Halfway to Fascism
Government of the people, by the people, for the people, perishing from the earth.
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, where, four months earlier, the Union army had prevailed in one of the bloodiest and most significant battles of the Civil War. At Gettysburg, Lee’s ill-fated invasion of the North was repulsed, once and for all. At Gettysburg, the tide turned.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us,” Lincoln said that chilly autumn day, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
In 1863, the government of the United States was far from the democratic utopia that Lincoln suggested. But in the 16 decades that followed, the nation has made enormous strides toward achieving the lofty goal so elegantly articulated in the Gettysburg Address. While progress has been frustratingly, shamefully slow, each succeeding decade brought us a little closer to “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
No longer. The Lincolnian goal of true democracy is receding. What was almost in our grasp may be lost and gone forever. Today, 158-plus years after Gettysburg, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is on its deathbed—mortally wounded, ironically, by members of the political party Lincoln helped establish.
The United States is already halfway to fascism, but the descent has been so gradual—and the media has been so ineffectual in recognizing it, and so complicit in not calling it out—that we don’t even realize it.
Democracy has been on the wane in the United States at least since 2000, when popular election loser George W. Bush was installed as president by the Supreme Court—five robed Republicans thwarting the will of 51 million people. Back then, the fascists in our midst at least had the common decency to hide who they were. Now, everything is done in the open. The enemies of democracy are loud and proud.
One of our two political parties has been subverted. The GOP is no longer the Party of Lincoln—or TR, or Eisenhower, or Nixon, or even Reagan and the Bushes—but an anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian outfit. If this was not already nakedly obvious, it became undeniable last week, when Mitch McConnell cockblocked the voting rights bill—something most Americans do want, and all Americans should want—without deigning to explain why.
The reason is simple: They don’t want us to vote. High turnout is ballot-box death for the GOP. The more voters, the fewer votes for Republican candidates. Even Trump recognized it. “They had things [in the voting rights bill],” he said last year, “levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
By “levels of voting,” Trump meant percentage of eligible voters doing their civic duty. The Republican President of the United States was saying, in no uncertain terms, that his party didn’t want everyone to vote. Not only that, but that they would use their political might to ensure that outcome.
I’m going to keep saying this, because it goes against everything we as Americans are supposed to stand for: They don’t want us to vote. They want minority rule. And they want to be the minority that rules. The GOP is trying to destroy democracy, full stop. They want a strongman to rule over the country, as a strongman rules over their party.
Republicans have already been stymying democracy from properly functioning. Even in the run-up to the Civil War, members of Congress were able to compromise to pass legislation, because both parties wanted the government to work. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans do not. Since the Obama Administration, Congressional Republicans have adopted a tactic of near-constant obstruction. That’s what the nonsensical filibuster rule is all about.
The GOP generates no initiatives, implements nothing novel, stands for nothing. All it does is oppose, cynically, whatever the Democrats are trying to accomplish, regardless of whether or not it will help the American people. And if those Democratic initiatives somehow pass, and prove popular among their constituents, Republicans shamelessly take credit for it:
Functionally, the Republican Party has just two policy positions. First, and most important: help the grotesquely rich get grotesquely richer. That comes in the form of tax cuts, deregulation of industries, starving the IRS, pardoning criminal cronies, waiving sanctions, propping up corrupt regimes abroad, and so on.
The second GOP policy can be summed up in three words: “Fuck you, die.”
This is not an exaggeration.
Under the negligent leadership of Donald Trump, the White House intentionally sabotaged the pandemic response, in the hopes that a covid-19 deathwave could be blamed on Blue State governors. Trump, White House Coronavirus Task Force chair Mike Pence, and presidential advisor Jared Kushner sacrificed American lives to score political points (and exploit the crisis for monetary gain). As I’ve explained before on these pages, and as Katherine Eban reported in July of 2020 at Vanity Fair, it was a Blue State Genocide. They literally wanted us dead.
It didn’t stop here. That a third of the country is virulently anti-vax and anti-mask is the direct result of Trump, the Republican party, and the rightwing media politicizing the pandemic. Republican governors like Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and now Glenn Younkin have adopted this strategy, literally playing politics with people’s lives. As media critic Eric Boehlert put it, “spreading covid is now [the] GOP’s top priority.”
What Republicans hoped for, as Trump left office, was that skyrocketing covid-19 death numbers—exacerbated by their own anti-vax messaging—would reflect badly on President Biden. Verily, this has come to pass. The “both sides” media has pilloried the President for not stopping the pandemic, without bothering to note that all he can do is bring the anti-vax horses to water. It’s not Joe Biden’s fault that the pandemic rages on; it’s the fault of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott and Joe Rogan and Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones and Kyrie Irving and Aaron Rodgers and Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Sarah Palin and all of those “covid is a hoax” radio hosts who died on ventilators in the hospital. It’s the fault of Mike Pence and Jared Fucking Kushner, both of whom have avoided any consequences for their role in killing more Americans than died in the Civil War.
