It’s terrifying to live in a country where any revelation about how the former president tried to abolish democracy can only dominate the news cycle for about 12 hours because the multi-level reactionary assault on the civil rights order is continuing with such brutal speed.
Crucially, it was the reactionary counter-mobilization which made that guy president in the first place, and though his coup attempt failed, he remains the leader of a party and a rightwing movement fully committed to entrenching white patriarchal dominance by whatever means.
The key is to see all of this as connected, all part of a multi-pronged, multi-level reactionary counter-mobilization that has a judicial arm, a political arm, an intellectual arm, and a paramilitary arm, all flanked by a massive, highly effective media/propaganda machine.
There is nothing even remotely equivalent in the (small-d) democratic camp, on none of these levels, and especially not as a unified, coordinated political project. That’s a big reason why the Right is succeeding with the support of only a shrinking, radicalizing minority.
The majority of Americans opposes the reactionary vision - but the Right is fully content to install authoritarian minority rule. They don’t care about democratic legitimacy - only about what they believe is the natural / divinely ordained order, what is “real America.”
America is changing. Due to political, cultural, and most importantly demographic developments, the country has indeed become less white, less conservative, less Christian, more multicultural, more liberal. But that doesn’t mean the reactionaries can’t win. They are winning.
We (in the pro-democracy camp) need to resist the false comfort of the demographic destiny fallacy: “We have the numbers” won’t cut it. Conservatives understand the numbers better than anyone else, and they have an all-encompassing strategy to succeed anyway.
Every iteration of the “We have the numbers / Time is on our side” argument is based on a misjudgment of both the structural context of a political system defined by counter-majoritarian distortions as well as the depth of ideological commitment on the Right.
In any realistic scenario, due to a combination of the current system’s anti-majoritarian distortions and the GOP’s many aggressive anti-democratic initiatives, Republicans are basically guaranteed enough power to obstruct and prevent functional Democratic governance.
On the national level, Democrats might still have a decent chance to win the popular vote by enough that it actually translates into an electoral college majority. But as we are seeing right now, that’s not nearly enough to stop America’s accelerating slide into authoritarianism.
Ideally, the Supreme Court would step in and stop the escalating attempts to roll back civil rights protections on the state level. But the rightwing majority on the Court is actually doing the opposite, providing cover and actively pushing the reactionary counter-mobilization.
We are left with a situation in which Republican-led states undermine democracy and entrench white reactionary rule, with or without the support of a majority of voters; the Supreme Court says: Keep going! And Republicans in Congress block any national counter-legislation.
In this particular moment, the two most dangerous ideas out there, closely intertwined and pervasive among centrists and liberals, are: “They will moderate once they realize the majority is against them” and “There’s a limit to what they can do – they won’t go *that* far.”
The realization that their vision of what America – “real America” – should be has come under threat, that it is shared by a shrinking minority only, is actually what is driving the rightwing radicalization against democracy. This is not going to be a source of moderation.
The reactionary counter-mobilization from the Right is not coming from a place of strength: Conservatives are radicalizing because they understand they are in the minority and feel their backs against the wall, leading to a veritable siege mentality.
We see this most clearly articulated in the reactionary intellectual sphere. Those who accept the fact that a majority voted for Joe Biden are outraged because “real Americans” have become the minority in a county which they are supposedly entitled to dominate.
The shift from “We are the silent majority, entitled to rule over those radical special-interest groups” to “We are the virtuous minority and there are fewer and fewer of us” corresponds directly with the shift from “No judicial activism” to “The Court needs to safe our America!”
They will absolutely keep going – Clarence Thomas’ opinion is showing the way. The Right doesn’t accept *any* deviation from what they consider the natural / divinely ordained order of traditional white elite patriarchal rule.
That’s why no civil rights victories are ever fully secure, not even the ones with which conservatives seemed to have made their peace. The renewed and escalating assault on gay rights is the best, most pressing evidence that nothing is ever “settled” for the Right.
Too many moderates, centrists, and liberals have bought into the idea that conservatives are just – and at least somewhat justifiably – pushing back against certain “excesses” of “woke” leftism, and that they will stop once those excesses are kept in check. That’s nonsense.
But this is absolutely key: There is no appeasing them. They are not looking for a consolation prize, they are not interested in sacrificial lambs or partial victories, they are also not looking for an exit ramp, don’t want to just keep face. They really mean it.
There is also most definitely no persuading them or shaming them. They are entirely convinced to be the good ones. All those who prefer to live in a functioning democratic society - something this Court won’t allow - need to grapple honestly with what that means going forward.
The problem with the idea that they “won’t get away with this” is that it assumes there’s a line they won’t cross, that there are anti-majoritarian measures – violence and coercion, specifically – they consider too radical. But there’s absolutely no indication that’s the case.
Will they really go *that* far? By portraying their opponent as a fundamentally illegitimate faction seeking to destroy the country, conservatives have been giving themselves permission to embrace whatever radical measures they deem necessary to defeat this “Un-American” enemy.
We are in deeply dangerous territory precisely because so many on the Right have convinced themselves they are fighting a noble war against unpatriotic, godless forces that are in league with pedophiles – and therefore see no lines they are not justified to cross.
The reactionary counter-mobilization against multiracial, pluralistic democracy won’t stop because the people behind it have some sort of epiphany that they shouldn’t go *that* far. It will either *be stopped* or succeed in entrenching white Christian patriarchal rule.
