As I wander through empty suites and pace the corridors of the unused floors of the hotel I call home, I reflect on the uselessness of predictions. Am I really, for my first DailyKos diary, going to write about possible futures for the Republican Party? Yes. Isn’t it pretentious to think my analysis is good enough to share? Probably, but one only gets better with practice. Should I be worried about making a fool of myself? No. One, I do it all the time; two, no one reads diaries from n00bs.
We’ve all seen the fascism checklists that people have applied to the GOP to say, Yep, that’s fascist. Trouble is, those lists aren’t all that useful—fascism is protean and polymorphic, with no core philosophic texts or principal authors, and becomes what it needs to become in order to grow in its culture. But to paraphrase Potter Stewart, we know it when we see it. One is not a fascist in the way one can be a Marxist or a liberal or a conservative. One becomes a fascist by doing fascism.
Right now, the Republican Party is doing fascism. What this means for the country depends on how Americans respond to it.
Democratic paralysis and media indifference make possible the grim future of GOP triumph. While there are fewer conservative Democrats than ever before, the thin majorities in Congress give them outsized power. If they join with Republicans (for example, in defending the Senate’s filibuster rule), they can block the implementation of popular policies. When political media reports on these issues, it is, more often than not, something like Congress fails to pass X, rather than Republicans block X.
So nothing is done about voter suppression. Republicans regain control of Congress. With Congress blocking every Democratic initiative, the domestic economy deteriorates, and with a media disinclined to name the real villains, Biden gets the blame. In another presidential election with two unpopular candidates, the GOP can win.
If they do, I think America’s future resembles that of 20th-century South Africa. In the 1948 election, the United Party defeated the conservative National Party by eleven points, but because of the way electoral districts were drawn, the National Party won control of the government. Once the National Party was in power, it continued to rely on these gerrymandered districts to remain in power. In the next election, the National Party won only forty-nine percent of the vote, but obtained nearly sixty percent of the seats—very much like what has happened recently in a couple of U.S. states. Afterward, the National Party reformed election law to disenfranchise more voters, making it even easier for them to hold onto power. The National Party remained in control of South Africa for over forty years, only surrendering power after decades of increasing internal resistance and international condemnation.
If the Republicans win the elections of 2022 and 2024, it is entirely possible they will take America in this direction. Republican control will create decades of human misery both within and beyond America’s borders, especially as climate change worsens.
On the other hand, given how far the Republican Party has moved from the political center of the United States, it is possible that Trump represents their high-water mark. Trump’s popularity fell nearly six points in the immediate aftermath of the January 6th insurrection. Given how tightly the GOP clings to Trump, his unpopularity could easily become theirs. After all, the only thing they have to sell is Used Trumpism, which most Americans don’t find appealing.
Imagine if, when November 2022 rolls around, the public at large is satisfied with Democratic governance and revolted by Republican outrages. Democrats hold their House seats and pick up a Senate seat or two. In 2024, voters reward Biden with a second term, maybe even with Florida, Georgia, and Texas in play. Democrats pick up twenty-five or thirty House seats and another Senate seat. But, as in 2020, the Republican Party refuses to respond to its defeats with a move to the center, continuing its ongoing attempts to find more fringe voters. The Party shrinks.
In the 19th century a few American political parties appeared and disappeared. If the GOP follows the path of the Federalists or the Whigs, it is likely to become a regional party, concentrated roughly in the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain states, and in the middle states of the Old Confederacy. The map will still be very red in presidential and Senate elections. The Party will still be able to win twenty states, sometimes more, but they will only be able to rely on low-population states.
In this future, a quarter-century from now the Republican Party still commands forty-something Senate seats, but they are down to fewer than a hundred seats in the House. America has still arrived at what is essentially a single-party system, although under a big-tent Democratic Party. This version of the Democratic Party, though, will have a revitalized conservative wing—conservatives who aspire to a political career won’t have anywhere else to go—which will dilute the power of the party’s left and moderate factions right when the challenges of global warming, ecological collapse, and resource depletion will require radical solutions. This is not good for America, and not good for the planet.
An ordinary right-leaning party argues against the Left’s efforts to improve the human condition by claiming that things are already as good as they can get, so why tamper with perfection? Where injustice exists, it is simply a feature of the natural order of things, and it’s wrong to go against the natural order. In contrast, the Trumpist Republican Party considers the United States hopelessly corrupt. This is the worldview voiced by Glenn Ellmers in a recent article in the conservative Claremont Institute’s magazine, The American Mind.
Two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to run again in 2024. That means one-third don’t. A handful of conservatives (Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, et al) really don’t like all the QAnons tracking mud through their palaces and would love to take the Party back from them. In this future, as the Republican Party suffers one defeat after another, discontent within the Party builds up. At some point, conservatives have enough power to move against the reactionaries who dominate the Party. They might even split off from the GOP to form a third party dedicated to traditional conservatism.
A rump party with a cohesive core might become viable as it attracts ideological fellow-travellers. This worked in the 1850s when most of the Whig Party fell away, leaving a core around which the then-new Republican Party could form. Trumpists and conservatives would compete for votes on the Right. In recent U.S. history, third parties are good only for throwing an election to whichever party can remain unified, so in this future, while conservatives fight, Democrats can win without ever having to appeal to conservatives.
To me this is the ideal outcome. A Democratic Party with an agenda set by a progressive and a moderate faction working together, with a conservative faction too small to do damage, can make real progress in improving the human condition. Like the New Deal era it would probably last only a couple of decades, but a lot of good could be done in that time.
The actual future is not going to be as cut-and-dried as any of these possibilities, but in the end, the future doesn’t happen. We make it. Our part in this is activism and mobilization. The point of elections is to put in office people who can be persuaded to adopt their constituents’ positions. Republicans cannot be persuaded, so we must elect more Democrats, and better Democrats. We have 16 months in which to persuade Democrats to do popular things, and to remind people of what the Trumpists did last time they were in power.
We also have to welcome all available partners into an anti-fascist popular front. The Left, liberals, centrists, and conservatives—we can’t compete with each other if the Trumpists come along and marginalize all of us. Deal with them first, and then we can get back to our quarrels.
And while elections aren’t the final goal (getting good policy enacted is the goal), we need to get people ready to vote. Every state can have a Stacy Abrams mobilizing voters. If you can’t find one, be one—start getting friends and neighbors registered to vote. Let people in Republican-dominated states know how their governments are trying to take away their rights. Get them mad.
But I think I’ve pontificated enough for now. Probably too much for a first post, but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and just have to vent from time to time. If you’ve read this far, thank you for your kind attention. <3
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