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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Trumpists Are Taking Their Masks Off

When a political side explicitly rejects democracy and embraces violence, can a society survive?


They’re getting 
crazier, more spiteful, bolder, and more violent by the day. The GOP, of course, the Trumpists. It’s worth taking a moment to pause and ask: What do they even want at this point?

They keep outdoing themselves in terms of ignorance, hostility, and sheer idiocy. Every time you think “they can’t possibly get any worse”…they do. Now, they’re explicitly against…democracy. As in, overtly.

Lately, if you’re keeping watch, a new form of ignorance has arisen. It’s not totally new — like so many of the beliefs radicalizing this social group and political wing, it’s a fringe belief making its way into the mainstream. Now you can hear it out in the open, amongst those aspiring to office — or worse, holding it.

“We’re not a democracy — we’re a republic!” Whew. Take a second to parse the irony of office-holders in a democracy saying…it’s not one. Then take a moment to chew on the fact that apparently, Trumpists have all become Plato’s progeny, and are now deep thinkers on matters of the body politic. I kid. The Republic, this isn’t.

“I want to address something that’s bugging me for a long time,” Arizona Republican Selina Bliss said in The New York Times. “And that’s the history and the sacredness of our Constitution and what our founding fathers meant.… We are a constitutional republic. We are not a democracy. Nowhere in the Constitution does it use the word ‘democracy.’ When I hear the word ‘democracy,’ I think of the democracy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s not us.”

Rose Sperry, a Republican activist at the same rally as Bliss, had posted on Facebook a few months before: “Please strike the word democracy from your vocabulary! WE ARE A REPUBLIC!!!”

What the Constitution Says

What do these ninnies mean by this line that once used to be a fringe belief but is now going full-on mainstream — “We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic!” How do you even begin to square that with, well, the Constitution, which, as flawed as it is, at least aspires to democratic ideals of truth, justice, equality, freedom for all?

It all goes back to the fundamental question: what do these lunatics even want?

The best explanation of this line comes from one of them themselves: “Well to me, what a democracy is, is like 51% of the people can decide that they want my property, and they can take it. Where a constitutional republic is: No, you can’t do that.”

Like I said, Plato and Thomas Paine are rolling over in their graves, clutching their tummies with morbid laughter. A constitutional republic is…”no, you can’t do that”?

And yet here’s the explanation not even hidden in plain sight, but loudly proclaimed. The reason that these fanatics don’t want a democracy — explicitly — is to protect private property rights. In other words, they want a kind of libertarian utopia, where there are no public goods — no public schools, systems, water mains, anything.

“Freedom” is being able to choose your own — even if it means, of course, not having any. Democracy, because it insists on public goods — after all, that’s what education, health, longevity, really are — is anathema to this conception of what a society should be.

This has deep and sinister roots in America, the choice of a fanatical focus on private property, at the expense of public goods. Where does it come from? Sadly, slavery, of course.

The South’s justification for slavery was bound up in “property rights,” only over people. The problem was that since people were property — the most valuable form of it, free labor that made the economy go — the central focus of society had to become protecting those “private property rights.” Hence, the Fugitive Slave Act empowered anyone to become a deputy chasing down a runaway slave, since they were just “property.”

If all that sounds, well, proto-fascist to you, it should. The Nazis were fascinated by America, and studied it intently, modeling their odious laws to repress and then annihilate Jews and all other kinds of minorities, on Southern ones. And it doesn’t take a genius to think too hard about just why some people would be able to become other people’s property — they must be subhumans, only good for menial labor, disposable commodities, only fit to be traded. How horrific.


This history poisons America to this very day. When Trumpists cry “we’re not a democracy, we’re a republic,” it’s not because they’ve suddenly become political science scholars. It’s because they mean “the protection of private property rights,” which in America has long been code for proto-fascism. We’ll send our kids to our schools, we’ll shop at our stores, we’ll sit on our buses — and you don’t belong here, except as property. In other words, “we’re not a democracy, we’re a republic” is thinly veiled code for supremacy.

And yet though all this has deep roots in American history, it’s still a quantum leap into the abyss. How so?

