Biden spoke to a crowd in Tempe, Arizona at the dedication ceremony for the John McCain library on Thursday, September 28th. He spoke from his heart about the threat to our country and our democracy coming from Trump and his MAGA contingent in the Republican Party. He is right. This is a 5 alarm fire. The extremists in the Republican Party are trying to change our country from a democracy to a dictatorship. Part of their plan is to create chaos. In the House they are having success. Read the whole post to learn about what is happening and we can do about it.
Here is what Biden said:
There is something dangerous happening in America now. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs in our democracy: the MAGA Movement.
There is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA Republican extremists. Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American democracy as we know it… attacking the free press as the enemy of the people, attacking the rule of law as an impediment, fomenting voter suppression and election subversion….banning books — banning books and burying history.
Extremists in Congress — more determined to shut down the government, to burn the place down than to let the people’s business be done.
Our U.S. military … being accused of being weak and “woke” by the opposition.
One guy in Alabama is holding up the promotion of every — hundreds of these officers.
They’re pushing a notion the defeated former President expressed …the president is above the law, with no limits on power.
Trump says the Constitution gave him, quote, “the right to do whatever he wants as President,” …[Trump is] not guided by the Constitution or by common service and decency toward our fellow Americans but by vengeance and vindictiveness. [Selected quotes from Joe Biden’s remarks in Arizona on September 28, 2023]
Even though Biden did not lump all Republicans into the MAGA wing of the GOP, he alluded to the problem of voting for ANY Republican these days: MAGAs are extremists who insist on total loyalty to Trump and Trumpism and who get their way by threatening revenge and the use of violence to cow anyone who either does not agree with them or won’t stay silent if they disagree. These days the silence from moderate members of this Republican Party in the face of this mortal threat to our democracy is unnerving and disillusioning because the killers of our democracy are literally inside the HOUSE.
MAGAs HAVE TAKEN OVER THE HOUSE
Extremists in the House who are led by Matt Goetz, are a band of insurrectionists being coached by nihilist Steve Bannon (why isn’t that guy still in jail?) about how to corrode and deconstruct government from the inside. They understand how to gain power by refusing to compromise in a House with such a narrow Republican majority. They make demands and won’t give an inch, which helps them wreck the system and gain greater power.
We have seen how this works.
McCarthy got jerked around by the MAGA wing of the GOP. They set up their eventual coup when McCarthy first ran to be speaker by forcing him to accept new rules about how one person could call for his expulsion from the speakership. It was like McCarthy agreeing to have a gun pointed at his head. Any time he acted in a way to displease the MAGAs they could pull the trigger. Working across the aisle with Democrats was set up as the hair trigger that could kill his speakership.
Of course, in a functioning democracy that’s what you do!– you work with the other guys across the aisle to get stuff done for the American people. Extremists don’t want to work together for the good of the country. Their goal is not to govern or promote democracy. Their goal is to take charge of the country and run it as a dictatorship.
Let’s be clear. Kevin McCarthy’s attempt to placate the MAGAs was doomed from the start. These extremists wanted a crisis. They manufactured a senseless shut down and refused to give an inch. That predictably forced McCarthy to turn to the Democrats to avoid a shutdown that would be bad for the country and the GOP. A CR (continuing resolution) was passed at the last moment with the help of the Dems. After that, MAGA extremists, led by terrorist Matt Gaetz, had the ammo they needed to fire McCarthy for his sin of daring to work across the aisle with Democrats to keep the country from a devastating and purposeless shut down.
This outcome was baked in the cake from the beginning of McCarthy’s speakership.
EXTREMISM IS ANTITHETICAL TO A FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY
Extremism disrupts a working democracy. The ability to compromise and give a little so that everyone gets something they want even if it not everything they want is at the core of a functioning democracy. It’s like the Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try… you get what you need.” The ability to bend, to compromise, to allow the other guy to get some of what he or she needs is the central premise of democracy. But we have to remember that the extremists don’t want a functioning democracy. Their goal is to break democracy and try to create cynicism about it.
Biden mentioned Tommy Tuberville, the senator from Alabama in his speech. Tuberville is another extremist in the Senate who is holding up our military appointments which weakens our military even while Tuberville decries the so-called weakness and wokeness of our military. Tuberville is proving his MAGA credentials. If Tuberville truly wanted the military to be stronger he would not hold up these appointments. But Tuberville, like Goetz and other MAGA extremists don’t want democracy to succeed and don’t care about the wishes of the majority. If the MAGAs can succeed in making our country over as a dictatorship they think they will be able to run the show the way they want to run the show without needing to concede anything to other people or other forces.
Once in power, dictators wipe out competing voices that don’t agree with them and jail the opposition. This has happened in Victor Orban’s Hungary and Putin’s Russia.
Once governments pretend to be democracies instead of really being democracies (they become what is called illiberal democracies) they take over platforms that challenge their viewpoints and inject propaganda which competes with real news so that they can create an alternate world bubble where mis and disinformation thrives. Trump has already promised that if re-elected he will shut down MSNBC and NBC and jail his enemies like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, General Milley and many others. Trump has vowed to seek revenge.