Again, I’m not exaggerating: more Americans died of covid-19 over the last two days than lost their lives in two days of fighting at Gettysburg in 1863.
And who suffers the most from the GOP’s coronavirus nihilism? Republican voters, who are much more likely to be unvaccinated, and therefore much more likely to die. It is a grim calculus, and it is what fascists do to consolidate power.
“Fuck you, die” is also the GOP’s position on abortion. The erosion of Roe v. Wade in fascist-trending states like Texas and Mississippi guarantees that more women—and minority women in particular—will suffer and die. Similarly, Republican opposition to universal healthcare boils down to “Fuck you, die.” Indeed, I can’t think of a single GOP policy position that doesn’t make life more perilous for the non-mega-wealthy among us. Republican talking heads rile up the base with idiotic frivolities—unsexy M&Ms, panda sex, the Fox News Christmas tree, the War on Christmas, and so on—while their gajillionaire whoremasters add yet more booty to their hoards. The average Republican voter, meanwhile, is shit out of luck. “Fuck you, die” has won the day.
Republicans are also hunky-dory with the insurrection. Oh, they mostly told the truth in the immediate aftermath, but since then, they have walked back their statements, minimizing the besieging of the Capitol, thwarting the January 6 Committee, and suggesting that the investigation into the worst attack on our democracy since Booth shot Lincoln is akin to one of their bullshit Congressional investigations. (They also failed to impeach Trump that second time, thus ensuring his iron-fisted rule over the GOP would continue). Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said on Fox “News” that if Republicans re-take the House, Representatives on the January 6 Select Committee will be sent to prison—a fascist-style threat:
This is the GOP saying “Fuck you, die” to our democracy.
If that isn’t bad enough, a key supporter of the “Stop the Steal” rally, and an apparent insurrection sympathizer, is the wife of one of our nine Supreme Court Justices—the odious Clarence Thomas. Already tainted by the manner in which its three most recent additions were selected and confirmed, the Court has lost any semblance of impartiality. It’s become such a joke that its members have made public remarks insisting that the Court is apolitical. This is a lie on par with Sean Spicer’s “Trump had the biggest inauguration crowd of all time.” Six of the nine Justices are Federalist Society darlings, pre-selected by Leonard Leo & Co. explicitly because of their political leanings. And because of Citizens United—thanks John Roberts, you fascist motherfucker—we have no idea who or what is funding Leonard Leo’s secretive, despotic court-packing operation.
(Here’s what John Paul Stevens wrote in his 90-page dissent on Citizens United: The ruling, he said, “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution,” this meaning SCOTUS itself. He also wrote that, “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.” That was in 2010, and Stevens was Nostradamus.)
Fascist leaders are always criminals, as the historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat explains. Corruption is one of their “tolls of rule.” Rightwing authoritarian governments exist to eradicate the rule of law. Insiders are protected. Outsiders are targeted. This is happening right now in the GOP-run statehouses. Bills have been introduced in these states that would offer bounties for individuals who turn in women suspected of having abortions; ban “controversial” books; ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory; kick teachers who teach actual history out of the profession entirely; and prevent educators from discussing anything related to LGBTQ. Some of these bills have already passed. Fascist laws of this kind are a proverbial slippery slope. Today, they’re banning CRT; tomorrow, they’re adding The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the curriculum and denying the Holocaust. And by “they,” I mean Republican politicians.
This is scary, dangerous stuff. And it’s all out in the open now. The masks are off. They are no longer even attempting to hide what they are. Tucker Carlson, the most popular host on the most popular rightwing “news” channel (and a possible Republican presidential candidate), is again going to Budapest to fluff the tyrannical president of Hungary. Again: Victor Orbán was a bag man for Semion Mogilevich. He’s an anti-democratic dictator who is beholden to the Russian mob. And there is Tucker, and by extension Rupert Murdoch, singing his strongman’s praises.
Traitors don’t get more easy to spot.
The mainstream media, meanwhile, has either not grasped the life-and-death threat to our democracy (bad), or is actively working for the autocrats (worse). Just as they failed to cover Trump properly for the last six years, ignoring his mob ties and his past criminality, so they have failed to recognize what the GOP has become: a political party that wants us dead. Or maybe we just have to wait for Bob Woodward’s next book to drop, when it’s too late?
Sorry, Abe. The men who lost their lives at Gettysburg fighting for a more perfect union may yet have died in vain. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people is in mortal peril, and may soon perish from the earth.
Note: This post was inspired by my rant on Friday’s Narativ Live “After Show.”
Photo credit: Nicholas Raymond. Sunset scenery with historic cannon overlooking Little Round Top from the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.