The past four years have brought about a major shift in the U.S. political landscape, one that affects the entire span of left-of-center political strategy. I’m talking about the transformation of the Republican Party into a fascist formation, following the path of its maximum leader, Donald Trump. As Professor David Hopkins points out, the ascendance of Trump coincides with the collapse of the center-right. This makes a huge difference for our politics.
In past decades, the center-right functioned as an anchor for both parties. It kept the wilder side of the G.O.P. in line, and it constantly beckoned to Democratic centrists with policies that precluded moves to the left. These compromises included obeisance to the twin canards of fiscal responsibility and humanitarian interventionism.
Fiscal responsibility entailed commitments to austerity in the guise of deficit reduction, and opposition to significant expansions of the non-defense public sector. As Bill Clinton argued, “The era of big government is over.” Compared to the social democracies of Europe, of course, that era never began in the U.S.
Major concessions to the center-right were made or came close. Welfare reform destroyed the only, paltry source of a national guaranteed income in the U.S., while work requirements took bites out of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly “food stamps). Social Security might have been privatized, were it not for Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. De-unionization was indulged, labor rights were ignored, and wages were allowed to stagnate.
The rubric of “humanitarian interventionism” was cover for maintaining aggressive, forward military positions in the world, backed some 800 U.S. bases. This posture was focused on blocking transitions to social democracy in the Global South, and thwarting regional ambitions by unfriendly Mideast powers such as Iraq and Iran.
The upshot of this Democratic Party lean to the right was that a case could be made that minimized the differences between the two major parties. The mistake was not evident until the aftermath of 2000, in the form of the disastrous war in Iraq. We have to hope that Al Gore would not have committed that blunder, for his sake at least.
Now there should be no question of a big difference. A strong majority of Republican voters and politicians continues to support Trump and all his works. These works now include a violent attack on the U.S. Congress, the deaths of police officers, hints of homicidal intentions towards Democratic politicians and the Republican Vice President, and repeated warnings from Trump himself of more to come.
The clear objective, thankfully unrealized, was to prevent the democratic transfer of power. Molly Ball provides a useful history of Republican efforts to wreck the nation’s basic democratic electoral processes, going back months and extending through the entire process of certification of the election results. There was parallel indulgence of murderous, fascist plots against Democratic governors, and literal apologetics for lethal street violence.
Academics may want to debate whether it all qualifies as fascism, but it’s close enough for me.
As Ball recounts, Trump’s excesses have gone to the point of alienating important sections of the capitalist class. His movement threatens the legitimacy of the State, which is a big no-no. The Trump ascendancy leaves a minority faction of Republicans politically homeless. Except in a handful of cases, this #NeverTrump faction is powerless to motivate Members of Congress. It has money to throw around, and its personalities’ faces are sought by CNN and MSNBC in their quests for perceived objectivity, but it cannot muster enough votes in the U.S. Senate to defeat Republican filibusters of Democratic initiatives.
The crucial consequence is that the Republicans no longer have any juice in legislative affairs, and the Democrats no longer have any reason to seek accommodations with them. To the contrary, given their thin majorities, the Democrats need Bernie people and “The Squad” more than ever. And of course, we need them, since the alternative, rule by Trumpists, is unthinkable.
The centrists’ dilemma now is what Jerry Garcia may or may not have said: “We were always ready to sell out, but nobody was buying.” To the contrary, rather than incentives to collaborate, there are diametrically opposite incentives for the Democratic establishment to destroy the GOP, lest they be destroyed themselves. That requires a closer alliance with the Bernie people. Conversely there is incentive for the Bidens to be solicitous towards the Left.
As Hopkins notes, this explains the somewhat surprising firmness of the incoming Biden Administration, showing a willingness to eliminate the filibuster, stick by its $1.9 trillion relief/stimulus package, fire a bunch of Republican holdovers, grant appointments to progressives, and cast off or downgrade such centrist retreads as Larry Summers, Bruce Reed, and Cass Sunstein.
Senator Lindsey Graham predicted in 2016 that Trump’s advance would destroy the Republican Party. This is now a real possibility. Nobody can stand successfully as a Republican for Congress without Trump’s approval. At the same time, few of them can win if the #NeverTrumpers defect.
For the #NeverTrumpers to have any future, they must destroy the party in its present form. Defection is their only option. This might take the form of a new third party with a spoiler impact on GOP candidates. Alternatively, there is some talk of Trump splitting away to form his own party. Either outcome spells a complete meltdown of the Republican caucuses in Congress and in state legislatures.
Electoral failure of Trumpism does not get us out of the woods. One component of our fascist sub-culture is the so-called “Three Percenters.” The name is derived from the fable that only three percent of the population was needed to liberate the American states from the British. The truth of this idea is that it is not impossible for a minority to seize power by violent means. Trumpists, besides being heavily armed, have infected organizations of U.S. law enforcement and the military. In effect, the Republican Party has its own military wing.
The process of liquidating the G.O.P. and reconstituting a viable conservative party in the U.S. will probably take a generation. The interregnum of right-wing disarray will be an opportunity to move from the current system to social democracy. As with ObamaCare in 2018, with all its faults, once people get a look at universal health insurance coverage and the like, it will be difficult to persuade them to give up their newly-acquired economic security.
Broad unity within the Democratic Party will be hard for some on the left to get their arms around. Consider the misbegotten “Force the Vote” exercise. Some deluded souls thought that “The Squad” and others in the House should demand that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hold a vote on Medicare for All as a price for getting their votes for Speaker.
Time for some game theory. What would denying leadership of the House to Pelosi accomplish for the Left? Who would be a desirable substitute? The most likely would have been Rep. Steny Hoyer, hardly a preferable alternative. How about conceding control of the House to the Republicans, completely tying the hands of the Biden Administration?
Or, suppose there is a vote. It would surely be defeated. I am all for primaries against unsuitable Democrats, but the dispensable Democratic Members of Congress are already well-known. Many of them are in marginally Democratic districts and would have no trouble fending off primary challenges.
The Republican Party is busying destroying itself as an electoral organization. Meanwhile, it connives at restricting the right to vote and gerrymandering legislative districts. And it angles for an insurrection that would permit it to take power by force.
Contrary to the rants of some ex-comedians playing at political commentary, now is no time for rejecting collaboration under the umbrella of Democratic Party unity, for centrists no less than the Left. They need us, but we need them too. Barbarism has never been a more plausible threat to the U.S. working class.