WHY YOU DON’T WANT TO LIVE IN A DICTATORSHIP
Imagine a United States where the MAGAs had the power of the presidency with Trump as president and Congress was led by people like Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. If these extremists gain more control, our country would no longer be a democracy. They want to throw out the constitution and install Trump as the first American dictator whose will would be law instead of the system of laws we have developed over the years.
Why would you want to live in a country
- where the national government forces you or your wife to have a baby against your will?
- where you are told by your government what you can and cannot read or read to your children?
- where you are fed disinformation (propaganda) by your government so that the dictator can stay in power?
- that mistreats people because of who they love or who they are when it comes to their gender?
- where you could be prevented from exercising free speech if you disagree with the government?
- where your right to privacy is at risk?
- where people who upset dear leader get thrown in jail?
Yes, democracy is messy and at times difficult. It’s difficult because it calls for people to get along and to compromise. But it is way better than a dictatorship or an autocracy.
In dictatorships you lose your rights. Government functions for the good of the dictator, not for the good of We the People.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING IN AMERICA?
Our country is at a tipping point. We are struggling to become a multicultural democracy where the hope and promise of a free and fair country could be realized. That is why we are facing this huge backlash from the MAGAs. The promise of America is that all men (and women) are created equal and everyone is treated fairly. That is why the Black Lives Matter marches were so important. That is why Barack Obama created a backlash sparking the extremists we have to deal with today. We are in the middle of that struggle to realize our potential as a nation.
Every action has a reaction in group dynamics. When women fight to gain power, men can feel marginalized and fearful. When people of color gain a voice, white people who had enjoyed privilege can feel threatened. When the working class blue collar workers picket for higher wages, privileged business owners fear loss of power and control. These are reactions that people often experience without even being aware of them. People can believe they are being fair and reasonable and from their own perspective they are, when, from the perspective of the affected group, they are not being fair at all.
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
To better understand what is happening and how to respond to it, I encourage you to read Tyranny of the Minority by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. The book explains the historical context of our current politics and comparable extremist movements in other countries. The authors also tell us what to do to combat this current extremist movement. The big thing is that election outcomes must reflect majority preferences. If you win the most votes you should win the election. Minorities like the MAGAs extremists need to lose elections. They are not the mainstream viewpoint. In our country, however, we have anti-majoritarianism built into the system that results in red rural areas being vastly over-represented in Congress.
Some European countries have treated their Constitutions as modifiable. They have taken steps to change their Constitutions, force term limits on their Supreme Court justices and gotten rid of their Electoral College equivalents that are anti-majoritarian and made other changes that foster democracy. These European countries have managed to become more democratic compared to us. Our country is lagging behind.
Levitsky and Ziblatt write: “Voting in America should be as straightforward as it is in democracies in Europe and elsewhere.” They recommend a number of changes to our system that include elimination of the Electoral College, a right to vote for all citizens, automatic registration to vote when you turn 18, expansion of early voting and easy voting, Election Day should be Sunday or a national holiday, voting rights for former felons who have served their time, a restoration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, reform the Senate so that the number of senators reflects the population of the state, eliminate partisan gerrymandering, eliminate the filibuster, term limits for Supreme Court justices, make it easier to amend the Constitution. There’s a lot we could do to fix the system.
These and other reforms they recommend would force the Republican Party to broaden its coalition and become a more diverse, moderate and less extreme party. This is a vision for a future America that I hope we can someday achieve. These changes may seem unattainable now, but as Levitsky and Ziblatt say in their book, “The most powerful weapon against change is silence.”
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP RIGHT THE SHIP OF STATE?
We have to walk a mile in the shoes of other people. By that I mean we have to have empathy for other people and their reality.
Trump supporters are fearful about the rapid changes in the world and in our country. And they are being manipulated by right-wing media. Fox News and other conservative platforms need to pay a price for spreading disinformation. These platforms should be required to publish accurate, factual information the way mainstream media and newspapers must. But the current reality is that Trump supporters have been lied to over and over again. We can understand that without forgiving it. Because they also choose to be mis and dis informed.
At the same time we all can do our part to help our country achieve its promise.
We have to fight our own cynical thinking to believe change is possible. Cynicism is the killer of the dream. It undermines the energy to push for change. It also helps extremists stay powerful. If people think voting doesn’t do any good, they stay home instead of participating in their democracy and they don’t bother to vote.
Each of us is important. Become a change agent for democracy by participating in some way. Canvass. Text voters to remind them to vote. Be a judge of election. Register voters. Donate to good candidates and groups that support our democracy. Educate yourself about what is going on. Don’t turn off your TV set and try to pretend that’s ok. Stop doom scrolling. The next election is a very important tipping point moment in history for our nation. Take action in a way that works for you.
The two key voting groups that need to vote are younger voters and suburban women. They are the 2 impactful groups that could save our democracy if they vote in large numbers. They have the right values and ideology to tamp down the MAGA movement. Find a way to get out that vote.
Pick a way to participate. It feels way better to be an active participant in our democracy then to hide out and worry. When you talk with your grandkids in the future about what happened when the MAGA extremists tried to take over our democracy you want them to know how you helped our country realize its promise.