When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
— Maya Angelou
For quite some time, I have been trying to figure out why nearly all of the elected officials in the Republican Party are okay with a budding autocrat, are okay with defiling their oath to the Constitution, are okay with an insurrection at the Capitol, and are okay with disenfranchising millions of Americans. I thought that surely there must be more than a handful of them that are true to their American roots, laws, institutions, and fundamental beliefs. I could not put all of the pieces together as to why they were undermining America — but I knew that it had to be about more than just politics, fear of being “primaryed” or some cult-like belief in an ex-president. It started to click with me this week due to a number of independent, but related analyses that I came upon.
This is my attempt to put it all together in a coherent way without getting too lost in the weeds. To me, it is critical that those of us that have not been privy to the real motivations behind the shenanigans of the last year understand it. Otherwise, I fear that we will lose our Republic and democracy.
I assert up front that the ex-president is not the be all, end all of the Republican Party that many think that he is. He finds the Republican Party to be a useful tool for his own aggrandizement and the Party finds him to be a useful tool to achieve their agenda and to reach their goal of “saving” the United States. (More on that in a moment.) It is a union of convenience that is mutually beneficial, but only as long as they both see that the means are moving them to the desired ends.
The picture became clearer to me after reading The Big Money Behind the Big Lie in The New Yorker Magazine by Jane Mayer. The well researched and documented article caught national attention because it details the sources of millions of dollars that are helping to keep the Big Lie alive and is being used by numerous right wing organizations to push state legislatures across the country to pass election laws that disenfranchise millions of non-white voters. Worse, many of those laws give partisan office holders or state legislatures the ability to override the will of the people if the vote doesn’t go the way that they want it.
The sources behind the money are scary enough, but what caught my eye was why they were doing it, and suddenly some of the pieces started to fall into place. It is complicated, and in my view, un-American, but that is not how they see it and they have the money, the ability, and most importantly, the will to shape our country to their view of the future if they are not stopped by a national elections law.
Ironically, today, 6 August is the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 designed to reinforce and make real the provisions of the 15th Amendment. Thanks to current efforts in the wake of the Supreme Court severely crippling that Act in the 2013 case Shelby County v Holder, the historical bipartisan approach to voting rights is no more. The path to our current situation is long, but more direct than it may seem.
The supporters of the ex-president point to the 2000 Supreme Court decision in Bush v Gore, the case that in practice gave the 2000 election result in Florida to the Republican candidate resulting in President George W. Bush becoming our 43rd President. (The “hanging chads” election.) As I am neither a Constitutional nor legal scholar, my shorthand as interpreted by the ex-president’s supporters is that in his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, said that the state legislature can be the final arbiter of the rules governing an election. This is the first step in the Big Lie and the subsequent attempts to cancel Electoral College votes and thereby send the election results back to the state legislatures to resolve. Their approach is further aided by the murky Electoral Count Act of 1887 which was designed to clarify the mess created in the presidential election of 1876 where Rutherford B. Hayes is said to have stolen the presidency after a back room deal to end Reconstruction. Unfortunately it is full of exploitable provisions.
All that is to say that there are ways to challenge the results of a presidential election, there can be objections to particular Electoral College results, and state legislatures can get involved in the process. Fortunately, this time around, cooler heads and steadier hands prevailed and the 2020 election was not corrupted. But that is not the end of the story.
For many people, the Big Lie is true. To them, it is true in this sense. Their “America” is a white Christian nation. White Christians overwhelming voted for the 45th president. As Ms. Mayer points out in her article, anyone else is not American, therefore they should not be allowed to vote. Thus, the election was “rigged”, “stolen” or whatever else they want to believe. This argument is given a voice by Tucker Carlson of Fox News (and others) when he claims that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate of voters now casting ballots with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. That’s not democracy. It’s cheating.” (More on Mr. Carlson as the spokesperson for this way of thinking and pushing the movement in a moment.)
What could be the worst outcome for people with these beliefs? A black president. With his election, President Obama embodied the America that those pushing the Big Lie cannot abide. As he voiced support for policies celebrating diversity in every area of society (gay marriage, transgender rights, increasing numbers of minorities in positions of power, etc.) those that espouse the belief that there is only one America and it is white were apoplectic (try a google search of the filth directed at the Obamas). In their view, this can never happen again.
So. How to “fix” this problem? Create an autocracy. With a white male Christian as “president.” If not Trump, then someone like him. (See Florida and Texas for governors trying to out Trump, Trump.)
How to get there? Actually rig the elections. Stack the deck. Make it nearly impossible for anyone except the designated autocrat to win the election. Gerrymander districts, suppress the voters you don’t want to vote, give state legislatures the power to pick their own Electors, in other words, make it nearly impossible for anyone but a “true” American to win the presidency or to gain a majority in the Congress.
Sound far-fetched? Not in the United States? Take a look around. It was a very near thing this time. The tactics, techniques and procedures have been refined under fire. It will work better the next time, if given the chance.
Just like Trump tells us what he is going to do before it happens, so do his supporters across the land (they try, but fortunately don’t always succeed). It is happening in plain sight. As Maya Angelou said above, “believe them.”
One more data point for your consideration. Tucker Carlson, the Fox News “personality” is in Hungary this week, broadcasting from Budapest. This is another piece of the autocracy puzzle. Mr. Carlson is the leading cheerleader in the U.S. for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Those advocating for an autocratic America see Hungary as the model. They claim to be a democracy, but Mr. Orban has usurped all of the levers of power in the country, from the legislature, to the courts, to the press. Elections are held, but under the rules gradually implemented since he took power in 2010, it is impossible for any but his own party members to be elected.
Mr. Orban is also anti-immigration and anti-Muslim. He argues that he is the last bastion in the West for preserving the culture, language and traditions of the “original inhabitants.” Sound familiar? Mr. Carlson went so far in his broadcast last night as to opine that Hungarians are freer in their nation than Americans are in ours. It gets worse from there, but you get the idea.
Normally, I would not give Mr. Tucker the time of day. I think that he is a cancer on the American soul. But as the famous Sun Tzu saying goes, “Know thy enemies and know thyself: in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.” We need to know the hate that Mr. Carlson sells in order to understand where millions of Americans are coming from. Mr. Tucker is upfront as are many of the Big Lie supporters. They say it out loud. An autocracy that preserves American “values” is better than American democracy.
The advocates of election “reform” and disenfranchising Americans are moving ahead at full speed. Without immediate action on the Voting Rights Bills in the Congress, the game may be lost. It’s all there. The wannabe autocrats know what they are doing and are laser focused. The response needs to be equal to the challenge.