Democrats need to use their energy very purposefully and very carefully in the lead up to the 2022 midterms, because it is hard to overstate the peril we are currently facing.
Criticism of our leaders is an important mechanism that both pushes them in the direction The People want and provides cover for change. But when it goes too far, it can also dampen morale and result in dumpster poll numbers, which reflect down ballot even in off year midterms.
Do we really need to have less voters for 2022? Do we need depressed voters who think, because people they respect and admire are criticizing the President and Congressional leadership, that there is no point in voting?
As the January 6th hearings are showing us, Democracy is currently peering over a very steep cliff — so close to the edge that it might have already started its descent down into the authoritarian future the Republican party is so set upon.
For those who are unaware of just how bad it is, and I doubt that is many of you, but to reinforce the point, CPAC held its May convention in Hungary this year. Why? Because they so admire Viktor Orbán, who was able to achieve soft fascism in that country by using the same mechanisms Republicans are using here. He even gave them a 12 point plan to attack liberal democracy and consolidate power.
Trump was on video at the Hungary conference, praising Orbán as a great leader. Ron DeSantis uses Hungary as a model and copied their anti-gay legislation. The New Yorker reported, “DeSantis’s press secretary, talking about the inspiration for the law, reportedly said, “We were watching the Hungarians.””
Republicans may not be able to rewrite the Constitution, but they can exploit existing loopholes, replace state election officials with Party loyalists, submit alternative slates of electors, and pack federal courts with sympathetic judges. Representation in Hungary has grown less proportional in recent years, thanks to gerrymandering and other tweaks to the electoral rules.
“The trends in the U.S. are going very quickly in the same direction. It’s completely possible that the Republican Party could control the House, the Senate, and the White House in 2025, despite losing the popular vote in every case. Is that a democracy?” Lee Drutman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins, told Marantz.
In light of recent reports that Trump might have weaponized the IRS against Comey and McCabe (and we here at PoliticusUSA were also the recipients of not one but TWO similar fishing expedition audits), the warning from our State Department on Hungary reads like a partial history of the U.S. under Republican rule:
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: actions that aimed to interfere with or diminish the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy including targeting investigative journalists, opposition politicians, businesspersons, and other private citizens with high-tech surveillance spyware; restrictions on free expression and media…corrupt use of state power to grant privileges to certain economic actors; political intimidation of and legal restrictions on civil society organizations, including criminal and financial penalties for migration-related work of nongovernmental organizations; and threats of violence by extremists targeting Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.
Orbán is appearing in August at CPAC in Texas, where he will continue his school on how to take over a democracy and damage western liberalism. Vice noted of this upcoming appearance, “Central to everything Orbán does is the promotion of traditional family and Christian values, talking points that have now become a mainstay of the Republican Party’s message.”
Are we there yet? Rachel Kleinfeld, an expert in political violence, warned in Greg Sargent’s The Plum Line column: “We’re actually pretty far advanced on it.”
Kleinfeld: One of the things we know about other countries that descend into greater political violence is that violence is preceded by a dehumanization phase. America is well along in that phase: things like misogyny, racial epithets, calling Democrats “groomers” and comparing them to pedophiles.
The next stage is making violence against those dehumanized opponents seem more normal. You’re starting to see GOP candidates posing with rifles — everything from Rep. Thomas Massie’s family Christmas photo to Eric Greitens’s new ads about hunting RINOs.
We know from other countries that have descended into really serious political violence that this is a trajectory, and we’re on it. We’re actually pretty far advanced on it.
It’s called soft fascism or soft authoritarianism because it doesn’t use force. It changes the law before it uses the law to steal power (see the power-grabbing, illegitimate conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the ‘state electors can pick the President’ scheme). The premise is simply that the other side can’t be allowed to have power given by the voters, and the only power that will be used will be by the conservative authoritarian side.
Widely respected expert on the United States Congress Norm Ornstein (and Emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and contributing editor for the Atlantic) warned after the Supreme Court struck down a New York gun law restricting concealed carry that he sees a most “ominous harbinger” in this court’s decision making that it’s reasonable to expect “If Republicans move to manipulate electoral votes in 2024, it is very likely the Alito Court will let them get away with it.” Ornstein has also observed that the U.S. is moving closer to Hungary.
