Asymmetric Political Warfare, scales, donkey, elephant
Politics in America has become asymmetrical warfare. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from North Charleston / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0), Lars Hammar / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), and DonkeyHotey / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Listen To This Story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

–OPINION–

Do you know a liberal who insists that “both sides” are responsible for what is happening to our country? Who sees little distinction between the two major parties (“both are corporate tools”), who believes both have always “stuffed ballots,” and who identifies a global cabal — rather than Donald Trump or the Trumpified GOP — as the direst threat we face?

I have several such friends, one in particular who floated a strange theory that the Democrats tried, but failed, to rig the 2016 election.

Recently, he told me he “perceived” that I “have a kind of hatred for Donald Trump and the Republican Party,” while he himself harbored only a “strong dislike” and “immense frustration.” 

I was in no mood to sugarcoat my response, which follows here. It is a cry from a broken heart. 

I am all too aware of the choir of journalistic broken hearts crying out these days. “Our democracy is in danger! We’re on the brink of fascism!” Yadda yadda — about as rousing as Muzak. In the past two days alone, I’ve read at least a dozen columns that say “Wake up! This is different!” And yet “democracy” is polling a distant sixth to street crime and gas prices. It’s like the car alarms in NYC, which, for your own sanity, you stop hearing after a while. 

That may be the most disturbing thing of all.

***

If you want to know why I hate Trump and his MAGA-GOP with such a passion, I can tell you. 

Most of history has been atrocious — tyrannical, monarchical, oligarchical, unjust, often brutal, and not democratic. Democracy — and anything close to it, flaws and all — has been terribly hard to forge and even harder to maintain. But for a couple of centuries we have done that — and it is that to which I have pledged my allegiance. 

And now a psychologically tortured individual, who cares about literally nothing besides himself and whether he “wins,” and a pack of devil’s disciples who have made incessant lying and blatant hypocrisy the totems of their tribe, are hell-bent on bringing democracy crashing down, if that is what it takes to seize and hold power.

Their plan is to use everything from voter suppression to vote count manipulation to disinformation to political violence to sustain their minority rule. 

This is why armed vigilantes are “guarding” ballot drop boxes in Arizona; this is why every second comment out of Herschel Walker’s mouth is a baldfaced lie, and yet he stands a fair chance of representing Georgia in the Senate. I could easily give you a hundred more examples, but I trust you’re reading the news.

So I really don’t care that both sides have stuffed ballot boxes at various points over the last 250 years. That’s not what’s going on now

Your bothsidesism may be emotionally convenient and soothing, but it flies in the face of reality — which is that one side has gone all-in with a new religion that has taken as its messiah a paragon of vice who has lied, cheated, stolen, betrayed, reneged, and intimidated his way through life at all stages, and who knows his political survival is completely dependent on setting Americans at each other’s throats. 

He gathers adherents not by presenting ideals or any sort of positive vision, but by denigrating and demonizing, playing on fear and rage, and giving papal permission to be one’s worst self, to lie and mock and bully right along, as if everyone was watching a “Sing Along with Mitch” (Miller, not McConnell).

Jonathan Simon

Jonathan Simon. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Simon

You say that both parties feed at the same corporate trough. There is some truth to that: Politics has become very expensive, and you have to keep up with the Joneses or you simply won’t win elections. But ask yourself exactly who ushered in this Big Dark Money era? 

Who decided Citizens United, McCutcheon, and the whole line of cases that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate cash and influence? Was it “both sides”? Or was it a slim, recurrent Supreme Court majority of Republican-appointed justices?

And you can add to that Shelby and Rucho, which, in turn, gutted the Voting Rights Act (and of course the red states lost no time in passing re-discriminatory laws and regulations that would not have passed federal muster before Shelby) and greenlighted gerrymandering for partisan advantage (you have to marvel at Rucho’s perverse rationale that state legislators could be trusted to draw their own districts — and thus lock in their incumbents, majority and minority — free of judicial review or interference). And a few more 5-to-4 decisions that made it still more difficult to rein in the torrents of dark money from the 1 percent, private and corporate.

And that was before they stole their SCOTUS supermajority, so they could strike down Roe; make it immensely harder for states to regulate guns; gut enforcement of federal environmental legislation like the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. So they could come damned close to establishing Christianity as the national religion (and they’re not done yet by a long shot); threaten to go after same-sex marriage, and even interracial marriage (what’s to stop them?), along with contraception… I could go on.

And then, this term, we have the Moore case — not yet argued but you’d have to be pretty naive to think the majority chose it just for kicks (SCOTUS accepts fewer than 2 percent of cases). Moore may well be decided to give those gerrymandered state legislatures plenipotentiary power over the conduct of federal elections — entirely free of federal or state court review, and even extending to the capacity to decide what slate of presidential electors to send to Congress irrespective of the choices made by the voters.

To be sure, SCOTUS was stolen even before McConnell’s stunt, being the fruit of the poisonous tree of a dubious string of elections from 2000 through 2016, all promptly conceded by losing Democrats (from Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton through a parade of Senate candidates) when “Stop the Steal” was not yet a gleam in Donald Trump’s eye (if you’ve got my book CODE RED handy, you can look at the data and draw your own conclusions as to how dubious it is). But why stop with a 5–4 majority when you can finagle your way to a 6–3 supermajority itching to implement the reactionary program first conceived in right-wing think tanks over 50 years ago? Hey hey, ho ho, this damned democracy’s gotta go!

