The hope peddlers, stenographers of current events, professional centrists and too many other members of the mainstream American news media have a new obsession. They keep telling the American people that the Republican Party is in the midst of a "civil war," is in "disarray," is "tearing itself apart" or experiencing a "crisis of meaning" and fighting for its so-called soul.
Unfortunately, none of that is true. These are comforting and self-gratifying stories, fueled by a desperate desire for a return to supposed political normalcy and business as usual. Such fables are also colored by no small amount of liberal schadenfreude and a desire to give the American people — especially the millions who voted Donald Trump out of office — a sense of reward and accomplishment.
Joe Biden is president of the United States. The Democrats also have control of Congress — by a tenuous and razor-thin margin. But the Republican Party and the larger right-wing movement remain largely unified in their effort to overthrow America's multiracial democracy.
It's true that Sen. Mitt Romney was booed last week at the Republican state convention in Utah. It's also true that Rep. Liz Cheney and other Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his crimes against the United States are being censured and otherwise attacked by members of their own party. But those are not illustrations of fratricide or disarray within the Republican Party. Instead, they are examples of the way right-wing and other extremist political movements consolidate power by purging dissenting voices within their ranks.
Moreover, this narrative of a "civil war," as exemplified by the predicament of Romney and Cheney, is yet another reflection of the mainstream media's obsession with finding "reasonable Republicans" to valorize.
In reality, while the likes of Cheney and Romney may have voted to impeach Trump and continue to speak out about the crimes of Jan. 6, such Republican "heroes" supported almost all of Trump's policies as president. Cheney, in fact, is especially dangerous. She is attempting to present herself as a "reasonable" or "traditional" Republican, when in reality her views on policy are in lockstep with those of the 21st-century Republican Party, which Noam Chomsky has accurately described as the greatest threat to the United States and the world today.
In that sense, Cheney is a friendly fascist. Just as the media normalized and downplayed the Trump political cult movement's threat to American democracy, many of the same voices are committing the same error in their worship of Liz Cheney.
After Trump's followers launched an attack on the U.S. Capitol as part of his coup attempt, the mainstream media was largely convinced that these crimes against democracy and the American people would force a moral reckoning and a grave struggle for the conscience of the Republican Party. No such thing occurred.
Donald Trump remains in control of the neofascist Republican Party and the broader white right. Republican elected officials and candidates fear Trump and his followers' wrath — and desperately seek his approval. Republican voters largely still believe the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him — and Republican leaders largely pretend to.
A new CNN poll reports that 70 percent of Republicans actually believe that Joe Biden did not win enough votes to be president.
In 47 states across the country, the Republican Party and its agents are attempting to impose a new Jim Crow American apartheid aimed at preventing Black and brown people — essential members of the Democratic base — from voting. Even if only partly successful, such a strategy could well allow the Republican Party to steal elections across the country and remain in power in defiance of popular will.
As shown in extensive detail by Nancy MacLean, Anne Nelson, Sarah Chayes, Thom Hartmann, Jeff Sharlet and many others, since at least the 1950s and 1960s a right-wing coalition of plutocrats, interest groups, evangelical Christians, corporatists, libertarians, would-be fascists and other ideologues have been working to undermine American democracy.
In her book "Democracy in Chains," historian MacLean describes the grand scale of this threat:
This cause is different. Pushed by relatively small numbers of radical right billionaires and millionaires who have become profoundly hostile to America's modern system of government, an apparatus decades in the making, funded by those same billionaires and millionaires, has been working to undermine the normal governance of our democracy. Indeed, one such manifesto calls for a "hostile takeover" of Washington, DC. That hostile takeover maneuvers very much like a fifth column, operating in a highly calculated fashion, more akin to an occupying force than to an open group engaged in the usual give-and-take of politics. The size of this force is enormous.
The American right-wing movement thinks in terms of decades. The hope peddlers, professional centrists and stenographers of current events think in terms of days and hours — or perhaps, on rare occasions, weeks. This is a mismatch of vision, skills, resources and imagination.
