The Biggest Issue Today

The biggest issue in the world is climate change, but the biggest issue in American politics is the descent of the Republican Party into authoritarianism (which, given who Republicans are, is itself part of the climate change problem). Here are parts of two opinion columns.

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

When it came to the brazenness and sheer volume of his dishonesty, [the former president] was unique among politicians in American history and perhaps even in world history. So when he left office and found the vital propaganda pipelines of Twitter and Facebook closed to him, one might have hoped that his party would begin to rebuild its relationship to the truth.

But if anything, the Republican Party today is even more committed to myths, falsehoods and a shared hostility to the very idea of an objective reality . . . than they were when [their guy] was still president.

Things are not getting better. They’re getting worse. And it’s almost impossible to see a way out. A quick rundown of news just from the past couple of days:

  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Fox News host Tucker Carlson are vaguely suggesting that Anthony S. Fauci is to blame for creation of the coronavirus, based on a convoluted stew of half-truths and speculation about international virology research and the hypothesis that the virus originated in a lab in China. Carlson has been telling his viewers that covid vaccines have been killing people by the thousands. He’s the highest-rated host on cable news.
  • Republican members of Congress are trying to recast the Jan. 6 insurrection as a gentle stroll through the Capitol by people who may or may not have been [Dear Leader’s] supporters. Meanwhile, the purging of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) [from her leadership position] shows that the lie that [someone else] won the 2020 election has become the central organizing principle of the GOP.
  • The very act of fact-checking work is so offensive to Republicans that a group of GOP state legislators in Michigan have filed a bill called the “Fact Checker Registration Act.” It would require fact-checkers to register with the state and acquire a million-dollar insurance policy, and fine them if their fact-checks are displeasing to the government.

From Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine:

The fate of American democracy is the biggest issue in American politics. . .[It’s] not an issue you can simply put aside, or even weigh alongside all the other issues. It’s a foundational issue — the one decision that has to be settled before any other political question can be considered.

A majority of Republican voters believe [the] lie that the election was stolen, and this belief has been the most important driver of their post-election behavior. Republican-controlled states are implementing voting restrictions to placate this lie; Republican officials who refused to go along with [their leader’s] autogolpe are being removed from their positions [“autogolpe” = Spanish word for “a self-coup, or autocoup, . . . a form of coup d’état or putsch in which a nation’s leader, having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances”].

The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last recently argued that “Republicans are already well on their way to marshaling the political will to do whatever the law even theoretically might allow in pursuit of power,” [for example,] use the full extent of their power to overturn the result and either assign electoral votes to their party using their control of state government, or throw the contest to the House . . . .

The primary argument in How Democracies Die, by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, is that the survival of a democratic regime against an authoritarian threat usually comes down to choices made by ideological allies of the authoritarian side. They can decide either to support an authoritarian party or leader that advances their policy agenda, or break from their natural allies and defend the system. According to their historical study of threats against democratic regimes, when the authoritarian candidate’s allies defect and join with their natural ideological opponents to save the system, democracies survive.

When they stay loyal to their normal partners, on the other hand, democracy perishes. The term Ziblatt and Levitsky borrow for this fateful latter decision is “ideological collusion” — choosing to win by subverting democracy rather than saving the system by joining with their ideological opponents.

Rep. Liz Cheney’s Republican critics are mostly willing to let her continue to disagree with [the Big Lie]. What they cannot abide is her vocalizing her belief. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina), reportedly complained in a caucus meeting about her “defiant attitude” and failure to be a “team player.”

Eliana Johnson, editor of the Washington Free Beacon, perfectly explains the mainstream view within the party. The party’s operatives and politicians [want] Cheney to put aside her concern about the survival of democracy in America and instead focus on matters that unite the Republican party’s authoritarian and democratic wings. They’re demanding, in so many words, ideological collusion. . . . [Cheney was officially purged from the Republican leadership in the House this week.]

The Republican Party is sliding into authoritarianism at a terrifyingly rapid clip. To stand by is to let it happen. Republicans who have reservations about this trend have tried quiet hand-wringing for five years. It hasn’t worked. . . .

[A group of Republicans has announced they’ll try to change the party’s direction or else start a third party: “the Republican Party is broken. It’s time for a resistance of the ‘rationals’ against the ‘radicals'”. It’s quite late for them to join the resistance, but it’s something.]

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