On this day, and every day, remember: Those who like to scold the “alarmists” with a hearty “They won’t go *that* far!” have been consistently wrong. The “alarmists” have been mostly spot on about what the reactionary end game would be. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Addendum: I wrote this in May for @GuardianUS - The impending end of Roe will not magically appease the Right. The Court will continue to operate as an integral part of an all-encompassing reactionary assault on multiracial, pluralistic democracy that is only going to accelerate.
I’m hearing quite a lot of “They can’t win - the demographics are getting worse for them every year”: Whether or not minority rule can be upheld largely depends on how far the ruling minority is willing to go to uphold it, how far into authoritarianism they’re willing to venture.
If the ruling minority is willing to keep curtailing the rights of opposing groups, to further restrict their ability to take part in the political process, to mobilize state power and to enable paramilitary/vigilante forms of violence, minority rule can absolutely be sustained.
I agree there is a glass-half-full reading of recent U.S. history and our current moment: The Right is radicalizing out of a sense of weakness, and they are reacting to something real - the country has indeed moved closer to becoming a true, multiracial, pluralistic democracy.
America has the chance to demonstrate that such a true democracy, one in which the individual’s status is not significantly determined by race, religion, gender, sexual or gender orientation, is actually feasible under conditions of multiracial, multi-religious pluralism.
It’s a chance of world-historic significance, as such a democracy has basically never existed anywhere. But we need to acknowledge that as of right now, it is, at best, an open question whether or not this vision of true democracy can overcome the radicalizing forces of reaction.
As of right now, the country is rapidly turning into a dysfunctional pseudo-democratic system nationally – and on the state level will be divided into democracy in one half of the states and authoritarian one-party rule in the other. And that’s far from the worst-case scenario.
Considering the tsunami of red-state legislation rolling back civil rights and entrenching white reaction rule, and the Right’s clearly stated intentions to impose this order on the entire country against majority will, things are only going to get worse in the immediate future.
A few more thoughts, 48 hours after the ruling: America is now divided into a blue part that accepts the country’s changing social, cultural, and demographic realities vs. a white Christian nationalist red part that is led by people entirely devoted to rolling back those changes.
From a liberal, blue-state perspective, it might be tempting to say: Well, let them! Let them ruin those states and turn them fully into reactionary backwaters! But that would be disastrous, and not just for the white Christian nationalists who are assaulting democracy.
Remember that the “blue states vs. red states” narrative too often obscures the fact that America’s political geography is actually mostly shaped by an urban vs. rural divide. What are we telling the people who live in blue urban centers in the midst of red states: Tough luck?
“Well, they’ll have to vote with their feet and move!” I’m sure a lot of young people, especially, will do exactly that. But it leaves those behind who aren’t able to uproot their entire existence – often precisely the people who will suffer most from white reactionary politics.
Always remember that the Right us pursuing a deeply and fundamentally anti-democratic project, imposing the will of a shrinking, radicalizing minority on the majority - and that is true even in most “red” states. We cannot abandon those people. They deserve so much better.
I keep thinking about exactly this: The arc of history – and how too many people in the liberal camp have been invested in a narrative of progress that has acted as a tranquilizer, has allowed them to look at a radicalizing Right and conclude that things will be fine anyway.
No one should be surprised: This ruling constitutes the culmination of half a century of conservative legal activism, and rejecting Roe has been a key element of conservative political identity for decades. Conservatives could not be clearer about what their animating vision is.
And yet, it is also important to point out how unusual this is: The U.S. just joined the very short list of countries that have restricted existing abortion rights since the 1990s – the overall trend internationally certainly has been towards a liberalization of abortion laws.
And it’s also a basically unique development in U.S. history: While the Supreme Court has often upheld and codified a discriminatory status quo, it has never actively and officially abolished what had previously been recognized as a constitutionally guaranteed right.
But the idea that whatever progress has been made could be interpreted as a manifestation of some metaphysical law of history that would inevitably propel us forward is deeply misleading. Progress is possible; some progress has been achieved. But there is no arc. Never was!
I believe the progress narrative so pervasive among liberals - “Yes, there are still problems, but look how much better it’s gotten over the past 60 years or so! Just keep going! We’re getting there!” - is ultimately based on a romanticized understanding of the civil rights era.
The idea, basically, is that America had its breakthrough towards proper liberal democracy in the 1960s, and has been on the path of perfecting that democracy ever since. And yes, America has indeed moved closer to realizing the promise of multiracial, pluralistic democracy.
But not only do we need to let go of this idea that things have always, constantly gotten better since the 60s: Just look at how the wealth gap between Black and white has widened since about 1980, and school segregation has gotten worse since an inflection point the late 1980s.
More importantly, we need to grapple with the fact that there is nothing inevitable about progress, that whatever progress has been achieved always came as a result of struggle and conflict, that the forces of reaction won’t simply come around if only we give them a little time.
In fact, in U.S. history, the price for substantial racial, cultural, and social progress has always been political instability, because demands for racial equality and social justice are inherently destabilizing to a social order that’s always had white men at the top.
We are experiencing another such moment of instability and counter-mobilization – and it could absolutely lead to the forces of reaction triumphing, re-installing and entrenching an anti-democratic order of sustained white patriarchal rule. It has certainly happened before.
The bottom line: America can accept this Court and its rulings as legitimate - or it can have true democracy. But not both. Time to make a choice.

