They're not going to require violence next time.
Next time, suburban fascists are not going to need to gas up their private planes and fly to D.C. and descend upon the Capitol. Next time, it will be easy.
The coming Republican coup is going to be executed without a sweat. No one's hands will get bloody. No guns or knives or nooses will be needed, and no will will get hurt. The coup will be above board, done legitimately and with the veneer of legality. The results of an election – whether it's 2024 or 2028 or 2032 – will simply be ignored and overruled.
The Big Lie's Big Bad Faith having taken hold in mainstream Republican circles – more than half of Republicans believe Democrats subverted the 2020 presidential election – Republican lawmakers on the county and state and federal levels now have the necessary excuse to use the mechanics of government to ensure they will not lose the 2024 election, or any subsequent electoral contest. What started as blatant bad-faith politics in the weeks after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election has turned into the guiding light of a powerful and determined movement to end meaningful elections in the US.
That emboldened election deniers are running away with Republican primary elections this summer should be treated as the most alarming political development in modern U.S. history. The success of Trump loyalists who ran on a single issue – that Big Daddy T had reelection stolen from his strong, manly hands – are now one general election win from controlling the levers of power for our next presidential contest. Nothing in at least the past century presents such an existential threat to free and fair elections in the United States. While we fervently wage the culture wars and argue about gay folks in Disney movies or pro athletes who dare speak out against the rising tide of fascism or some conservative history professor who gets fired because he says trans people should be summarily executed, the last remaining guardrails to an actual, real-life coup are falling by the wayside.
Maybe they've already fallen. More than 70 members of Congress who voted to illegally overturn the 2020 presidential election have advanced to the general election, according to a recent New York Times analysis. The pieces are in place for the end of a democratically-elected U.S. government.
“We are in a dangerous place at the moment,” Ben Berwick, the counsel for Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group dedicated to resisting authoritarianism, told The New York Times this week after primary victories for deranged Republican candidates like Jim Marchant, a far-right lawmaker from Nevada who, as secretary of state, would deny Nevada's electoral votes to a Democratic nominee. “There is a substantial faction in this country that has come to the point where they have rejected the premise that when we have elections, the losers of the elections acknowledge the right of the winner to govern.”
The 2020 election and its hideous aftermath were always going to be a practice run for Republicans. Blind with fury and a lust for power, they poked around for the soft spots in the election system. Can we create an "alternate" slate of electors who could do the right thing and keep Trump in office? Can we toss out millions of votes in cities that vote overwhelmingly for Democrats? Can we threaten the vice president's life until his defecates in his trousers and refuses to certify a free and fair election in which our guy was thumped? The answer to all of these questions turned out to be no, so they unleashed their rabid stormtroopers – a cable tethered from social media straight into their pulsating lizard brains – to murder congressional dissenters as a last resort.
It was all for practice. If it worked, fine. Great, in fact. Trump could stay in office and appoint his successor (one of his children, perhaps) or convince Republicans to let him run for a third term under the guise of a national emergency (teenagers reading books written by LGBTQ authors, perhaps, or maybe starving women and children asking to cross the southern border). The coup failed, however, but the villains were taking notes. The main resistance to an overthrow of the American government came from what a fascist might call squishy Republican elections officials who had not signed up to serve as a crucial cog in a coup. Trump and his loyalists tried their best to bully these officials – mainline Republicans like Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia – into doing the bidding of the party's post-democratic order. Raffensperger and his ilk did not break despite a flood of threats against elections officials and their families. For his efforts, Raffensperger recently won his GOP primary against a monstrous opponent – a sliver of hope in these dark, bad faith times.
More than one-third of elections officials in the US say they fear for their safety in the post-2020 political landscape, in which a fully radicalized conservative movement is ready and willing to kill if that's what it takes to achieve their political aims. Veteran elections officials – most of them nonpartisan, simply doing their jobs – are retiring in droves to avoid the violence of the Trumpist right. Nearly 50 elections administrators in Wisconsin, a key battleground state, have left their jobs due to a torrent of threats over the past 18 months. Dozens of officials in Michigan have checked out in fear of the radicalized American right wing. It's not just the suburban goose steppers who pose a threat to these administrators: Republican-held state legislatures have passed laws threatening to fine or imprison elections officials if they don't follow Republican marching orders in future elections. These legislators have all but said to the frothing MAGA freaks among us: Go get 'em.
