician and Labour Party leader, Aneurin Bevan has described fascism in terms of its impact on the future, and I believe that it has relevance to what is being attempted today by a reactionary and racist conservative movement:
Fascism is not in itself a new order of society. It is the future refusing to be born.
— Aneurin Bevan
The future of our democracy is on hold -frozen in time. For some Americans, it has been that way for a long, long time.
Originally published at https://www.dailykos.com on July 27, 2022.