This Manichean fixity explains the overwhelming support of white evangelicals for Trump—and their visceral abhorrence of secular society. As Stewart observes: “Even a corrupt sociopath was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals . . . offer the world. That this neo-medieval vision is incompatible with constitutional democracy is clear.”
Nor is reasserting racial and cultural supremacy consonant with free elections among a diverse citizenry. When the stakes are apocalyptic and the chosen outnumbered, democracy must yield to the party of redemption—and the cynical self-interest of its leaders. Hence the GOP’s pervasive efforts to enshrine minority rule through gerrymandering and voter suppression. Their principal means are fictitious claims of voter fraud designed to disenfranchise minorities while undermining faith in our elections. Now we’ve witnessed the apotheosis—a concerted effort to delegitimize the indubitable results of a presidential election to perpetuate the party of white identity in power. The GOP’s true objection was to democracy itself: That Trump lost was, taken alone, sufficient evidence of corruption.
This should not surprise: Social science suggests that a majority of Trump voters are instinctive authoritarians. But one cannot separate Trumpism from the inherent character of the party which spawned him.
Perhaps most salient is the attack on reality itself. “Post-truth,” writes Timothy Snyder, “is pre-fascism.” Hitler castigated the media as “enemies of the people”; so does Trump and, often, his party. Like the avatars of fascism, Republicans increasingly trumpet mendacious propaganda—including about voter fraud.
Classical fascism conditions its followers to accept “the big lie” which unifies their discontents and justifies their leaders’ actions. So, in 2020, did the GOP.
Granted that the big Republican lie did not equal Hitler’s poisonous assertion that perfidious Jews stabbed Germany in the back. But the GOP’s lie to its base was, nonetheless, breathtakingly ambitious: that an unfathomable conspiracy involving thousands of state and local officials and judges, many Republicans, had stolen the presidency from Donald Trump—from them.
To believe this, one must not only distrust an electoral system dispersed across 50 states and countless localities—and everyone in it—but reject an overwhelming amount of easily available evidence and the dictates of common sense. Yet most Republicans did just that. In their collective mind, the GOP was cheated by perfidious forces, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. The dangerous myth of political dispossession is now embedded in the Republican narrative.
This spotlights another element in Paxton’s delineation of fascism—“a mass-based party . . . working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites”—and the role of the Republican donor class in undermining democracy.
Their political tribune, Mitch McConnell, empowered them by quashing campaign finance laws and repackaging de facto bribery as “speech.” In turn they have lavishly supported the party’s interests—including groups dedicated to the instrumentalities of voter suppression.
Their indulgence of white identity politics was calculated to avoid the political consequences of income inequality while furthering their economic agenda—tax cuts, deregulation, and pro-business judges. This culminated in supporting Trump as a Trojan horse for quasi-plutocracy— while countenancing his pervasive attacks on constitutional democracy and the rule of law.
In backing Trump, the Republican donor class placed their interests above democracy. That was hardly incidental—it’s the point of their political activity.
Its ingredients—racial antagonism, religious absolutism, cultural revanchism, phony populism, and primal nationalism—bind base voters to a party indifferent to their economic interests. Whoever dispenses this witches’ brew most artfully will become the Republican nominee.
Vir: Richard North Patterson, The Bullwark