In a new essay for the Progressive, Melissa Ryan explores how Republicans are gaining control of the country on the state and local levels. Her insights are worth quoting at length:
Arizona and Michigan are battleground states, but they aren't outliers. State Republican parties across the nation are feeling the increased influence of Trumpian/far-right extremists. At least fifty-seven Republican state and local officials from twenty-seven states were at the Capitol on January 6. Nearly all are facing calls to resign — but mostly from their political opposition, not other Republicans. As of mid-February, only two have stepped down.
State Republican parties in Wyoming, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon, and South Carolina and county Republican parties in Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Michigan, and Washington State have all voted to censure their fellow Republicans for various offenses that come down to not showing loyalty to Donald Trump.
The Texas Republican Party, currently chaired by former Tea Party Congressman Allen West, has endorsed legislation to allow a vote on secession from the United States, following news that Texas state Representative Kyle Biedermann planned to introduce the bill at the statehouse.
Shirlene Ostrov resigned as chair of the Hawaii GOP after the party's official Twitter account was used to promote the QAnon conspiracy theory. The party's vice chair of communications also resigned. In addition to QAnon tweets, the account also promoted a Holocaust denier.
In Oregon, the state Republican Party in February elected as its chairperson state Senator Dallas Heard, a known far-right extremist. Just a few weeks prior, the Oregon GOP claimed in an official statement that the attempted coup on January 6 was a "false flag" attack carried out by people on the left to discredit Trump.
The GOP's transformation is part of an intentional strategy that Trump's allies have been optimizing since his 2016 presidential campaign.
Ryan concludes with this cautionary advice:
Can U.S. democracy survive this current moment? It's a question many of us have been asking since Donald Trump was first elected in 2016, and one that seems even more prescient as our country moves forward after a violent attempted coup where, so far, few of the elected officials who fanned the flames and incited the riot have been held accountable for their actions.
If Democrats want to reverse the nation's current course, it's clear that the next stages of the fight will be at the state and local level. As Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post told me, "These attacks on our democracy underscore the high stakes of state and local elections — we cannot afford to ignore the races down the ballot. Democrats are going to stand up and fight voter suppression with every available tool, and we need strong grassroots support to show the GOP that they cannot attack our freedom to vote without a fight." …
The path to saving U.S. democracy might be rough and full of obstacles, but it does exist. Most Americans, regardless of their political views, don't want to live in a nation with attempted coups, white supremacist violence, and the fear of a second civil war.
The Republican Party retains a lot of political power, but it has tied itself to a deeply unpopular former President whose continued presence will make it difficult for a new party leader to emerge. That gives pro-democracy Americans who are ready to fight back an opening.
Many prominent voices in the media are also in denial about the fact that today's Republican Party is the front organization for an American neofascist movement that also includes the right-wing propaganda disinformation machine and many white evangelical churches and religious organizations, as well as paramilitaries and other street thugs. The hope peddlers and stenographers continue to make the same errors in analysis because they remain in willful denial about the nature of the political struggle in America at present, a cold war (and occasionally a hot one) between freedom and fascism.
Such denial of reality is compounded by a fundamental error in reasoning: Too many members of the news media and the commentariat are imposing their normative beliefs, assumptions and behavior onto a Republican Party that has become an aberrant and destructive force in American life and society.
In short, the Republican Party, like any other political organization or movement, must be judged based on its actual behavior and beliefs, not by what outsiders wish to comfortably project on them. As poet Maya Angelou so wisely observed, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
The hope peddlers and professional centrists are promoting a dream-narrative about a Republican civil war and descent into chaos and fratricide. That signals to the great danger in this moment of still-ascendant American neofascism. One does not win the struggle for democracy, or any other great struggle, by simply waiting for the enemy to implode and destroy themselves. That is a dreadful strategy, likely to guarantee defeat. It is long past time for the mainstream news media to take seriously its role as defender and advocate for democracy. Elevating those who spread comforting and hopeful myths about a return to normalcy may be profitable for the media business, but it's a historic betrayal of responsibility.