The End of Democracy won't Look Like You Think It WillRoundup
tags: democracy, secession, authoritarianism
It’s now two weeks past the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and I am sad to see that the effort to minimize the insurrection has been amazingly successful. I perhaps shouldn’t say “amazingly,” because millions of Americans never wanted to hear about it in the first place, even as the Department of Justice has hauled 11 people into court on charges of seditious conspiracy. Trump voters, elected cowards in the GOP, and conservative-media enablers continue to insist that it was just a tourist visit that got a little rowdy, and they want to know why the rest of us can’t just move on.
This effort has succeeded, in part, because so many Americans are unable or unwilling, as my Atlantic colleague George Packer wrote, to imagine what it would actually look like to have our democracy implode in the wake of a failed election. I want to suggest what things would look like some time after such an event.
It would not, I think, be what you might expect. It certainly won’t look like what the more inane cosplayers on the left think it would look like. That is, it wouldn’t be a sudden, dramatic fascist takeover, with Trump or Ron DeSantis or Ted Cruz striding to the podium on Pennsylvania Avenue with a red-and-black armband and shouting the beginning of a new millennium. None of these guys are remotely that organized, and besides, it’s not what they really want.
Remember always that the post-Trump Republicans are now, at heart, mostly a kind of venal junta, a claque of avaricious mooks who want to stay in office but who don’t really know why, other than that they like money, power, and being on television. (Also, I firmly agree with George Will that they don’t want to live among their own constituents, who mostly scare the bejeebers out of them.) Most of them have no actual program beyond political survival.
And that’s why the collapse of democracy in the United States will look more like an unspooling or an unwinding rather than some dramatic installation of Gilead or Oceania. My guess—and again, this is just my stab at speculative dystopianism—is that it will be a federal breakdown that returns us to the late 1950s in all of the worst ways.
Imagine that the GOP wins the House and Senate in 2022, and in 2024, even if Biden narrowly squeaks past Trump or some other Republican nominee, the GOP Congress and a group of secretaries of state hijack the election for the Republicans, and the United States returns to unified Republican government. Speaker Kevin McCarthy hands committees to the Loon Caucus and goes and hides in his office. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gets back to the great national project of lining the pockets of his donors while avoiding having to live in Kentucky.
What’s that mean for the rest of us?