I was intrigued by this story, the idea of a family abandoning its natural ties and loyalties in favour of an almost demonic political purpose. It seems to speak of a profound social breakdown, an unravelling of the natural order of things as a harbinger of approaching darkness. Characterising those of a radically different opinion as members of the ‘devil’s army’ precludes any hope of rational discussion or compromise.
The attitude spills over into a wholesale denial of the legitimacy of the democratic process. A denial with long and complex tentacles: ‘Pence pushes false election fraud claims in denouncing Democratic reform bill’; then “You gotta to declare everything that comes out of King Biden’s mouth as illegitimate – null and void from the inception because he is not a legitimate president”; and ‘68% of Republicans say the election was stolen from Trump: Fox News poll and ‘Over a third of all voters agree Trump ‘was robbed”.
So what does this say about the condition of American democracy? There’s a spectrum of opinion, from the former vice-president, through Republican voters, all the way to paramilitary militias, to the effect that democracy is dysfunctional (or corrupted) and that its electoral outcome is illegitimate. Trump himself continues to feed this view by insisting that the election was ‘stolen’. Against this background Republican politicians are mounting a sustained attack on electoral freedom: ‘As of February, state legislators in 43 states had introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.’ For these people democracy is only OK if it results in their desired outcome. A battleground has been created where the right to vote is of secondary importance to the question of for whom you are likely to vote.
Democracy depends entirely on consent – agreement on all the sides that democracy is the best and only legitimate way to resolve political disagreement. Take away that vital component of consent, and democracy is dead. It doesn’t work any more. Brute force is the only alternative. Authoritarian regimes use ‘democracy’ as a smokescreen to legitimise the exercise of force. The smokescreen is just that, a piece of window dressing to make things look above board.
The Capitol Putsch (this guy provides an interesting contextual take on the event) represented a spectacular focal point for the breakdown of consent, a worked example of what happens when people regard force as a legitimate means of sabotaging an established democratic process. However, the power grab failed and elicited a strong response. The simple fact is that there is currently no organisational or ideological platform to provide a credible challenge to democratic norms, but that doesn’t mean that things can’t change.
The essential pre-conditions are out there:
- A substantial proportion of voters are vehemently opposed to the outcome of the 2020 election, and believe that the election was stolen.
- President Biden’s legitimacy is challenged by his more extreme opponents – this goes far beyond opposition to his policies, and lies outside democratic norms.
- President Biden’s legitimacy is also challenged by democratically elected representatives – democracy breaking down from the inside.
- An array of far-right militias and paramilitary organisations reject democratic processes as a means of resolving political differences.
- Organisations like QAnon offer radical alternatives to rational political discussion, and have many adherents regardless of non-delivery of their various predictions and prophesies.
- Attempts to restrict voting rights in order to manipulate democratic outcomes are widespread and pervasive.
All of this signals an unravelling, a progressive decay, of consent. At present the machinery of government is relatively unaffected, it moves on regardless. A collapse into authoritarian rule has not occurred, and it appears that countervailing mechanisms are broadly functional. Nevertheless it is equally clear that there are sufficient negative forces just waiting for the opportunity to undermine democracy and replace it with authoritarian rule. These forces are currently atomised and lack coherent organisation and leadership – if that changes and there are unexpected shocks to the system, then pre-fascist conditions can result in overt fascism.
Footnote, 17th March 2021: “For all of the stale US debate about whether Trump and his aides “colluded” with Russia, there are now multiple reports, intelligence assessments and other known details to expose a damning reality: Moscow with its election meddling, Trump acolytes pushing false claims of voter fraud and his GOP supporters in the states now passing voter suppression laws share the same goal — the denigration of the US democratic system.”
Footnote, 23rd March 2021: Trump’s army takes aim at 2022 touting his election lies