A clarifying piece by @perrybaconjr: What kind of democracy, and for whom?

Conservatives want to restrict democracy in order to uphold white Christian patriarchal rule. They are turning to authoritarianism because they are failing. Thoughts from a historical perspective: 1/
There are two key questions that have defined recent U.S. history: How have ideas and realities of democracy changed, specifically since the 1950s? And how has political conservatism reacted to those shifting versions and visions of democracy? 2/
It is often said that the U.S. is the world’s oldest democracy. While that is not necessarily incorrect, depending on the definition of “democracy,” it obscures rather than illuminates the reality of American life, past and present, and the nature of the current conflict. 3/
Based on a monolithic understanding of the term that portrays the U.S. as a very old, “consolidated” democracy, the current political conflict must seem utterly baffling: Where is the anti-democratic radicalization of the Republican Party coming from all of a sudden? 4/
That is, unfortunately, the assumption underlying too much of the “democracy in crisis” discourse: That America was, until quite recently, a stable, liberal democracy that has come under threat as more and more people are turning their back on it – because… why? 5/
Quite often, the answer is “It was Obama!” But if the election of a moderately liberal politician whose sole “radicalism” consisted of being Black led to you favoring rightwing authoritarianism, you were never on board with multiracial democracy to begin with. 6/
It’s better to start by acknowledging what “democracy” meant in America before the civil rights legislation of the 1960s: A system that was fairly democratic if you happened to be a white Christian man – and something else entirely if you were not. 7/
The Reconstruction period was a notable exception from this norm – which only strengthens the argument: America’s first attempt at multiracial democracy turned out to be a fairly short-lived experiment, drowned in ostensibly “race-neutral” laws and white reactionary violence. 8/
After Reconstruction, the country was dominated for decades by a white elite consensus to not only leave the brutal apartheid regime in the South untouched, but to uphold white Christian patriarchal rule within the confines of a restricted version of democracy. 9/
By the 1960s, however, white elite consensus had started to fracture and America split over the question of whether or not the country should extend the promise of democracy - should finally become a functioning multiracial, pluralistic democracy. 10/
The 1960s civil rights legislation set in motion a process of partisan realignment and ideological sorting – ultimately uniting the forces opposing multiracial pluralism in a Republican Party that has focused solely on the interests and sensibilities of white conservatives. 11/
And white conservatives tend to have a very specific idea of what “real America” is and should be: They define it as a predominantly white, Christian, patriarchal nation. America, to them, is supposed to be a place where white Christian men are at the top. 12/
The overriding concern of conservatism as a political project as it has existed in the United States since at least the 1950s, and thus the GOP’s overriding concern since at least the 1970s, has been to preserve that white Christian nationalist version of “real America.” 13/
In other words, conservatives’ allegiance has never been to democratic ideals – their acceptance of democracy was always conditional and depending entirely on whether or not it would be set up in way that allowed for the forces of multiracial pluralism to be kept in check. 14/
But due to political, cultural, and most importantly demographic changes, the conservative political project has come under enormous pressure, and the Republican hold on power has become tenuous, certainly on the federal level, and even in some previously “red” states. 15/
Nothing symbolized this threat to white dominance like Barack Obama’s presidency - an outrageous subversion of what reactionaries understand as America’s natural order, made worse by the fact that he managed to get re-elected with less than 40 percent of the white vote. 16/
In this sense, Obama’s presidency had a clarifying effect for many white people, and dramatically heightened the perception – the white conservative fear – of demographic change that would be accompanied by a loss of political and cultural dominance. 17/
Republicans understand better than anyone else 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. 18/
They have chosen a different path, determined to transform the political system in a way that would allow them to hold on to power without majority support, even against the explicit desire of a growing numerical majority of the electorate. 19/
It is imprecise to say that conservatives are turning their backs on democracy. Rather than going from "pro-democratic" to "anti-democratic," they’ve been fairly consistent: on board with a restricted version of democracy, but determined to prevent multiracial pluralism. 20/
But what about those within the Republican Party who are siding against Trump, like Cheney and Kinzinger? Or even Romney and Murkowski, who are rejecting the GOP’s embrace of the January 6 attack and the attempt to legitimize political violence? 21/
This is where we need a more precise understanding of the political conflict and clearer language to describe the struggle over “democracy.” Good on Cheney et al. for refusing to cross over into open authoritarianism – but defenders of multiracial democracy they are not. 22/
Remember that while they are publicly criticizing Trump and support going after the insurrectionists, they have been unwilling to push back against the Republican assault on the political system on the state level and the ongoing attempts to subvert democracy. 23/
Their actions point to an important fault line on the American Right. As @DavidAstinWalsh points out, some parts of the Right were never content with accepting the post-1960s reality and railed against the acquiescence and appeasement of the forces of multiracial pluralism. 24/
After Obama, this idea that Republicans were selling out “real” America, that more drastic action was urgently needed, was spreading fast into the conservative mainstream. In this view, Liberals were winning, destroying the country, and Republican appeasement was complicit. 25/
Michael Anton’s infamous “Flight 93” essay, for instance, is full of disdain for “ordinary” Republicans who are “merely reactive.” His whole rational for uniting behind Trump in the 2016 election was that Trump would be willing to go much further to save “real America.” 26/
Similarly, the essay in which Claremont scholar Glenn Ellmers declared everyone who voted for Joe Biden, over half of the electorate, “Un-American” and not worthy of inclusion in the body politic was titled “’Conservatism’ is no Longer Enough.” 27/
These are not simply the fever dreams of reactionary intellectuals. People like L. Boebert, M. Taylor Greene, and M. Cawthorn symbolize the rise of authoritarian extremism within the GOP, and their radicalism is widely seen as justified by fellow Republicans. 28/
The conflict on the Right seems to be between those like Cheney and Kinzinger who want to uphold white Christian elite rule from within the confines of a narrowly restricted version of democracy – and those who want to pursue that goal by openly embracing authoritarianism. 29/
I am not suggesting that this is a distinction without a difference – it matters whether or not a democratic framework remains in place because, at the very least, it provides basic protections and some room for real democratization as well as racial and social progress. 30/
But the position Cheney, Romney et al. are trying to hold is untenable. In a way, the Trumpists are more honest about where we are: America has indeed become more diverse, more pluralistic, more liberal. The country can have white Christian patriarchal rule *or* democracy. 31/
Cheney, Romney et al. are trying to have their cake and eat it too. It won’t work: The lack of legitimacy for the restricted white elite version of democracy is too stark. America will either slide into authoritarianism or make the leap to multiracial, pluralistic democracy. 32/
Public critique of Trump matters less than the continued de facto support for an authoritarian GOP. The fundamental reality of American politics is that democracy has become a partisan issue – the Democratic Party is the country’s sole democratic party. /end