When good people operating is good faith are driven out of public life, a vacuum forms. And vacuums were made to be filled, in this case by the country's most vicious, amoral, awful people bent on political and cultural domination. We're months away from key election administrator positions being filled by conservatives committed to an illiberal project: The unraveling of a multicultural democracy and the creation of an authoritarian regime that will not recognize opposition, but rather crush it with the power of government. This unraveling starts with the rote and often boring job of administering a free election. Evil, after all, is often banal, mundane.
Republicans have decided they are done feigning respect for such positions, which served to block their coup in January 2021.
The New Face Of The Anti-Democracy American Right
A frightening aspect of the latest incarnation of the radicalized American conservative is the secular nature of the post-Trump presidency MAGA movement. We've long anticipated – even expected – that the far right's religious whack jobs will wage a holy war against democratic norms. They've done so for decades. These are folks who believe they're doing God's will every time they take a shit. The religious right knows what God wants and will give it to him; thankfully, what God wants aligns perfectly with the religious right's political goals: Crushing the rights of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, punishing the poor, and replacing democracy with theocracy, all while obsessing over (white) birthrates. They have no time or interest in manmade "democratic" infrastructure. Their god is an authoritarian who does not recognize electoral results. Praise be.
That was the face of the anti-democracy right during the Clinton administration, the George W. Bush years, and the early part of the Obama presidency. A series of political and economic catastrophes and a heavy dose of illiberal propaganda in conservative media (the nation's most popular media) has molded a new kind of right-wing enemy of democracy, one that probably won't cite God as their master, but the game-show-host-turned-president. They've moved beyond pretending to care about the Almighty.
An American conservatism powered and guided by Christianity had largely prevented the far right from understanding that our culture wars were in fact class wars. It was impossible to pitch the Middle American vs. Overreaching Feds story when the movement was centered on hard-right Christian teachings. This religious tenor of a previous generation of conservative leaders outwardly hostile to democratic norms had an alienating effect that kept the base of anti-democratic Americans small, if not animated and influential. The Trump-era slide into a more secular opposition to democracy has widened that base exponentially, helped along by Fox News and other poisonous media outlets bent on ending free elections in the US. It's no longer just churchgoing, politically-engaged radicals who want to overthrow the government. It's fully half of those who identify as Republicans. Your uncle who only goes to church on Easter is radicalized. Your sibling who haughtily mocks religion as an opiate for the masses is radicalized. These folks are now in the anti-democratic fold.
Nate Hochman, a right-wing writer and theorist, recently wrote in The New York Times that the conservative project is no longer an explicitly Christian one, as it has been since the right set out to undo the New Deal in the 1960s. Hochman cited political writer and sociology professor Don Warren, who in 1976 wrote The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation, a book that foretold a future of U.S. politics in which radicalized suburbanites would turn to unapologetic (white) nationalism as the cure for the disease of multiculturalism.
The right’s new culture war represents the worldview of people the sociologist Donald Warren called “Middle American radicals,” or M.A.Rs. This demographic, which makes up the heart of Mr. Trump’s electoral base, is composed primarily of non-college-educated middle- and lower-middle-class white people, and it is characterized by a populist hostility to elite pieties that often converges with the old social conservatism. But M.A.Rs do not share the same religious moral commitments as their devoutly Christian counterparts, both in their political views and in their lifestyles….
These voters are more nationalistic and less amenable to multiculturalism than their religious peers, and they profess a skepticism of the cosmopolitan open-society arguments for free trade and mass immigration that have been made by neoliberals and neoconservatives alike. “M.A.Rs feel they are members of an exploited class — excluded from real political representation, harmed by conventional tax and trade policies, victimized by crime and social deviance and denigrated by popular culture and elite institutions,” Matthew Rose wrote in “First Things.” They “unapologetically place citizens over foreigners, majorities over minorities, the native-born over recent immigrants, the normal over the transgressive and fidelity to a homeland over cosmopolitan ideals.”
The worst part about this more secular version of anti-democracy conservatism: It's working. Polling shows laws like Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law are popular across racial and socioeconomic lines. The right's abandonment of explicitly religious messaging has made their views easier to swallow for groups that would usually reflexively oppose them. This became nightmarishly clear in 2020, when Biden bled Latino voters to Trump compared to the 2016 election.