Evolving Attacks

Trumpism, like so many demagogic movements, works by scapegoating. And scapegoating evolves. First, it was “just” Muslims, then it was Mexicans, then it was Mexican babies, then it was all Latino families, who had to be “separated,” then it was everyday “real” American kids, even white ones, who might say the word “gay,” and then it was women, all of them, from whom rights of privacy, expression, and association were taken by a rogue Supreme Court. 

Scapegoating evolves and grows as demagogic movements do — and it’s a key mechanism of social collapse, because the bigger the scapegoats get, the bigger the Big Lies do, and the more damage has to be done to society, the more overt and explicit and intense and far-reaching the violence, brutality, and hate.

Now. What’s really going on when Trumpists cry “we’re not a democracy, we’re a republic!” They are reaching the outer limits of scapegoating. The scapegoat? This time, it’s democracy itself.

Who’s responsible for the woes of the “real” American? Why did their lives fall apart, generations plunging into downward mobility and penury, the elderly never retiring? Who ripped the heart out of all those Rust Belt towns? Who kicked the legs out from under the working class? Think of that sequence of scapegoats above — they’ve all been blamed for it, in sequential order, Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, gay people, their kids, their families, then everyone’s kids, and finally now women. Where do you go from there?

Looking for New Victims

You see, you have to go somewhere, and always find a new scapegoat, in a demagogic movement and politics. Because of course just finding targets to pick on doesn’t solve the actual problem. You could “separate” literally every single Latino family in existence — and it wouldn’t do a thing to solve the problem of the white American working class falling apart, or Americans not having much of a future. The same was true, of course, of Nazis, Jews, and Germans. Scapegoating is so poisonous because it’s a vicious cycle: since it doesn’t work, a bigger scapegoat always has to be found.

Until, at least, you reach the end. And there’s nowhere left to go.

What’s happening now is that Trumpists are being offered a new scapegoat for their woes. Hey, old lady, why didn’t you ever retire? Hey, kid, why can’t you get a job? Hey, middle-aged guy, why is your life worse than your parents? Scapegoating is like a spell — it wears off. The old scapegoats don’t work that much anymore. Say Muslims, Mexicans, to the fanatics in America — and they’ll shrug. They need fresh meat, to really whet their appetities. The new scapegoat being offered to America’s fanatics is democracy itself.

Democracy as the Ultimate Scapegoat

You didn’t get the life you expected, wanted, felt entitled to…because democracyDemocracy’s the problem. Sure, “democracy” here is a code word — rights for anyone else but us. Us — the pure of faith and true of blood. We’re the only people in society who deserve rights like speech, expression, association, privacy. The rest? They’re subhumans. Because they’re not pious enough of faith, or they’re not pure enough of blood. They don’t deserve power.

And that is what all this is really about. Power. When Trumpists cry “we’re not a democracy, we’re a republic,” it’s not because they’re debating the ghost of Winston Churchill, and winning — it’s because, for them, it’s a way to claim absolute power. It means: nobody else is to have any real rights, which amount to powers. Powers of self-determination, sovereignty, even existence.

Let me make that crystal clear, in case it’s not. In a “republic,” the Trumpists believe that what the minority says can and should go. And because the minority wants it badly enough, hard enough, is willing to be more brutal and violent than the majority, that bestows a kind of moral right to power, alongside the natural, divine right that comes from purity of faith and blood. So in said “republic,” gay people aren’t to exist, women aren’t to have rights, kids are to be taught what fundamentalists want, church is to supersede state, even if not everyone’s church, since it’s not everyone’s state anymore. The minority is now to have absolute power, and define society’s hierarchies their way.

You get this much respect, money, property, power — because this is where you fit in the hierarchy now. Pure of faith, true of blood, a man? Great, you’re at the top, where you belong. A woman, but willing to submit? OK, we’ll let you have a place, a rung. Minority? Woman not willing to submit? Hmm, sounds like trouble — you’re below the dividing line between “person” and “property,” you’re not to have the same rights as people.

