When a minority of the population is intent on ruling, democracy becomes the problem and patriotism can often be the answer.
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The US has a long history of affronts to democracy dressed up as patriotism. Now, a new movement, with a singular agenda, has taken up the anti-democracy cudgel.
This latest axis of influence consists of three separate groups: The Federalist Society (conservative judges), the NRA (gun rights), and evangelicals (abortion/contraception prohibition). Simply put, the gavel, guns, and God brigade is flag-waving “Old Glory” in what appears to be an effort to subvert American democracy.
Each wing of this shadow coalition has donned the cloak of an oppressed patriot to invent existential threats to the country, and cast anyone who disagrees as a traitor to America. The effect has plunged a divided country into a toxic public discourse and led directly to an attack on the very seat of the democracy these self-described patriots proclaim to be defending, the US Capitol.
The roots of this scheme appear to snake down directly into Karl Rove’s “Base Strategy Playbook.” They were perfectly articulated by Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew — who claimed the president was being persecuted by “a small and unelected elite.” The theme is revived in today’s GOP’s claims of being persecuted by elite pedophiles.
The strategy of distracting from Nixon’s questionable activities by claiming that he was actually a martyr was sharpened in the 1990s and extended to most Republicans, who feared losing power as a result of the demographic changes in the American electorate. From that point on, the GOP has presented itself as the perpetual victim of un-American/satanic threats from one bogeyman or another.
These conjured phantoms became a primary vehicle for inciting “The Silent Majority,” that mythical term invented to inflate the size of an aggrieved minority.
This manufactured-threat rhetoric has saturated the media and polarized the public for the last 40-plus years: “THEY” are gonna…
- Take our guns.
- Abolish our religion.
- Kill our unborn babies.
- Overtax our incomes.
- Dilute our vote.
- Erase our borders.
- Rescind our free speech.
- Defund our police.
- Destroy our health (with vaccines).
- Mandate our sexual identity.
- Indoctrinate our children.
In general, “THEY” are going to destroy America!
All these patriotic victimhood diatribes are delivered with, at best, exaggerated anecdotal evidence, which is then amplified and distorted by agenda-driven social media accounts into a frenzy of angry vindication and retribution.
According to all the evidence, none of these factions is actually being victimized or oppressed; they are in fact efficiently steamrolling the true majority.
Witness that much of their agenda has already been achieved despite majority opposition: Supreme Court and Circuit Court conservative majorities; the assault weapons ban allowed to expire; Roe v. Wade overturned; Citizens United passed into law; gerrymandered redistricting. And of course the recent legal rulings: canceled student-loan forgiveness, legalized LGBTQ discrimination, repeal of affirmative action.
When a minority of the population is intent on ruling, democracy becomes the problem, and in America — though America is not alone in this — “patriotism” can often be the answer. Many of the anti-democracy abuses that occurred between the 1930s’ American Nazi Movement and the current NSA mass surveillance have been dressed up as patriotism.
These groups are attempting to weaponize statistically nonexistent voter fraud to retool America’s election system, warping its processes so that the outcomes favor their constituency.
American democracy can be inconvenient to some of its very own beneficiaries. For example, when nationalistic groups around the country are raging about their “values” being subverted, their true objective is really to impose those (anti-democratic) values on the majority, any way they can, democracy be damned.
While recent extremists like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers prefer overt attacks (e.g., storming the Capitol, kidnapping the Michigan governor), the fanboys of unregulated innovation and capitalism are typically more discreet — and effective. They promote democratic regression through lobbying for regressive legislation and advocating for pseudo-academic political theories (e.g., replacement theory and Christian nationalism).
Another foundational tenet of these patriots is that “capitalism is America,” paraphrasing Calvin Coolidge’s “the chief business of the American people is business.” But there is significant data in direct opposition to this thinking, showing that unregulated capitalism is incompatible with democracy.
Democracy is also not impervious to political theater and, as historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out, demonizing the opposition is a long-favored political tradition in America (even before Newt Gingrich employed it in the ’90s).
This new coalition, however, has elevated typical garden-variety demonizing into a WMD. Instead of just demonizing the opposition, they are now using their bogus patriotic-persecution invective to attack the system itself, the very foundation of democracy: the vote. These groups are attempting to weaponize statistically nonexistent voter fraud to retool America’s election system, warping its processes so that the outcomes favor their constituency.
The objective is to make voting so burdensome for targeted groups that the total number of non-GOP votes cast is reduced, because that benefits a political minority that espouses policies — from outlawing abortion and contraception to upholding assault-weapon accessibility — that are demonstrably unpopular with the majority of Americans, according to consistent polling.
This contrived threat is meant to scare Americans into believing the last 60 odd years of a functioning, free, and open democratic system has led to rampant and systemic voter fraud.
Yet, in the world of actual fact, after more than a decade of exhaustive research, the voter fraud incident rate was found to be about 0.0025 percent, most of that being from clerical error. You are more apt to be struck by a bolt of lightning on your way to the polls than encounter voter fraud when you arrive there. Out of more than a billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014, there were only 31 cases of voter fraud, according to The Washington Post.
Thirty-one illegal voters out of a billion over 15 years? This does not call for any legislative response at all, let alone a wall of regulations that will obstruct millions of American voters — not to mention that most of the bricks in that wall disproportionately obstruct certain voting constituencies (voters of color, young and college voters, renters, urban voters, et al.) that tend to vote Democratic and that the axis wants to keep away from the polls at any cost.
The new axis of influence is passing legislation that will nullify ballots and obstruct voting (262 bills introduced in 41 states that are intended to hijack the election process) — locking in (their own) minority rule. This road leads back to another Rove maxim, the “perpetual Republican majority” that he framed in the 1980s and that a GOP House leader enthusiastically anticipated in 2014.
There is no blatant smoking gun exposing this alliance because parsing out an actual RICO conspiracy from an advantageous convergence of goals is difficult. But these methods and agendas clearly have a shared DNA and are operating with a fearful symmetry. There is an adage that goes something like this: If you wake up to the ground blanketed in a frozen white, it’s safe to say it snowed overnight.
Sean Ogden is a WhoWhatWhy senior staff member.