As 2021 comes to an end, what is the state of American democracy?

The reactionary counter-mobilization against democracy has accelerated. It’s happening on so many fronts simultaneously that it’s easy to lose sight of how things are connected. Thoughts on the big picture: 1/
So many things are happening at the federal, state, and local levels all around the country that are directly tied to the broader struggle over whether or not America should finally realize the promise of multiracial, pluralistic democracy. That’s the defining conflict. 2/
In Washington, Republicans have adopted a position of total obstruction (what else is new?), very much including the obstruction of any attempt to investigate a violent attack on the Capitol. But it’s the state level where the reactionary project has accelerated most. 3/
States passing extreme gerrymanders; or anti-“CRT” laws; and functionally banning abortion; school board meetings becoming battlefields; Kyle Rittenhouse is celebrated as a conservative hero; elected officials talking about burning books… these are not disparate events. 4/
The overriding concern for the Republican Party, which is solely focused on the sensibilities, anxieties, and interests of (wealthy) white conservatives, is to maintain traditional political, social, cultural, and economic hierarchies. 5/
Republicans don’t call it “maintaining traditional hierarchies,” of course - they call it preserving “real” America, by which they mean a predominantly white, Christian, patriarchal nation. America, to them, is supposed to be a place where white Christian men are at the top. 6/
Due to political, cultural, and most importantly demographic changes, Republicans do not have majority support for their political project anymore – certainly not on the federal level, and even in “red” states, their position is becoming increasingly tenuous. 7/
No one understands this better than Republicans themselves: They feel their backs against the wall, therefore they are determined to do whatever it takes, regardless of how radical, to protect their hold on power and preserve existing hierarchies and the traditional order. 8/
Republicans see Democrats not as a political opponent, but as an Un-American enemy that must not be allowed to govern and destroy “real” America. Everything else follows from that understanding of the political conflict. (Small-d) democrats they are not. 9/
Republicans understand that in a functioning democratic system, they would have to either widen their focus beyond the interests and sensibilities of white conservatives, which they are not willing to do; or relinquish power, which they reject. They chose a different path: 10/
It all starts with not letting too many of the “wrong” people vote. This year alone, Republican lawmakers have introduced hundreds of bills intended to make voting more difficult – and have enacted such laws almost everywhere they are in charge. 11/brennancenter.org/our-work/resea…
All of these voter suppression laws are ostensibly race-neutral and non-partisan, as they have always been in American history. But what is actually going on – who is targeted by these laws, and who is supposed to benefit – isn’t exactly hard to figure out. It’s not subtle. 12/
If too many of the “wrong” people are still voting, you make their electoral choices count less: through gerrymandering. Wisconsin has long been the poster child for these gerrymandering efforts – but they are happening everywhere, and they are accelerating and radicalizing. 13/
If that is still not enough to keep the “wrong” side from winning, as happened in November 2020, you have to be in a position to nullify their win: We’re seeing election subversion efforts up and down the country – an all-out assault on state election systems. 14/
Election commissions are being purged, local officials are being harassed, people who are a threat to Republican rule because they have demonstrated even a shred of allegiance to democracy and the rule of law are replaced by Trumpist loyalists. 15/
What if such blatant undermining of democracy leads to protests? Well, you criminalize those protests, by defining them as “riots,” and you declare “rioters” outlaws who do not deserve the protection of the law, not even when they’re physically attacked and killed. 16/
And you make it clear how you think these pro-democracy “rioters” should be dealt with by encouraging white militants to use whatever force they please to suppress these protests, and by celebrating and glorifying those who have engaged in such violent fascistic fantasies. 17/
Finally, Republicans are flanking all this by a broad-scale offensive against everything and everyone criticizing the legitimacy of white nationalist rule – past, present, and future. They clearly understand the importance of being in control of the national story. 18/
We need to pay attention to how these efforts are connected, and we have to acknowledge the underlying political project of entrenching white Christian patriarchal dominance by establishing one-party-rule systems. Can it really happen here? It is already happening. 19/
Republicans are not “delusional,” they haven’t temporarily “lost their mind.” Such pathologizing language obscures rather than illuminates the fact that Republicans are engaged in a deliberate, systematic, and highly successful project to abolish democracy. 20/
The American Right is fully committed to this anti-democratic project, and the Republican Party has a comprehensive strategy to put it into practice. Are enough people in positions of influence as committed to preserving democracy as Republicans are to abolishing it? 21/
2021 almost over, and so far, the pro-democracy camp – and the Democratic establishment, in particular – has failed to effectively counter this accelerating authoritarian onslaught. We are running out of time to save American democracy. Let’s act accordingly in 2022. /end

