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Date: 2024-05-21 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00023398

The GOP Wants a Totalitarian-Fascist America. The Midterms Will Decide if They Get One. The Midterms Are American Democracy’s Penultimate Chance

Trump speaking at a rally earlier this year. Image Credit: Mario Tama

Original article:
Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
The GOP Wants a Totalitarian-Fascist America. The Midterms Will Decide if They Get One.

The Midterms Are American Democracy’s Penultimate Chance

Written by Umair Haque

October 9th, 2022

It’s time to use a word that doesn’t get used often. Penultimate. Know what it means? It’s OK if you don’t, I didn’t for a long time. It means the second-to-last chance. And the subtext is interesting too — it conveys a sense of rising pressure, urgency, of accelerating stress on a person or system. Penultimate doesn’t just mean “No problem! Just go ahead and wait for the last chance!” It means: “You’d better take this one, because the odds are getting slimmer every time, and they’re disappearing before your eyes. You really don’t want it to come down to the last chance, because then, well, the chances aren’t very good.”

Why do I use this strange and funny word? Well, because — you should know by now.

The midterms are American democracy’s penultimate chance. Not just American democracy — but more than that, in fact: America’s chances at becoming a modern society, any vaguely sensible notion of freedom, progress towards a better future, a functioning economy, a culture not dominated by hate, spite, and fanatical lunacy.

This is America’s next-to-last chance. And just like the subtext of penultimate means — nobody sensible should want to leave it to taking the last one, which is the next Presidential election, because by then, well the odds are going to be slender to none. Let’s take things one by one.

America’s lucky to have this chance. Very, very lucky indeed. Remember the events of Jan 6th? It’s not that they’ve been forgotten — but their larger meaning has. American democracy came within millimeters — not yards — of dying that day. What the Jan 6th committee has described as a “sophisticated, multi-part plan” had a point — to kill democracy, stop it dead in its tracks. And it almost succeeded.

If Trump had marched down Pennsylvania Ave like we now know he wanted to do — allegedly grabbing the steering wheel from his own security detail and trying to crash the car — leading groups of, as we also know now, armed militants…to the Capitol…where the plan was to stop the vote count by any means necessary, right down to invading the Chamber and executing the Vice President and leader of the opposition…what would’ve likely happened next would’ve been chillingly obvious. The vote count would have stopped. Trump, remaining de facto President, would’ve attempted to declare martial law — that too, we know now, was part of the plan the Jan 6th Committee revealed. And that way — through the violent disruption of the peaceful transfer of power — democracy would have come to a halt.

It would’ve been left to the military to attempt to undo all that — a rogue President, surrounded by militants and fanatics, who was clinging to power. Not a good place for a country to be. Not exactly a task that a military carries out under any circumstance but very, very reluctantly.

Let me put that more plainly. The coup came within seconds of succeeding. We know now that the militants descending on the Capitol really were looking to do very serious and real violence. They came within yards of figures like the Vice President and opposition leaders and members. If they’d found them? Who knows. It was a brave handful of Capitol Police officers who — wisely — directed the militants away, and managed to prevent further bloodshed, and many of them paid with their lives. That’s how close American democracy came to dying. It owes figures like Eugene Goodman a greater debt than it fully recognizes yet.

This point isn’t widely understood yet, not nearly enough — that American democracy almost did die on Jan 6th. Let’s keep going, with more context.

What was Jan 6th? “A” coup? That’s the wrong way to see it. It was the culmination of a series of coup attempts. Attempts to finish off a democracy follow a predictable, repeating, regular pattern, well documented by now in failing states. First come the soft coups, and when those don’t work, finally, hard coups are attempted. At every step of the way, the fanatics double down. And that’s precisely what we saw in the months leading up to Jan 6th — first, absurd court challenges about “voter fraud” which were unceremoniously tossed out, then attempts at pressuring figures who certify vote counts, and when that didn’t work, attempts at overtly manipulating the electoral college with slates of fake electors.

And finally, when all that didn’t work — only one option was left. Hard coup. The brutality of Jan 6th. Blood on the steps of the Capitol, profaning that great symbol of democracy. At every step of the way: doubling down.

America didn’t just escape “a coup” on Jan 6th — Jan 6th was the culmination of a series of coup attempts, escalating out of control, aimed squarely at ending democracy for good. And America escaped all that by the skin of its teeth — it came within inches and second of “it” really “happening here.”

Now. Why am I reminding you of all this? For a very, very simple reason. Nations don’t usually get second chances. Usually, when fanatics attempt the sequence of coups described above — escalating from soft to hard — eventually, they succeed. And after they succeed, democracy’s done for good, meaning for at least a generation, if not more. What almost never happens is what happened on Jan 6th — the final culmination of the destruction of democracy is stopped at the last inch, at the last second, by a small handful of brave people, who manage to fend off the lunatics and militants, and shuttle leaders to safety, so that democracy survives another day. Almost never happens.

