I got into a discussion on Twitter with a woman who believes the threat of right-wing political violence and the threat to democracy are overblown. She comes from the left, not the right. I realized that our differences, in part, come from perspective. What I see happening in the country right now doesn’t seem new; it seems like the fight we’ve been having for generations and, now, my side is losing.
The fight has less to do with Democrats or Republicans than the forces of reaction and progress. Those forces have been at play in the state for centuries and have never really gone away. Today, the reactionaries are ascendant.
I was born into a world of tumult. Violence was common throughout the South and in my home county. I remember hearing about shootings, bombings, and Klan marches when I was a young boy. I also remember the integration of the schools and how all of the turmoil died down as civil rights took hold and the Vietnam War ended.
Still, there were always kids who bragged about their fathers’ participation in the Ku Klux Klan. Even if they made the claims in private conversations, there was a sense of pride. White supremacy was a core value, but economic resentment and cultural displacement were driving factors.
In the 1980s, the reactionaries found a home in the religious right of the Moral Majority. They’ve long claimed that the country is a Christian nation and many of their fights played out over prayer in schools or placing the Ten Commandments in courtrooms. They seemed satisfied in a traditional political party as long as that party was ascendant or dominant as it was in the South throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Then, the shock of Obama left them angry and motivated. The election of a Black man to the White House was followed by a number of cultural defeats, including the legalization of same-sex marriages. Rapid urbanization and the deterioration of manufacturing that propped up the economies of small towns and rural areas led to increased resentment. Donald Trump, a conman of unusual talent, turned that resentment into a movement.
Today, the forces that simmered under the surface for decades have proudly burst into daylight. Four years ago, the march in Charlottesville shocked the nation. Today, similar events warrant barely a shrug. Just this weekend, 100 or so right-wing activists marched through Washington and most people don’t even know it.
The threat to our democracy is real. Look no further than the ubiquitous phrase from the right, “We’re a republic, not a democracy” as proof. Relatively mainstream conservatives are justifying anti-democratic action with Constitutionally dishonest interpretations of our political system. The Founding Fathers did not intend for rule by the minority.
Republicans across the country are distorting rules and passing laws intended to undermine democracy, just as the reactionaries did in the South a bit over 100 years ago. The battle for our democracy is not new but it feels more dangerous. In the past, the forces of reaction seemed to be relegated to the South, with limited hotspots across the nation. Today, the movement feels much broader and with little opposition within the current GOP. The reactionaries don’t just wield influence over the Republican Party, they’ve taken it over completely.
The danger is not the wannabe Brownshirts marching in the streets. The danger comes from the Republican elected officials who ignore them. Those Members of Congress, state legislators, judges, county commissioners, council of state members, and city councillors who should be the bulwark against threats to our system are, instead, following the lead of Donald Trump and his legion of misinformed or cynical devotees. They are the ones who will declare victory for Republicans in elections hijacked by anti-democratic rules and regulations. The wannabe Brownshirts will just enforce their victory, just like the Red Shirts before them.