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More from @tzimmer_history

Feb 9
I wish more people knew about this story: a bust one of the KKK’s founders (!), in the year 2000 (!), in Selma, Alabama (!), in direct reaction to the election of a Black mayor. Grapple with this in earnest and you’ll understand so much about America’s past and present.
Nathan Bedford Forrest is famous not in spite, but solely because he was a traitor, war criminal, and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He was the embodiment of white supremacist violence when he was alive, and has been a symbol of continued white supremacy ever since.
What would you say about a German town with a large Jewish community, that just elected a Jewish mayor, erecting a statue of a Wehrmacht general who was infamous for being an anti-Semite, massacring Soviet soldiers, and founding a neo-Nazi terror organization after the war?
Read 5 tweets
Feb 8
The 21st-Century History Wars #GEST535

Here’s a recap of Week 3, last week’s class: A look at the conflict over National History Standards in the 1990s, and an attempt to figure out how to relate the History Wars to the current wave of the anti-“CRT”/ education bills.
The general idea last week was to explore broader contexts in which to situate the current conflict over history education, specifically, and establish a framework for what is happening currently. Three broader contexts stood out. #GEST535
The first context is the general conflict over public education. The conservative critique of public education has a long history – in many ways, it’s been an important part of the modern conservative project since its inception. #GEST535
Read 24 tweets
Feb 8
The 21st-Century History Wars #GEST535

As we are entering Week 4, a quick recap of what we’ve done so far, for everyone who wants to follow along and catch up.
In Week 2, we started with a look at some big-picture takes on the History Wars and a broader reflection on the question: Why is everybody talking about history? The goal was to raise questions rather than to find final answers – an attempt to refine our agenda. #GEST535
The discussion focused on two pieces by historians Timothy Snyder and Matthew Karp that try to offer a broader diagnosis of what the History Wars tell us about American politics, society, and culture right at this current moment. #GEST535
Read 11 tweets
Feb 7
Perfect example of the slippery slope argument conservatives like to deploy to delegitimize cultural change they reject.

The actual issue: The gratuitous use of the N word in fiction faces more criticism today than it used to – is that bad?

Nichols: The road to the Gulag!
If we actually were “killing culture” and descending towards “a Sovietized, carefully censored culture,” I’d agree that’d be bad. But where is the evidence for that? The fact that Quentin Tarantino might get criticized if he used the N word as much today as he did in the 90s?
But, of course, once you start censoring (no one is censoring) the genius of great artists (white men, that is), once you silence them (no one is silencing), that’s clearly an indication that society as a whole is on a path to totalitarianism.
Read 9 tweets
Feb 6
This is a crucial observation: In the American political discourse, “working class” is often just shorthand for “white people with certain reactionary cultural sensibilities” - as in: “The working class rebelled against the establishment and voted for Trump.”
It’s really striking how the terms “blue collar” and “working class” almost always refer to either a type of professional occupation or certain reactionary cultural sensibilities of white people and are often entirely detached from matters of class / socio-economic status.
This is well in line with the pervasive assumption of a white “normal” that still governs the American political and cultural discourse. Concepts like “working class,” or “parents,” or “Christians” often come with a silent “white.”
Read 6 tweets
Feb 4
The 21st-Century History Wars

Here’s the reading list for this course I am currently teaching. It’s somewhat preliminary: It’s a new course and changes may occur, depending on where our discussions take us. I’ll also certainly add more primary sources. Follow along at #GEST535 ImageImage
We started with a look at some big-picture takes on the History Wars and a broader reflection on an important question: Why is everybody talking about history? #GEST535 Image
This week, we looked at some previous iterations of the History Wars, specifically at the conflict over National History Standards in the 90s, and tried to situate the current anti-“CRT”/ education bills in that longer-term context. #GEST535 Image
Read 15 tweets

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