America has weathered many storms in her 246 years. She’s been a participant in foreign wars and been attacked on her own soil. The winds of change have blown, sometimes at hurricane force, but she has withstood and persevered and come back stronger. Yet America faces a challenge now that she hasn’t seen before and that is erosion from within. The very social fiber which has held this union together for two and a half centuries is under attack, democracy itself.

This is the era of strongman worship in the United States. We have never seen this before, at least not in these numbers. But we see it on Fox News, where Viktor Orban takes Tucker Carlson on scenic tours of Hungary and at CPAC where accused sexual molester Matt Schlapp proudly proclaims he’s going to keep reporters out of the proceedings.

CPAC stands for Conservative Political Action Committee and it used to be a congregation of the intelligentsia of conservative thought, the best writers, the deepest thinkers and policy makers. Only now is it turning into a closed door enclave, a la Eyes Wide Shut, where nobody really knows what is being discussed because journalists can’t get in. Journalists couldn’t get into CPAC in Hungary and apparently Florida is going that way as well.

This begs the obvious question, what does it mean when what is being discussed at CPAC is of such inflammatory nature that it has to be done behind closed doors and in secret, rather than having the press report it, as in days of yore? What has changed? The commitment to democracy in this country, that’s what has changed. Letters From An American, Heather Cox Richardson:

Democracy stands on the principle of equality for all people, and those who are turning away from democracy, including the right wing in the United States, object to that equality. They worry that equal rights for women and minorities—especially LGBTQ people—will undermine traditional religion and traditional power structures. They believe democracy saps the morals of a country and are eager for a strong leader who will use the power of the government to reinforce their worldview.

But empowering a strongman ends oversight and enables those in power to think of themselves as above the law. In the short term, it permits those in power to use the apparatus of their government to enrich themselves at the expense of the people of their country. Their supporters don’t care: they are willing to accept the cost of corruption so long as the government persecutes those they see as their enemies. But that deal is vulnerable when it becomes clear the government cannot respond to an immediate public crisis.

That equation is painfully clear right now in Turkey and Syria, where more than 380,000 people are homeless after Monday’s devastating earthquakes. The death toll has climbed to more than 23,000, and more than 78,000 are injured. So far. Just a month ago, Turkey’s president President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised that the country had the fastest and most effective system of response to disaster in the world.

But that promise has been exposed as a lie. As Jen Kirby pointed out in Vox yesterday, Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who have been moving the country toward autocracy, rose to power thanks to a construction boom in the 2010s that both drove economic growth and permitted Erdoğan to hand out contracts to his supporters. The collapse of more than 6,400 buildings in Monday’s quakes have brought attention to cost cutting and bribery to get around building codes. At the same time, since a big quake in 1999, homeowners have been paying an earthquake tax that should, by now, have been worth tens of billions of dollars, but none of that money seems to be available, and Erdoğan won’t say where it went.

“This is a time for unity, solidarity,” Erdoğan told reporters. “In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest.” He has shut down media coverage of the crisis and cracked down on social media as well. Elections in Turkey are scheduled for May 14. Erdoğan was already facing a difficult reelection.

“Negative campaigns for political interest.” Sounds just like Matt Schlapp talking about CPAC, does it not?

It doesn’t stop there, by a long shot. We have a right wing in this country that is openly pro-Putin, because they approve of his anti-LGBTQ stance and his supposed belief in Christianity, which is a farce. But don’t tell that to the evangelicals, they’ll get upset. Somehow they find it plausible that a murderous KGB agent holds the values of Jesus Christ sacrosanct. Incredible but true.

Elon Musk is in on this pro-Putin ideology. Heather Cox Richardson reports that Musk’s SpaceX CEO admitted on Friday that the company has blocked the ability of Ukrainian troops to use the Starlink satellite system to advance against Russia. And in October Musk made headlines for proposing a “peace” plan that would give Russia the territory it has claimed from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin, openly declared plans to attack Poland after conquering Ukraine. It was time, he said, for the West to fall to its knees before Russia, according to Cox Richardson. There are plenty of people in the American right wing who are all for it. Trump idolizes Putin and his MAGAs follow suit.

This is the true crisis in America today. It is not about Republican v. Democrat. It hasn’t been about that for a long time. It’s about one functioning political party v. a collapsing political party, and where that latter party is going. It doesn’t appear to want America to remain a democratic republic. The latter party wants an autocracy in America. This is what we face. This crisis is existential.


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  1. I would love it if, on March 31st, Joe Biden goes on the air and announces something along the lines of the following:

    “My fellow Americans: Effective at 12:01 am Eastern Daylight Saving Time, the first of April, 2023, I will be assuming full and total control of the American government. The Congress of the United States will be locked down and all members will be immediately placed under house arrest. Martial law will be declared and the Supreme Court and all lower federal courts will be abolished. All network broadcasting and internet access will be suspended for 1440 minutes pending reviews of current programming and service providers to ensure loyalty to the new regime. All State governments will be run by military governors under my direct authority and my word will become absolute law. I have decided to take this action as there appears to be an extremist faction in this country which does not simply want, but appears to strongly desire, control by an authoritarian strongman. And, after much thought, I’ve decided that *I* should be that strongman. I realize this action may lead to some discontent but, as a proper authoritarian strongman, I don’t really give a damn. Good night and enjoy your new lives as peasants in President-for-Life Joe Biden’s New America.”

    Then, at 12:02 Eastern Daylight Saving Time, Biden uses his new power to send an emergency alert text to all cell phones and use the national Emergency Alert System for television and radio with the message: “From the Office of President-for-Life Joe Biden, Happy April Fool’s Day, folks.”

    Let’s see how right-wing media and the right-wing trolls in Congress respond to that epic trolling.

    For added fun, Biden could name some names as “enemies of the new regime” and announce their pending arrest and execution for “crimes against the President-for-Life” (folks like Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Greene and Tucker Carlson).

  2. Better that than armed fighting in the streets to stop a true fascist government like the one the Guns Over People party is trying to establish here. Maybe a taste of fascism, unalderated, is just what can wake this country up to the danger all around us and growing.

    • Education is the linchpin here. I spoke with young voters, people voting for the first time in 2016, 2018 and 2020 and the ones who knew history were tuned in to what the votes meant. The ones who grew up with pop culture, knew nothing of Russia or America’s history with same, were all for being pals with Putin, having no clue what they were really saying.

  3. I read an excellent article explaining that all the doom-and-gloom articles in the right-wing media (“America in decay”, etc.) are intended to convince people that only an authoritarian takeover of the country will “save” it. Because of demographic changes, the GOP knows it can never regain power at the federal level through free and fair elections. At the state level, red states are passing laws that openly defy the U.S. Constitution, on the assumption that citizens will “get used” to such laws long before SCOTUS rules on these cases, if ever.
    So, even if the Republican party is collapsing, it clearly intends to cause as much damage as possible.

    • What you’re saying makes perfect sense to me. The GOP’s only real hope to get in power and stay there a while could well be a strongman takeover. You remember that quote, “If conservatives become convinced they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will abandon democracy.” We are seeing that unfold before our eyes.


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