Maya Angelou famously counseled, "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." Her wisdom remains undefeated.
If the American people — especially white people — along with the news media and political elites had heeded that wisdom, perhaps our country would not now be teetering on the edge of a fascist abyss.
The contemporary Republican Party has become the world's largest white supremacist organization, and now also explicitly supports the use of political violence and terrorism to advance the goal of ending multiracial democracy. Donald Trump's coup attempt, culminating in the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021, was the literal embodiment of those values, beliefs and goals.
The foundational premise of the Trump coup attempt and the Big Lie about the 2020 election that fueled it was that the votes of Black and brown people essentially do not count, or at least should not have equal weight with votes of white people, especially white "conservatives" in the former slave-owning Confederacy and other parts of "red state" America.
White supremacy is violence; white supremacist violence is personal, structural and institutional. It is through violence, and the threat of violence, that a society organized around maintaining white privilege across all areas of life is created, maintained, expanded, protected and enforced.
Those who fail to understand Jan. 6 as an act of white supremacist violence effectively deny the reality of what happened that day, along with its genesis, meaning and long-term implications. For today's Republican Party and the "conservative" movement, the racist "dog whistles" or "coded appeals" required by the "Southern strategy" of the '60s, '70s and '80s are now almost totally obsolete. Those things belong to an earlier moment when white supremacy had to be cloaked in plausible deniability because majority society increasingly viewed it as shameful.
As the 2022 midterms and then the 2024 presidential election draw closer, the Republican Party and the larger white right will both literally and figuratively drop their masks. They have showed us who they are; we should believe them.
During a speech at a Trump rally in Illinois two Saturdays ago, Rep. Mary Miller, a Republican who represents a district in rural southeastern Illinois, spoke in celebration of the Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. "President Trump, on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America," she said, "I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday."
That statement did not appear to be a gaffe or an error. Miller was reading from a prepared text and did not pause, attempt to correct herself or look embarrassed in any way. Subsequently her campaign has claimed that she intended to say "the right to life." Such a defense lacks any credibility.
For one thing, Miller's remark about "white life" fits into a larger pattern. Consider what she said at a rally on Capitol Hill in January 2021:
Each generation has the responsibility to teach and train the next generation. You know, if we win a few elections, we're still going to be losing, unless we win the hearts and minds of our children. This is the battle. … Hitler was right on one thing: He said, "Whoever has the youth, has the future."
Miller belongs to the large majority of Republicans in Congress who voted to reject electoral votes from states Joe Biden had won in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack. Last Tuesday, to no one's surprise, she was renominated by Republican voters in her district in the Illinois primaries.
Claims about the need to protect "white life" by banning abortion are a key element of the racist "great replacement" conspiracy theory. Within that worldview, "white life" is uniquely sacred and white women play a special role in saving or protecting the future of the white race, which is locked in an existential struggle against Black and brown "invaders" who are trying to conquer or destroy majority Christian nations or "Western civilization" as a whole.
This set of toxic fictions has now entered the political mainstream: Public opinion polls show that more than half of Trump voters and Republicans believe in the central claims of the "great replacement" theory. Last weekend in Illinois, no one booed Mary Miller's reference to "white life." There was no moment of uncomfortable silence or awkwardness. The crowd cheered.
The need to protect "white life" is a key element of the "great replacement" theory, in which white women have a sacred duty to protect the race in its existential struggle.
Donald Trump certainly did not look uncomfortable. He looked on approvingly as Mary Miller spoke glowingly of the importance of "white life." While Trump typically speaks in more coded terms, he has repeatedly shown himself to be a white supremacist who traffics in race-war fantasies, white victimology, and both explicit and implicit calls for violence to protect "real America" (meaning white people who support him) from those who are un-American and dangerous, a category that includes nearly all Black and brown Americans as well as liberals and progressives, feminists and LGBTQ people, among others.
Consider the tone of recent fundraising emails from Trump's PAC. Here is one:
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We must DISCREDIT, EXPOSE and DEFEAT their TOXIC plans.
