It’s time to Break It Down!
On Tuesday of last week, the New York Times (NYT) published a David Leonhardt opinion asserting that the Anti-Democracy Movement is bigger than Donald Trump. Indeed, he points out that on February 24, 2016, someone registered the website http://www.stopthesteal.org. Mr. Leonhardt suggests it may have been Roger Stone, who in 2016 was advising Trump’s campaign, and appears to have coined the now infamous phrase, “Stop the Steal.” Indeed, the time frame was during Trump’s primary campaign, and four years before Trump would get around to accusing Joe Biden of election fraud.
As it were, when the phrase was concocted, it wasn’t aimed at a Democrat at all. Rather, the target individual was Ted Cruz, who, at the time, happened to be Trump’s closest competitor for the Republican nomination. After Cruz defeated the field, winning the Colorado caucuses in April 2016, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered in Denver, at the State Capitol and chanted, “Stop the Steal.” Contemporaneously, the website posted baseless allegations claiming fraud in other states.
This quick history note is lifted from Charles Homans’s latest revelatory story, recently published by the Times Magazine. It focuses on the anti-democracy movement within the Republican Party, and makes as a central point, that the movement to create doubt about elections is both older than many people realize, and larger than Donald Trump.
Mr. Homans writes, “What is striking about the movement around the supposed theft of the 2020 election, is how much of it — the ideas, and rhetoric, even the people involved in it — predate Trump’s presidency, and in some cases, even his candidacy.” Moreover, as the movement continues today, it is based less on the narrow goal of restoring Trump to power, although there is still an element of that, and more on a missionary zeal to put rightwing candidates in office. This, of course, is accompanied by the ancillary benefit of install right wing judges and associated political operatives.
GOP candidates running campaigns this year, including the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania and the nominees for secretary of state (the job overseeing elections) in several other states, do not talk about Trump so often. Conversely, they cast themselves as part of a larger crusade to preserve traditional American, Christian, and conservative values. As Humans expounds, they “see themselves as an American people distinct from the American population — a people whose particular loyalties, identities, and values designated them as the true inheritors of the nation, regardless of what the ballots might have said.
On White Nationalism
Mr. Homans and Mr. Leonhardt spent some time discussing why this anti-democratic movement has become such a dominant force within the Republican Party now. Conspiracy theories have a long and significant history in American politics. But they have traditionally remained on the fringes, of both the right and the left. For example, the John Birch Society of the mid-20th century spread some of the same/similar ideas as today’s right-wing conspiracists. yet few Birchers won statewide or federal office.
What has changed? While there is no single answer, there are a few plausible explanations.
One is that many conservatives — especially White conservatives — feel more threatened than in past decades. They worry they are part of a fading minority. Mr. Homans documents the Stop the Steal movement has strong roots in the Tea Party movement, which began early in Barack Obama’s presidency, and frequently portrayed him as illegitimate and un-American.
President Obama, becoming the first Black president, was a clear sign that the country had become more racially diverse, and seemed destined to become even more so. It also happened as the country was questioning traditional ideas gender and sexuality, and becoming more secular, with religious observance declining.
Mr. Homans interviewed a supporter of Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, after a rally and asked her what she expected if Mastriano won. “I see him stepping in and going back to the Constitution — putting God back in things. He’s about bringing everything back. Everything back.”
Still, this racial and cultural reactionary response is almost certainly not the full story. After all, the U.S. has experienced more intense periods of debate over racial and gender issues — like in the 1960’s — without giving rise to a large anti-democracy movement. Today, several other factors also seem to be in play.
Four more reasons
One is the underlying level of frustration among Americans after decades of slow-growing living standards for most people. A financial crisis, which began shortly before Obama’s election, and the slow recovery from it exacerbated the dissatisfaction.
The pandemic, undoubtedly, is a mother factor. COVID-19 disrupted daily life and caused a further deterioration in many measures of physical and mental health, fostering a sense that society is coming apart.
A tertiary factor is contemporary media. Falsehoods can spread more quickly and be repeated more frequently, via the internet, than for example, the Birchers’ claim that Dwight Eisenhower was a secret communist. Simultaneously, Fox News broadcasts conspiracies to millions of viewers.
Finally, even though Trump’s role may be exaggerated, it is often central. In the past, national leaders tended to reject the conspiracies; in 2008, John McCain famously corrected on of his own supporters who called Obama an Arab. Trump, by contrast, not only pushed the birther conspiracy during Obama’s presidency, but he also declined to push back against his supporters employing it, even though he was forced to make an admission in the 11th hour of his 2016 campaign, that President Obama was American. Furthermore, Mr. Trump proved lies as no other modern U.S. politician has, making them acceptable to people who otherwise might have rejected them. After he ascended to the presidency, using the tactic, many other GOP politicians opted to echo his strategy, or at the very least, refused to denounce him.
That’s the story of how the anti-democracy movement moved to the center of the Grand Old Party. For now, it still revolves around Trump. Sadly, by all appearances, it has the potential to outlast him. “The Movement to Dethrone Democracy: An Idea Capitalized Upon, But Not Created By Trump!”
I’m done; holla back!
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