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You cannot talk about MAGA America in hushed tones - By Jamelle Bouie, New York Times

 

 

President Joe Biden is right. The so-called MAGA movement, led by Donald Trump, is a direct threat to democratic self-government in the US.
 
“Too much of what is happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said in Philadelphia last week.
 
 
 
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”
 
The proof is everywhere you look. Of the 540 Republican nominees on the ballot nationwide this year, 199 deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. An additional 62 candidates have raised doubts about the legitimacy of the election, and 118 candidates did not answer the question.
 
Pro-insurrection candidates lead the Republican ticket in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — key presidential swing states — and Trump-aligned Republican activists are targeting election officials across the country with harassment and threats of violence.
 
On the more respectable, suit-and-tie side of the MAGA movement, both the Claremont Institute and the right-wing Honest Elections Project (the latter of which is a production of Leonard Leo, former vice president of the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group) have submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on the side of North Carolina Republicans in a case that could give state legislatures the power to unilaterally change election laws unbound by state courts or even the state Constitution.
 
The goal, as was clear when lawyers from the Trump campaign pushed this “independent state legislature” theory both before and after the 2020 election, is to create a path by which Republican state lawmakers can toss out results they do not like.
 
It is not for nothing that the author of the Claremont brief is none other than John Eastman, one of the legal architects of the plan to keep Trump in office against the will of the voters.
 
“When performing federal functions, the legislatures of the several states are not operating pursuant to state authority,” Eastman writes, “but rather pursuant to federal authority, and cannot be constrained by anything in state law or even a state constitution to the contrary.”
 
A large part of the Republican Party is, as Biden says, working to ensure that the next time Trump is on the ballot, he cannot lose. For Biden’s critics, however, there is nothing — not even overwhelming evidence of MAGA subversion — that justifies his sweeping condemnation of Trump and his followers.
 
“I was stunned at how divisive this speech was last night,” said Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, a Republican who has kept his distance from Trump even as he campaigns for candidates in Michigan and Nevada who believe the 2020 election was stolen or who question the result.
Trump is the chosen candidate of reactionary billionaires and fanatical opponents of racial and gender equality for a reason. Strip away the thin veneer of “populism” and what you have in the Trumpified Republican Party is an old-fashioned movement to restrain democratic self-government for the sake of capital and hierarchy.
One view of Biden’s speech says that if the president is serious about the threat to American democracy, he should sacrifice key political, policy, and ideological goals for the sake of unity with conservative opponents of Trump. Another, similar view says that Biden should have made a more Lincolnesque appeal to the “better angels” of MAGA Republican voters, rather than condemn the entire movement as essentially anti-American.
 
Neither argument really lands. Preemptive concessions on critical issues might appeal to a handful of conservative Republican dissidents, but they will outrage and demoralize Democratic voters at a moment when Democrats stand a meaningful chance of holding their majorities in Congress. The simple truth is that the best way to undermine and weaken the MAGA movement at this moment is to win elections. It makes no sense, then, for Biden to deliberately undermine the Democratic Party’s ability to do just that.
 
Should Biden have used more conciliatory rhetoric? No. He was divisive — just as he was when he called MAGA Republicans “semi-fascist” the week before — but this is a moment that calls for a perfect contrast between the two parties. If Trump is leading an assault on the institutions of American self-government and if that assault implicates much of the Republican Party, then there is no way that Biden can make his defense of the constitutional order without dividing people.
 
What matters is the nature of the divide. To divide against a radical minority that would attack and undermine democratic self-government is to divide along the most inclusive lines possible. It is to do a version of what Franklin Roosevelt did when he condemned “organized money”, “economic royalists”, and the “forces of selfishness and lust for power”.
 
It is also a version of what Abraham Lincoln did when, in his first inaugural address, he took aim at those who would subject the country to minority rule.
 
“A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people,” he said. “Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism.”
 
“You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government,” Lincoln added, “while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it’. ”
 
If there is a critique to make of Biden’s Philadelphia speech, it is that he did not say enough about the sentiments behind the MAGA movement’s contempt for democracy. In that sense, it was a missed opportunity.
 
Trump is the chosen candidate of reactionary billionaires and fanatical opponents of racial and gender equality for a reason. Strip away the thin veneer of “populism” and what you have in the Trumpified Republican Party is an old-fashioned movement to restrain democratic self-government for the sake of capital and hierarchy.
 
That is why anti-democratic ideologues like Peter Thiel have poured millions of dollars into backing Trump and his allies, who hope to turn MAGA into something that outlives and outlasts the former president.
 
It is not that Trump and the Republican Party are opposed to voting and elected office in and of themselves; it is that they are opposed to a more equitable distribution of wealth and status, which a robust democracy — and only a robust democracy — makes possible. They are opposed to anything that might undermine the domination over others of people like themselves.
 
Biden and the Democratic Party should make this clear — much clearer than they have so far. The struggle for democracy is the struggle for human equality is the struggle for a fairer economy is the struggle for the rights of workers and the dignity of labor. And if the enemies of democracy are fighting their war on every possible front, its defenders should, too.
 
 

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