Viktor Orban’s Hungary is an authoritarian state with a Potemkin Village of faux elections, a rigged judicial system, and a press that is free in name only. That CPAC is there to bow at his feet tells you everything about where the “conservative” movement is. Not conservative!
— Norman Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) May 19, 2022
While most are watching out for a Hitler-style attack, what is actually happening is a sneak attack. It’s an erosion of democracy that results in naked power grabs combined with legally restricted rights.
Mitch McConnell’s theft of President Obama’s SCOTUS seat was not the first warning, but it was a singular event that signaled what was to come and due to the lack of resistance in the press and from Democrats, whose efforts to restore democracy were and are weaponized against them, it paved the way for the next Republican president to finish the steal via the Supreme Court.
Republicans are also doing this at the state level. Wisconsin Republicans are yet again leading in dark ways:
The Wisconsin Supreme Court:
Today: prohibiting ballot drop boxes due to questions about legitimacy of safest election in modern history
Days ago: ruled to let Republicans squat in office after term by refusing to confirm replacements nominated by Dem Gov
It’s soft fascism. https://t.co/t6MJWOGnrF
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) July 8, 2022
This is what we are all up against. It is imperative that we tread carefully. That is not to suggest I don’t get the anger – I not only get it, I feel it. I have been working to protect abortion rights since I was in university. The violence Dobbs invites, encourages, and incites against women is absolutely devastating. I also feel the rage of so many disenfranchised voters having wrestled through almost insurmountable voting restrictions during a pandemic to get to the polls and succeeding! They got both chambers and the presidency and STILL do not have power to protect basic human rights. It is only natural to look to those in “power” and blame them.
But as we can see, Republicans have been the party taking these rights away and they continue doing it via the activist Supreme Court taking powers meant for the legislative branch. Of course this court is not legitimate and this needs to be fixed. How do we fix it? It requires congressional action to fix it by adding more seats (Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to do this and it has been done seven times before).
What Biden needs from the people is a mandate to expand the court and a House and Senate majority to carry it out. We all know, thanks to two “Democrats” in the Senate, that is not even a possibility right now. Could Democrats’ messaging be stronger on this? Absolutely. This is the inevitable Achilles Heel of those who are responsible with power.
Republicans stacked the high court with dangerous, undemocratic and illegitimate liars who are remaking the United States into a Christian theocracy with an armed and angry populace who are exceptionally divided. This landscape isn’t accidental – it is necessary for an authoritarian takeover. The militarization of private life pushes the message that those who don’t comply will be targeted by the conservative militia, if not the actual police and military (see Oath Keepers and Proud Boys for more on this).
On Monday, President Biden’s administration took action to save women’s lives in a post-Roe country by using the power of a Friday issued Presidential executive order to give guidance to Health and Human Services ordering that women’s lives and health are to be protected in emergency situations, including being treated with an abortion. This guidance specifically states it overrules state law and there will be consequences for hospitals and providers who do not take every step to provide women with this necessary care.
It might be easy to say Biden did this because he was pushed — and pushing leaders to give them political cover is always wise. But this President was the first co-author of the first Violence Against Women Act, long before the days of Me Too, and long before anyone was even pretending to care about the epidemic of death for women at the hands of intimate partners.
The Left has long prided itself on not being cheerleaders for their elected officials, and this shouldn’t change, lest the Left become the Right. But it’s imperative to ease up on that gas pedal of criticism now until the midterms are over. Democrats need to be strategic and take one tip from Republicans on how to win: Stand together, do not allow the rather early and absurd horse race media narrative about Biden to be amplified by the Left.
The only line of defense left to our democracy is in the Democratic Party winning elections, and they are facing horrific poll numbers for President Biden, bad maps and poor prospects for the House and Senate. Though post-Roe being overturned, the midterm polls have improved by an estimated 3 points. It is still not enough. The House will be lost in 2022, and if the Senate is also lost, so will our democracy be lost.
Go to battle for your democracy. Hold your friendly fire until December. Do not give in to defeatism, whataboutism and both-sidesism.
If you care about western democracy, get in the front line and hold steady.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.