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The Radical Democrats will do anything to line their pockets and destroy our great country. They've attacked OUR values, destroyed OUR economy, put America Last, called us racist and deplorable. It's disgusting really. If we're going to win in 2022 and 2024, we need to do something NOW.
Democrats won't stop until AMERICA IS UNRECOGNIZABLE.
That same weekend, also in response to the Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas posted a now infamous tweet: "Now do Plessy vs Ferguson/Brown vs Board of Education."
Officially, according to his own explanation, Cornyn was criticizing those who argued that long-standing Supreme Court decisions should not be overturned. "Thank goodness some SCOTUS precedents are overruled," he subsequently tweeted after his first statement was met with public outrage.
In reality, Cornyn was clearly suggesting that Black Americans should once again become second-class citizens by reinstating the Jim Crow white supremacist terror regime epitomized by the Plessy v. Ferguson decision — a regime under which tens of thousands of Black Americans were murdered by white people in "race riots," pogroms, lynchings and other targeted killings from the end of the Civil War all the way through to the civil rights movement more than 100 years later.
Whatever Cornyn's expressed intention, the evidence is clear: The Republican Party supports, advocates for and enables policies and outcomes designed to maintain the dominance and control of white people over all areas of American society. Furthermore, it endorses and uses violence to achieve its goals, as public opinion polls make clear and the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 so vividly illustrates.
In fact, the end of Roe v. Wade and the assault on women's reproductive rights and freedoms is the result of a decades-long pressure campaign that has used intimidation, arson, bombings, physical assault and even murder to achieve its goals. Kathy Spillar summarizes this at Ms. Magazine:
For nearly 50 years, as anti-abortion legislators in states around the country have chipped away at the constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion, they have done so with the steady drumbeat of violence at their back. ...
Though violence and threats of violence directed against abortion providers have been a prominent aspect of abortion in the United States since Roe was decided, anti-abortion legislators would like to ignore this history. Instead, they try to frame the history of post-Roe abortion as a "hard issue" and one of mere "controversy" that should be settled by these same state legislators. But decades of violence make clear that the debate over abortion in America isn't a matter of some "civil disagreement." It is the subject of unrelenting attacks by those who have no regard for the rule of law.
In the decision expected within the next few months, if the Supreme Court overturns or severely guts Roe v. Wade, it will send an unmistakable and dangerous message: that the violence against abortion providers has worked…
Spillar was writing before the Dobbs decision, but predicted that a decision overturning Roe would "send an unmistakable and dangerous message: that the violence against abortion providers has worked." She also suggests that the decision will "further embolden extremists to engage in violence in their crusade to end abortion in the United States":
After all, extremist violence has not been confined to those jurisdictions that would be expected to curtail abortion rights if Roe is overturned. Six of the murders committed by anti-abortion extremists occurred in jurisdictions that would likely preserve access to abortion: Colorado, Massachusetts and New York. If anti-abortion sentiments are unable to sway legislators in some states to ban abortion outright, there are very real reasons to be concerned that extremists — who for decades have disregarded the rule of law and legitimate political process — will take matters into their own hands.
As documented by historian Nancy MacLean in her book "Democracy in Chains," the leaders of today's "conservative" movement have utter disdain for democracy, the Constitution, human rights, human freedom, the common good and the rule of law. This anti-democracy movement also wants to impose a type of Christian fascist regime on the American people.