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More from @tzimmer_history

Feb 7
Exactly the same is happening in Germany. Leading figures in the conservative party CDU and conservatives who are generally regarded as part of the center, the vaunted “bürgerliche Mitte,” are pushing hard for a focus on U.S.-style culture wars and anti-“wokeism.” 1/
Here, for instance, is the current leader of Germany’s major conservative party CDU, Friedrich Merz, describing “cancel culture,” which he warns is “now spilling over to Europe” from U.S. universities, as the “biggest threat to free speech.” 2/ Image
Meanwhile, Andreas Rödder, one of Germany’s most prominent historians who also heads the commission tasked with designing a programmatic charter for the CDU’s future, is all in on the idea of making the political conflict all about the “culture wars.” 3/ Image
Read 15 tweets
Feb 6
Since reactionary hacks like Rufo have no other way of approaching the world than to demonize what criticizes white Christian patriarchal domination and preach as dogma what confirms their elite status, they always assume that’s what everyone else is doing too.
Rufo is an opportunistic propagandist. But I think his inability to perceive the college classroom as anything but a liberal indoctrination chamber is real – because that’s exactly what he and his ilk believe education is for: indoctrination.
The basic approach in every functioning college setting is: Question everything, never take anything as gospel – not from any of the readings, not from the professor, not from your peers. Reactionaries find this attitude both unfathomable and utterly terrifying.
Read 11 tweets
Feb 3
What would you say if I told you there was a state in Germany (which also has a federal system in which education is largely in the hands of the sixteen states) that was effectively outlawing the teaching of any critical reading and discussion of Germany’s history and present?
A state that was specifically targeting any teaching that emphasized the central role and legacies of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in modern German history and banned the use of scholarship that looked into continuities of anti-Semitism since the end of World War II?
A German state that tried to suppress all inquiry into structural, systemic anti-Semitic discrimination in Germany today, and tried to purge all traces of such critical thinking from the libraries, the classroom, the syllabi, the school curriculum?
Read 14 tweets
Feb 3
The Murder of Tyre Nichols, the Authoritarian Takeover of Florida Education, and the Case *for* Teaching “CRT”  
 
New episode of @USDemocracyPod: podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/13-…
In this episode: We share our thoughts on the murder of Tyre Nichols, on why we need to grapple with structural, systemic racism and how it produces discriminatory outcomes, and why the lack of accountability for police departments is a democratic crisis.
We then focus on Ron DeSantis’ authoritarian takeover of the education system in Florida: We discuss why the rejection of the AP African American Studies course is emblematic of an escalating assault on public education.
Read 12 tweets
Feb 1
A staunchly illiberal politician is ruthlessly pursuing his authoritarian agenda. Yet what the New York Times wants us to take away from the situation in Florida is that DeSantis is taking on the “establishment” and successfully building “his brand.” nytimes.com/2023/01/31/us/…
It’s not just the headline – the piece is all about DeSantis’ successful political maneuvering and brand-building, and his fight to take on the “establishment.” Words *not* in the article: authoritarian, illiberal/anti-liberal, undemocratic/anti-democratic.
“But this is reporting, not an opinion piece,” you say? Exactly. Reporting should be all about describing a situation as precisely and adequately as possible. “Authoritarian,” “illiberal,” “white nationalist” – those are the most precise descriptors of what DeSantis is doing.
Read 14 tweets
Jan 30
On the Murder of Tyre Nichols
 
Reflections on systemic racism, the question of who gets to be violent in America – and whose responsibility it is to stop the violence.
 
A thread, based on my new Democracy Americana: thomaszimmer.substack.com/p/on-the-murde…
Yet another state-sponsored murder of an unarmed citizen who constituted no threat – but was treated as a threat by the agents of a system that considered Tyre Nichols’ very existence as a Black man, his very being, dangerous. 2/
All the obvious deflections, particularly from the Right, notwithstanding: The problem is systemic. The killing of Tyre Nichols was not an exception. It was the outcome the system is set up to provoke and produce – and therefore keeps producing with shocking regularity. 3/
Read 28 tweets

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