Hochman hinted that policies designed to attack the heart of a multicultural democratic society are short circuiting the idea – stupidly touted by centrists since the 90s – that the nation's shifting demographics would inevitably create a dominant Democratic Party that would serve as caretaker to the empire while powerless Republicans flailed and raged with all the impotence in the world, relegated to the dark corners of Congress and state legislatures. Demographics, it turns out, are not destiny.
The upshot is that this new politics has the capacity to dramatically expand the Republican tent. It appeals to a wide range of Americans, many of whom had been put off by the old conservatism’s explicitly religious sheen and don’t quite see themselves as Republicans yet. As the terms of the culture war shift, Barack Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant” — the mix of millennials, racial minorities and college-educated white voters whose collective electoral power was supposed to establish a sustainable progressive majority — is fraying, undermining the decades-long conventional wisdom that America’s increasing racial diversity would inevitably push the country left.
Republican Have Stolen Elections For Decades
I won't harp on the stolen 2000 presidential election because I've done that ad nauseam.
Making peace with denying the legitimate outcomes of legitimate elections isn't exactly new in far-right circles. The American right has long leveraged the power of government to dilute and undermine democracy, creating a political system that is no longer responsive to its constituencies – a phenomenon that further erodes trust in elections and drives people into the arms of authoritarians who promise they have the answers to the people's problems.
Nearly every state in which Republican took control in the 2010 midterms was gerrymandered beyond recognition. Algorithmically carving ludicrous districts ensured Republicans would either maintain power forever, or Democrats would need massive wave elections to inch out a small majority that probably couldn't pass transformative legislation.
Take Wisconsin, the epicenter of anti-democratic fervor in the US.
In 2018, eight years after Republicans swept to power and quickly crushed labor unions across the state, Democratic candidates for state legislative seats won 54 percent of the vote. Republicans took 44 percent and kept their massive majority – one that watered down gubernatorial powers when it became clear that Democrat Tony Evers would beat out incumbent Governor Scott Walker.
This is all inherently undemocratic. Laser-guided gerrymanders and changes to executive powers – making sure Democrats can't govern even when they win – is in direct opposition to what a democratically elected government should be. Republicans in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) have taken an explicitly bad faith approach to democratic politics. Sure, you might beat us once in a while, they say, but you can never win.
A Peaceful Coup
What would a bloodless coup look like? Maybe you wake up one morning a few days or a few weeks before the certification of a presidential election and you read that electors from key states like Arizona and Georgia and Michigan and Pennsylvania have been told to stand down in favor of Trump loyalists who will case their votes for Trump – or whoever the Republican candidate is – even though the people of their state had narrowly voted for the Democratic nominee.
Maybe the results of these sham electors' votes receive no opposition in a Congress filled to the brim with 2020 election deniers who have waited patiently for their chance to try out the peaceful coup. Maybe some congressional Democrats rage at the injustice of a stolen election, and maybe they're dragged out of the Capitol, and maybe progressive groups sue in hopes that the Supreme Court will intervene. The Court, of course, will not get involved; the bad-faith justices will say something like "this is a legislative matter with which we have no involvement."
And the coup will happen and we will be governed by an illegitimate administration that will not, under any circumstances, give up power. There may be mass resignations in the Justice Department and certain parts of the military, but who cares? Those people can be replaced with folks loyal to the cause. Today these people are waiting in the wings, ready to replace federal bureaucrats who are not willing to do the hard work of autocracy.
It will just happen. Life will go on, seemingly normal. The dispatched Democrats will seethe for months and years and do nothing of substance. They'll write books and go on CNN and whine about unfairness. Any federal court ruling against the coup will be quickly quashed by the right-wing activists sitting on the Supreme Court. You'll still watch the game. You'll still find a new show on Netflix. You'll still mow the lawn and get the mail and take out the trash. The kids will still go to school. You'll still work.
Centrist liberals will finally stop telling folks to simply vote harder, to vote Blue No Matter Who. Voting will no longer matter, and we will be plunged into a darkness with no end. Protests will be toothless and put down with force.
Violence will be the only recourse for those who cannot abide. After the peaceful coup, violence will replace politics. There will be a violent peace.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter @CDCarter13 for maximum alienation.