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More from @tzimmer_history

May 23
What pundits with big platforms should do, rather than naively taking allegations of “divisiveness” at face value, is to seriously investigate what the conservative vision of “unity” is and what exactly the policies and ideas are that the Right has always disavowed as “divisive.”
Why does Mounk, an ostensibly liberal pundit, feel the need to lend legitimacy to this bad-faith “party of division” nonsense that’s coming from an ignorant billionaire-turned-rightwing-culture warrior? Because that’s precisely his brand.
Mounk’s whole shtick is to start from an extremely superficial diagnosis of “polarization” and “division” and then, while occasionally paying lip service to the fact that the Right is worse, focus almost all his energies on blaming “the Left” for said problems.
Read 12 tweets
May 19
The End of Roe Is Just the Beginning
 
A multi-level reactionary counter-mobilization is underway. Conservatives are animated by a vision of 1950s-style white Christian patriarchal dominance. It is the only order they will accept for America.
 
My new column for @GuardianUS:
The impending end of Roe will not magically appease the Right. Attempts to institute a national ban are likely to follow. The people behind this anti-abortion rights crusade will tolerate the right to bodily autonomy in “blue” America for only as long as they absolutely have to.
And the conservative vision for the country goes well beyond outlawing abortion. In his opinion, Samuel Alito rejects the legal underpinnings of many of the post-1960s civil rights extensions that were predicated on a specific interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Read 35 tweets
May 18
This is guaranteed to sound crazy alarmist to anyone not following the situation closely, even though it’s just a factually accurate description of the situation: The next presidential election - and by extension the medium-term fate of democracy - might be decided right here.
It’s generally not a good sign when every attempt to convey accurately what is at stake necessarily sounds like apocalypticism to people who haven’t been following politics closely. But that’s where we are, and that’s what the state of American democracy is: hanging by a thread.
Precisely. The key problem is not that he won’t accept the result of the last election, but that he’s at the forefront of an all-out assault on the election system, fully committed to making sure that the next time Republicans try to nullify a Democratic win, they will succeed.
Read 4 tweets
May 17
One of the most annoying aspects of the pervasive “cancel culture” discourse is that it offers an invitation to anyone to just throw their hands up and yell “I’m being cancelled by the Left!” instead of accepting any kind of responsibility for their own actions.
“Cancel culture” offers an enormously attractive frame of reference: If you invoke it, you’re no longer facing the consequences of your own doing - your actions are immediately dignified, you’ve become a character in a major societal and political struggle for “free speech.”
And you’ll find out: There is a massive platform for anyone who was “cancelled” (meaning just: claiming to be “cancelled”) - powerful structural incentives on top of the all-too-natural tendency of most people to perceive themselves as the victims rather than the perpetrators.
Read 11 tweets
May 15
The speed with which this far-right talking point - straight-up Nazi stuff - has been popularized, normalized, and, crucially, moved towards the mainstream of conservative politics is just breathtaking. And so, so very dangerous.
We’re always getting the same fake-denials from rightwing media activists like Carlson who popularize and normalize these ideas every day, whose sole business model is to keep the conservative base in a constant state of panic about threats to white dominance, real and imagined…
The same fake-outrage from the party that elevates far-right extremists and their openly militant form of white Christian nationalism, the party that also embraces the gun cult and made it a key element of its political identity…
Read 18 tweets
May 14
A key point: In their private lives, almost anyone would shun, ostracize, or sue people who constantly slander others in this outrageous way.

The key question is therefore: Why do Republicans not have to pay a price for it? Because the Right engages in “Higher Truth politics.”
Politics can be a dirty business. But attacking the political opponent as a bunch of pedophiles is very much not politics as usual. The fact that the entire Republican Party is on board with this does not make it “normal” – at least it wouldn’t be in a functioning democracy.
And yet, it’s now standard operating procedure for Republicans to talk about Democrats in that way. Do GOP lawmakers truly believe Democratic politicians are pedophiles, or in league with pedophiles? Do conservative voters? Those might not be the right questions to ask.
Read 11 tweets

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