All this is about power. Absolute power. To define other people’s lives. You see, in a democracy — and this is what makes democracy so, so different from all the other political-social forms which preceded it — we don’t do that. Each person gets to decide their own life, fate, existence. At least that’s the ideal, even if progress towards it has been slow, especially for women, gays, minorities. Still, the ideal remains: in a democracy, freedom is two things — self-determination, at the individual level, supported by self-governance, at the group level, nurtured by shared investment, at the collective level. We all need things like schools and hospitals and roads and books, in order to fulfill our own potential, and in a democracy, we support each other with those, and then let everyone decide their lives on their own.

It’s a good thing.

The Trumpists are saying no to all of that in their new insane form of ignorance — “this is a republic, not a democracy!” They’re saying that people shouldn’t have the right of self-determination. The minority will decide how everyone will live — and they’re already doing it to women, and next up gay people. They’re saying that because people don’t have the right of self-determination, self-governance, as in, we all consent to govern ourselves, doesn’t matter, either. If you don’t consent to being governed by the minority, too bad, shrug. They’ll do it with guns, anyways — why do you think they brandish them so openly now? And they’re saying that because self-determination and self-governance shouldn’t exist, there’s no need for shared systems of public goods that nurture everyone. What’s there to nurture, in all those hated subhumans, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, gays, women, anyways? Maybe women can be made to forcibly give birth — but that’s about it. Everyone has their place in this hierarchy — and yours is below ours.

That is how all this is a quantum leap into the abyss. It’s a very, very dangerous step for a society to take when one major political bloc begins to explicitly demonize democracy. To scapegoat it as the Big Scapegoat for the pure of blood’s and true of faith’s woes. Because of course the answer is then clear: tear down this Great Wicker Man called democracy. Burn him!! And set yourselves free! Even if it means burning the village down right alongside it.

This is how scapegoating plays out, in collapsing societies. First the scapegoats are ethnic groups, already low on the hierarchy of power, long hated. Then they expand to include those further up it. Then scapegoating expands further, to include even the faithless and heretical and impure among even the “real” people — women with the wrong attitudes, kids who display the wrong tendencies, teachers, doctors, journalists, intellectuals, anyone who doesn’t fit into the by-now fascist project of total conformity to a homogenized, cleansed ideal of purity and blood and virtue. And finally, when even all this doesn’t work to solve the problem of the declining living standards of the “real” people — a last scapegoat must be found. Democracy itself.

Where else have we seen exactly this process? In nearly every society which has completed the process of social collapse is the grim answer. This is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany. Germans — at least enough of them — accepted Hitler as their glorious, all-powerful thousand-year Fuhrer precisely because democracy itself was scapegoated for their woes. 

We’ve seen this play out in the Muslim world, too, and in Africa, time after time, democracy itself blamed for people’s misfortunes and struggles, as religious zealots and warlords took power. And of course this, too, was the central rationale of the terrible disaster communism ended in — democracy itself was scapegoated as being critical of the Party, hence, dictators like Stalin emerged, rose, and were glorified.

The Trumpists are finally taking their masks off. And what’s underneath is the face of a monster, rotting, squirming, snarling, sneering, baying. It’s the face of all the lunacy and idiocy and monstrosity in history, from fascism to theocracy to supremacy, through the dark ages, through war, hate, brutality, atrocity, right back to the Stone Age, where power is violence, and violence is the way of the tribe.

Imagine accepting someone as your Fuhrer. Really imagine it. Think about what it takes to go there, because that’s what Trumpists are basically saying now. Right out in the open. And that’s not all. In the last few weeks, they’ve proclaimed they were willing to die for Trump — remember their insane, violent reaction to the FBI raid on Trump’s tacky, lurid mansion?

When a political bloc and social group reaches this point — demagogues are scapegoating democracy itself, their masses are thrilled by that, slavering over it, calling for its end, willing to die for their demagogues, accepting them as their Fuhrer…it’s in an incredibly bad place. It is reaching terminal velocity of collapse, and is mere inches away from the hard, cold ground. Yes, the fall can still be broken. But first, a society has to figure out just how hard and fast it’s really falling. And that, too often, is the hardest part.

Umair Haque is a London-based consultant. He is director of Havas Media Lab, founder of Bubblegeneration and frequent tweeter and contributor to the online Harvard Business Review. He is the author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business (2011).