And then there’s the filibuster, which has been used to kill everything from election-protection legislation to climate action, tax relief for the not-super-rich, and gun control. Fun fact: Half the US population is represented by 83 senators; the red states are so overweighted that it’s a miracle that the Democrats are able to come close to a Senate majority. 

That Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) wield such power simply reflects this structural imbalance. With two more seats, the Democrats would likely have nixed the filibuster, passed the SAFE Act, along with other federal election-protection legislation, and broken the vicious cycle of red-flag elections and blockage of reform of the system that makes them possible. 

Perhaps you believe, with Fox News and The Epoch Times and OAN (One America News Network), that the Democrats (apart from grooming and eating children) simply took cover behind their own contrarians and were relieved, if not positively joyful, that such reforms were blocked. Perhaps you blame them for not even wanting to make things better for us?

But I know enough of these people personally to know they are dedicated to the public welfare, fairness, decency, and democracy itself. And I know how frustrated they are to see it all kicked over by those who would succor the super-rich while distracting the public with culture wars and a steady stream of vicious canards.

These are dangerous people. If you put them on truth serum, you’d likely find that not one of them believes a word of what they are spewing. And that makes them all the more dangerous. They are intent on stealing (and keeping) power by any means — that is the irony behind Stop the Steal.

Tell me, for instance, when was the last time any Democrat uttered anything like the torrent of bilious lies and musings with which the Republicans and their media machine greeted the attack on Paul Pelosi?

Tell me where, among the Democrats, you’d find a Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louis Gohmert, Madison Cawthorn, Paul Gosar, or Jim Jordan? Where would you find the hard-core cynics — the likes of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy — or a lickspittle like Lindsay Graham? Where would you find Trump wannabes like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, let alone Jim Marchant, Doug Mastriano, and Kristina Karamo? Where would you find a huckster like Mehmet Oz? A compulsive liar, hypocrite, abuser, and moron like Herschel Walker? A lack-of-character actress like Kari Lake? A yahoo like Mark Finchem? 

The frightening part is we’ve barely scratched the surface!

These are dangerous people. If you put them on truth serum, you’d likely find that not one of them believes a word of what they are spewing. And that makes them all the more dangerous. They are intent on stealing (and keeping) power by any means — that is the irony behind Stop the Steal.

Many of them have a decent chance of being in power come 2023. That should scare the hell out of you, my liberal friend. Because their idea of “freedom” is not your idea of freedom and their god is a jealous and vengeful god. Greene, among others, has already called for political murder. Well, perhaps it’s just rhetoric! 

Whatever else it is, it’s not both sides. It’s one side. No, the Democrats haven’t yet learned how to gin up outrage, or how to lie with joyous abandon. As a consequence, this warfare is asymmetrical.

So, you want a fascist theocracy for the rest of our lives — and our kids’ lives — well then, just keep thinking it’s both sides and keep imagining dark cabals from far away pulling all the strings, when the real puppet masters are right under your nose. 

I don’t think they know how to stop and I don’t think they will be stopped… Certainly they won’t be stopped by “strong dislike” and “immense frustration” coupled with a “both sides” disclaimer.

Sorry to be so harsh but we no longer have the luxury of thinking gauzy thoughts. This is now my “day job.” I’m marinating in it every day, checking facts and assessing patterns. It’s a harsh and inescapable reality.  

The worst part of it is the hate. I don’t want to hate and I fight it, but the fact is I do hate, and I hate even more because I’ve been brought to this state unwillingly. They unilaterally changed the rules of engagement and the permissible weapons, and they’ve got us just where they want us now — either resigned and despairing or as enraged as they are. Or as they’re acting — I have to keep reminding myself that they, the leaders, are not really enraged, just putting on a show. 

And what a show! They’ve minted our “new” politics and all but abolished civil discourse, and in that sense they’ve already won. Meanwhile, we in the media, so afraid to sound “partisan,” have treated it all as “politics as usual.” Which it’s not. It’s a brutal degradation and a mortal threat.

I don’t think they know how to stop and I don’t think they will be stopped — if not Trump himself, then DeSantis or some other flame-thrower who wins the allegiance of the Fox- and OAN-deluded masses who see women as breeding machines, people of color as inferior, immigrants as threats, Jews as whatever the fascist playbook needs them to be, progressives as communists, diversity as dangerous, woke as evil, global warming as God’s plan, public schools as would-be Christian madrassas, corporate domination as the natural order of things, and government as bad and unnecessary (unless it’s protecting their rights and handing them benefits). 

Certainly they won’t be stopped by “strong dislike” and “immense frustration” coupled with a “both sides” disclaimer.

The shooting, for the most part, hasn’t started yet — but this is a civil war and, as much as I’ve spent my life believing that good and evil is the worst lens through which to see the world, I find there’s no escaping the reality that one side (the side full of a passionate intensity) is behaving the way I would expect only an evil being to behave. 

And no, my friend, it hasn’t always been thus.

This is new. The challenge of our lives. We’d better find our conviction — and find it fast. 


Jonathan D. Simon, a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy, was executive director of Election Defense Alliance from 2006 to 2016 and is the author of CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.

Comments are closed.