ARE THERE ENOUGH HONORABLE REPUBLICANS WITH THE COURAGE TO PULL THE COUNTRY BACK FROM AUTHORITARIANISM?

“One wonders whether modern American politicians, in either party, have it in them to make such bold moves, whether they have the insight to see where events are going and the courage to do whatever is necessary to save the democratic system. If that means political suicide for this handful of Republicans, wouldn’t it be better to go out fighting for democracy than to slink off quietly into the night?”

Robert Kagan, Washington Post, September 23, 2021.

Upon reading Our Constitutional Crisis is Already Here in Thursday’s Washington Post by contributing columnist Robert Kagan, I was flooded with thoughts and emotions like those that set me back after first reading Timothy Snyder’s ON TYRANNY: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, but with a greater sense of urgency and helplessness. I encourage you to read Snyder’s book and Kagan’s essay if you haven’t. If you are a slow reader like me, the book will take under two hours to finish. Parenthetically, Kagan is a neoconservative scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. A link to Kagan’s essay is below.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/23/robert-kagan-constitutional-crisis/

I also encourage you to read Jack Shafer’s September 24 response and counter to Kagan’s essay, Why the Fear of Trump May be Overblown, in Politico.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/09/24/why-the-fear-of-trump-may-be-overblown-514270

Untitled, Engraved Printmaking Plate, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

Since its timely publication in 2017, I have read and re-read Snyder’s ON TYRANNY. An expert in Twentieth Century European history, Snyder packs his short book with warnings and their signs that resulted in twenty years of fascist and seventy of communist rule in Europe. He explains in preface:

“Both fascism and communism were responses to globalization: to the real and perceived inequalities it created, and the apparent helplessness of the democracies in addressing them. Fascists rejected reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people. They put a face on globalization, arguing that its complex challenges were the result of a conspiracy against the nation. . . .

“We might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats. This is a misguided reflex. In fact, the precedent set by the Founders demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

At the end, I list Snyder’s lessons which his book explains and for which he gives examples. Unfortunately, anyone who has paid attention since Trump announced his candidacy in 2015 recognizes many if not most of Snyder’s lessons in their breach.

Kagan does not expressly reference Snyder in his September 23 essay, but his argument implicates several of Snyder’s lessons. And if I read Kagan correctly, he contends the solution to the immediate constitutional crisis is largely in the hands of honorable and courageous Republicans – if enough exist and can be found. Kagan gives a compelling history and explanation for the rise of Trumpism, Trump’s and his allies’ active preparation “to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary,” that most Americans, including the “political and intellectual establishments in both parties” have been underestimating Trump, “and all but a handful of politicians . . . have refused to take this possibility serious enough to try to prevent it.”

“All that prevented [overturning the 2020 election] was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

“These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. . . .”

Kagan explains:

“Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

“Meanwhile, the amateurish ‘stop the steal’ efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to ‘find’ more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may ‘revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election’ by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions,’ including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

“The stage is thus being set for chaos. . . .”

Kagan asks:

“Where does the Republican Party stand in all this? The party gave birth to and nurtured this movement; it bears full responsibility for establishing the conditions in which Trump could capture the loyalty of 90 percent of Republican voters. Republican leaders were more than happy to ride Trump’s coattails if it meant getting paid off with hundreds of conservative court appointments, including three Supreme Court justices; tax cuts; immigration restrictions; and deep reductions in regulations on business. Yet Trump’s triumph also had elements of a hostile takeover. The movement’s passion was for Trump, not the party. . . . Those who survived had a difficult balancing act: to use Trump’s appeal to pass the Republican agenda while also controlling Trump’s excesses, which they worried could ultimately threaten the party’s interests.

“ . . . . The GOP establishment hoped that the presence of ‘adults’ would restrain him, protecting their traditional agenda and, in their view, the country’s interests, from his worst instincts.

“This was a miscalculation. Trump’s grip on his supporters left no room for an alternative power center in the party. . . . The dissent and contrary opinions that exist in every party . . . disappeared from Trump’s Republican Party. The only real issue was Trump himself, and on that there could be no dissent. Those who disapproved of Trump could either keep silent or leave. . . .

All this has left few dissenting voices within the Republican ecosystem. The Republican Party today is a zombie party. Its leaders go through the motions of governing in pursuit of traditional Republican goals, wrestling over infrastructure spending and foreign policy, even as real power in the party has leached away to Trump. From the uneasy and sometimes contentious partnership during Trump’s four years in office, the party’s main if not sole purpose today is as the willing enabler of Trump’s efforts to game the electoral system to ensure his return to power. . . .

“. . . [W]hatever the legitimacy of Republican critiques of Biden, there is a fundamental disingenuousness to it all. It is a dodge. Republicans focus on China and critical race theory and avoid any mention of Trump, even as the party works to fix the next election in his favor. The left hand professes to know nothing of what the right hand is doing.

“Even Trump opponents play along. Republicans such as Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse have condemned the events of Jan. 6, criticized Trump and even voted for his impeachment, but in other respects they continue to act as good Republicans and conservatives. On issues such as the filibuster, Romney and others insist on preserving ‘regular order’ and conducting political and legislative business as usual, even though they know that Trump’s lieutenants in their party are working to subvert the next presidential election.