America got lucky on Jan 6th. Perhaps it’s uncharitable to describe it that way — I don’t mean to take credit away from the officers who prevented absolute catastrophe. What I mean is that things got that bad — and there was no plan. Nobody quite knew what to do, and those officers took it upon themselves to do what they had to. But institutionally? Organizationally? Socioculturally? America failed, and failed badly that day. It’s not as if helicopters roared in to stop the militants — where were they? Trump’s own people stopped him marching down Pennsylvania Ave — not institutions of democracy.

What do the GOP hope to do if they take power again? It’s not like they’re hiding it. The GOP’s plan boils down to this: Jan 6th, all over again, only over and over again, in every state. As a party, it’s systematically putting forth candidates for office who don’t believe in democracy. To the point that they openly make a point of saying things like they’ll back fake slates of electors and refuse to certify votes that don’t go their way.

See the pattern? Remember the pattern leading up to Jan 6th: soft coups become hard coups, escalating every step of the way. First, the legal challenges, then the procedural ones — trying to pressure figures who count and certify votes — then finally, fake slates of electors. Sound familiar? It should be, because it turns that the events leading up to Jan 6th are now the GOP’s entire plan for America.

They don’t have a plan for anything else, by the way. Economy? Forget it. Social problems? Nope, just…build that wall. Cultural challenges? Just scapegoat women and gay people! There are actual problems in American society, lots of them, big ones — a working and middle class who’ve collapsed and live at the edge, the death of the dream, downward mobility, going on five generation living more unstable and precarious lives than their parents, widespread poverty, norms of indifference and cruelty, because when life is such a struggle, just looking out for your own is hard enough. That’s a lot of problems — and the GOP has literally no agenda to deal with any of them.

All it has a plan for is three things. One, taking power, in an authoritarian way — repeating Jan 6th, in every state, if need be. Two, using authoritarian power to build a neo-fascist state, in which rights don’t really exist, basic freedoms are taken away, and everything is centered around the policing of purity of blood and piety of faith. And to do that, three, the construction of a totalitarian society, in which everyone’s last thought, action, relationship, interaction, right down to intimacy, is controlled. Sorry, you can’t say that word — it’s banned. Oh, you said what to a woman? Now you’re a criminal, too — you were “aiding and abetting” her. Got a gay kid? Hold on while we investigate you.

That’s where it ends, and you can take it from survivors and scholars of authoritarianism like me that it’s the real deal — because all of us agree emphatically on that much. And you hardly have to be one of us to get it, because by now, the GOP’s proven that their only agenda, purpose, mission, the only thing they care about is the trifecta of authoritarianism-fascism-totalitarianism. Not a joke, not an overstatement. See the end of Roe — and how Red States are passing laws to crack down on the speech, movement, privacy, expression, every last form of basic freedom, for everyone, beginning with kids and women, and moving swiftly on to gays, and from there, it only builds momentum, reaching into everyone’s bedroom, living room, bookshelf, shutting their mouths and clamping their lips. The GOP only now has one project left, and it’s obsessed by it: the one of building a totalitarian society of and for the pure and true. Game over for democracy.

Now let’s go back to the pattern. The way that GOP’s lining up soft coup attempts — this time, not a handful, but a blizzard of them, across states, to thwart the basic mechanisms of democracy like the peaceful transfer of power — that’s clear as day to see. But so is how those get turned into hard coups, too. What’s everyone’s favorite Fuhrer been up to lately? Why, he’s been out there sending death threats to senior figures in his own party who aren’t loyal enough to him. Who else but a badly acted mafia don says things like, “Wow, he must have a death wish”? LOL. Trump isn’t exactly known for his subtlety — but see the larger pattern at work here. Just as the soft coup attempts are already being set up — so is the call to brutality and violence in case they don’t work.

That’s where America really is. The midterms are its penultimate chance. And the last chance? It’s going to be a far, far more dicey, because things will be that much worse, if it comes down to having to take it. Lose the midterms, and the lunatics that the GOP has become will control enough levers of power that the dozens of Jan 6ths they’ve got planned for the next Presidential election — one in each state, over and over again, until democracy finally, hammered by blows, falls — are that much more powerful. The hammers it’s already aiming at democracy’s foundations become sledgehammers if the GOP takes power in the midterms.

That’s what’s really at stake. Not just the rest of Biden’s agenda, not just minor-league politics as usual: none of that’s really the issue here.

What is? This is American democracy’s penultimate chance — and the question is whether enough Americans, of the sane and sensible kind, get it, understand it, are really moved by this understanding…to get out there, vote like they never have before, and take it.

Umair October 2022

The text being discussed is available at

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