Liberal democracy is not a good thing for political parties of the right. While it can deliver for most people most of the time, liberal democracy can’t for the Republican Party or its counterparts around the globe. Elite members of such political parties have everything they need politically, because they are rich, very rich or very obscenely rich.
They don’t need democratic politics the way you and I need democratic politics, because god-like wealth, status and power have already brought them superlative levels of freedom. What they need, or what they tell themselves they need, is for liberal democracy to get out of the way so they can become even more very obscenely rich.
Democracy won’t get out of the way, so political parties of the right have devised ways of making their goals appear as if they’re everyone’s. They must because their real goals are gothic: minimal if any taxation on their money, especially dynastic money, and minimal if any regulation of the means of adding more to the pile. Most people most of the time don’t care about that, because they have some measure of caring for their fellow human beings. Indeed, they sympathize with the poor and resent the rich. There’s only one thing the conservative rich can possibly do. They lie—and lie and lie.
While the conservative rich really do believe they are better than everyone else—they have “good genes,” after all—they can’t say that. That gets them in trouble. While they really do believe morality is a ploy by the weak (you and me) to defend themselves against the strong (them), they can’t say that. That gets them in trouble. So they spend as much time masking their true intentions as they do gobbling up as much as they can in the barbarous belief that human beings can’t behave better than wild animals.
When an anonymous billionaire was asked in July if it’s fair to get richer while the covid pandemic kills Americans and leaves devastation in its wake, he said: “I don’t know. Is war fair? Do people die in a war? Yes. You’ve got a virus that is affecting people. It’s pretty clear who it affects. (He meant people who are old and sick.) So nature is saying, ‘I’m going to pick on you.’ Is it fair? Is it right? No. But that’s life.”
This is social Darwinism, among a repertoire of lies the conservative rich have told us for decades. Their extraordinary wealth, and consequently their extraordinary power, aren’t just natural; they are preferable to the impure hand of government taxing and regulating what they say should not be taxed and regulated, because doing so threatens the economy, a system in which all of us have stake. This lie appeared noble, tied to our collective fate. It was, however, gothic. It was predicated on mass suffering.
For the last four years, the Republicans haven’t bothered appeasing liberal democracy with all the many lies they honed to perfection over the years. National character? Didn’t matter. States rights? Didn’t matter. Norms and institutions? Didn’t matter. Civil society? Didn’t matter. “Big government”? Didn’t matter. Budgets and spending? Didn’t matter. Patriotism? Even that didn’t matter. Everything the conservative rich told us they cared about was stripped away. Their true goals—tax cuts, business deregulation, control of judges—were revealed. The GOP showed its true face.
And it continues to. The president isn’t winding down his term. He’s “broadening” a “pressure campaign” to subvert the election and the will of the people. Trump twice called last week the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That’s the third time he has intervened personally in an attempt to stay in office. Federal law requires the US Congress to recognize the election’s outcome, but so far all but 25 Republicans refuse to say Joe Biden won. How far they are willing to go along with Trump depends on how much they see the need to appease liberal democracy.
John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good. He’s a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Wesleyan University, a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, and a contributing editor for Religion Dispatches.