In a recent essay for ScheerPost and Salon, Chris Hedges argues that the "Christian fascists are clear about the society they intend to create":
In their ideal America, our "secular humanist" society based on science and reason will be destroyed. The Ten Commandments will form the basis of the legal system. Creationism or "Intelligent Design" will be taught in public schools, many of which will be overtly "Christian." Those branded as social deviants, including the LGBTQ community, immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims, criminals and those dismissed as "nominal Christians" — meaning Christians who do not embrace this peculiar interpretation of the Bible — will be silenced, imprisoned or killed. The role of the federal government will be reduced to protecting property rights, "homeland" security and waging war. Most government assistance programs and federal departments, including education, will be terminated. Church organizations will be funded and empowered to run social welfare agencies and schools. The poor, condemned for sloth, indolence and sinfulness, will be denied help. The death penalty will be expanded to include "moral crimes," including apostasy, blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft, as well as abortion, which will be treated as murder. Women, denied contraception, access to abortion and equality under the law, will be subordinate to men. Those who practice other faiths will become, at best, second-class citizens. The wars waged by the American empire will be defined as religious crusades. Victims of police violence and those in prison will have no redress. There will be no separation of church and state. The only legitimate voices in public discourse and the media will be "Christian." America will be sacralized as an agent of God. Those who defy the "Christian" authorities, at home and abroad, will be condemned as agents of Satan.
Today's "conservative" movement is now in revolutionary mode, determined to destroy the expansion of freedom, human rights and democracy that took place from Reconstruction through the New Deal, the civil rights movement, the feminist revolution, the gay pride movement and other progressive movements throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.
At its core, fascism is always revanchist and seeks to impose an old order (which is often imaginary or invented) on a new world. That new-old world for today's Republican-fascists goes back at least to the 19th century, if not before. In a recent essay at the Daily Beast, David Rothkopf explains the role of the Supreme Court in that revolutionary political project:
History may look back at the period in which we are living and call it the Great Regression. It is a time in which on issue after issue, we are seeing decades and sometimes centuries of progress reversed.
If the term regression feels too academic, we may just as easily call it the Great Leap Backwards. If it continues at its current pace, it may end up being known as the American Dark Ages … or worse, to borrow from another historical saga, the Decline and Fall of the United States. ...
Do not call this band of reckless revisionists on the court conservatives, by the way. Nothing about what they are doing is "conservative," nor should you call them "strict constructionalists" or "originalists," as their decisions disregard legal precedent, the spirit of the Constitution, and often craft citations for their decisions from whole cloth….
These are huge regressions for American society. ... And the scariest part is that they are proof the right wing's campaign to obliterate social progress over the past four decades has thus far been scarily successful. If they are not stopped at the polls, they may someday turn back the clock so far that we and the world wonder once again whether the United States is an idea that can long survive.
Today's Republican-fascists imagine a world of rules and hierarchies: White people over Black and brown people, men over women, right-wing Christians over all other faiths and non-believers, and the rich over everyone else.
The world imagined by today's Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement is a world of rules and hierarchies. White people rule over Black and brown people. Right-wing Christians will rule over other religious groups and non-believers. Men will rule over women. The rich and moneyed classes will have total power over the poor, the working class and the middle class, most likely all of those outside the top 5 percent. Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans people will be virtually erased from American society, and perhaps literally disappeared. Other marginalized groups, including people with disabilities and undocumented immigrants, will face similar fates. The "rights" of property, corporations and guns will fully supersede those of human beings, the natural world and the commons. "Democracy" will exist in name only, and in practice will be what political scientists call "competitive authoritarianism" or perhaps even an outright authoritarian state adapted to fit the mold of American exceptionalism.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone. Republicans and "conservatives" have been publicly announcing and telegraphing their plans to end American democracy — and to reject pluralism and human rights more broadly — for decades. In their own fashion, they have been direct and polite: They have told us what they would do, and then they have done it.
Too many Americans — especially leading Democrats and mainstream liberals, along with the guardians of approved public discourse in the national media — have continued to tell themselves comforting lies. Republicans are "exaggerating" or being "hyperbolic" because "we are all Americans" who have "the same fundamental values". Those comforting lies were always cowardly, now they are just contemptible. In fact, the Republican-fascists and their allies told us clearly who and what they were from the beginning. The question now becomes whether it is too late for the majority of Americans to take them at their word, and use the precious time remaining to defend, preserve and rebuild our democracy.