The result is that even these anti-Trump Republicans are enabling the insurrection. Revolutionary movements usually operate outside a society’s power structures. But the Trump movement also enjoys unprecedented influence within those structures. It dominates the coverage on several cable news networks, numerous conservative magazines, hundreds of talk radio stations and all kinds of online platforms. It has access to financing from rich individuals and the Republican National Committee’s donor pool. And, not least, it controls one of the country’s two national parties. All that is reason enough to expect another challenge, for what movement would fail to take advantage of such favorable circumstances to make a play for power?

“Today, we are in a time of hope and illusion. The same people who said that Trump wouldn’t try to overturn the last election now say we have nothing to worry about with the next one. Republicans have been playing this game for five years, first pooh-poohing concerns about Trump’s intentions, or about the likelihood of their being realized, and then going silent, or worse, when what they insisted was improbable came to pass. These days, even the anti-Trump media constantly looks for signs that Trump’s influence might be fading and that drastic measures might not be necessary.

The world will look very different in 14 months if, as seems likely, the Republican zombie party wins control of the House. . . .

Those who criticize Biden and the Democrats for not doing enough to prevent this disaster are not being fair. There is not much they can do without Republican cooperation, especially if they lose control of either chamber in 2022. It has become fashionable to write off any possibility that a handful of Republicans might rise up to save the day. This preemptive capitulation has certainly served well those Republicans who might otherwise be held to account for their cowardice. How nice for them that everyone has decided to focus fire on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

“Yet it is largely upon these Republicans that the fate of the republic rests.

“Seven Republican senators voted to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection and attempting to overturn a free and fair election . . . . All have faced angry backlashes . . . . Yet as much credit as they deserve for taking this stand, it was almost entirely symbolic. When it comes to concrete action that might prevent a debacle in 2024, they have balked.

“Specifically, they have refused to work with Democrats to pass legislation limiting state legislatures’ ability to overturn the results of future elections, to ensure that the federal government continues to have some say when states try to limit voting rights, to provide federal protection to state and local election workers who face threats, and in general to make clear to the nation that a bipartisan majority in the Senate opposes the subversion of the popular will. Why? . . .

“We are already in a constitutional crisis. The destruction of democracy might not come until November 2024, but critical steps in that direction are happening now. In a little more than a year, it may become impossible to pass legislation to protect the electoral process in 2024. Now it is impossible only because anti-Trump Republicans, and even some Democrats, refuse to tinker with the filibuster. It is impossible because, despite all that has happened, some people still wish to be good Republicans even as they oppose Trump. These decisions will not wear well as the nation tumbles into full-blown crisis.

“It is not impossible for politicians to make such a leap. . . .

*. . . Heading into the next election, it is vital to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It will also still be necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab. Other battles — such as making Election Day a federal holiday and banning partisan gerrymandering — might better be postponed. Efforts to prevent a debacle in 2024 cannot. Democrats need to give anti-Trump Republicans a chance to do the right thing.

“One wonders whether modern American politicians, in either party, have it in them to make such bold moves, whether they have the insight to see where events are going and the courage to do whatever is necessary to save the democratic system. If that means political suicide for this handful of Republicans, wouldn’t it be better to go out fighting for democracy than to slink off quietly into the night?”

SNYDER’S TWENTY LESSONS

Lesson 1: “Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and they offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”

Lesson 2: “Defend institutions. It is institutions that help us preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of ‘our institutions’ unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about—a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union—and take its side.”

Lesson 3: “Beware the one-party state. The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.”

Lesson 4: “Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.”

Lesson 5: “Remember professional ethics. When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges. Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and the concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.”

Lesson 6: “Be wary of paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official policy and military intermingle, the end has come.”

Lesson 7: “Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.”

Lesson 8: “Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. Remember Rosa Parks. The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.”

Lesson 9: “Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.”

Lesson 10: “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

Lesson 11: “Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which come from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate to others.”

Lesson 12: “Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social barriers, and understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.”

Lesson 13: “Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.”

Lesson 14: “Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware on a regular basis. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Tyrants seek the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.”

Lesson 15: “Contribute to good causes. Be active in organizations, political or not, that express your own view of life. Pick a charity or two and set up autopay. Then you will have made a free choice that supports civil society and helps others to do good.”

Lesson 16: “Learn from peers in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends in other countries. The present difficulties in the United States are an element of a larger trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.”

Lesson 17: “Listen for dangerous words. Be alert to the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notion of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.”

Lesson 18: “Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

Lesson 19: “Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.”

Lesson 20: “Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.”

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com. Rob’s second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming, and Norway, dropped on November 17, 2020. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, this novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists is not, however, for the faint of heart.

**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in many traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his artwork. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers.

ravchief

Natural US Citizen. Caucasian. Shamed into blogging by DSM-V Cluster B 9/9-led regime, Utah's most embarrassing congressperson, and Newton's Third Law of Motion. The views expressed are mine.

USA, Utah, Salt Lake City

Subscribe to LAST AMENDMENT

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!