The Republicans Are Making a Mockery of Democracy
By now, you don’t have to look very hard to see it: the Republicans are making a mockery of democracy. And yet while they are, and we all know it, it’s not being discussed enough, nor nearly with the gravity it deserves. Looking for a decent discussion of this latest fiasco, I could scarcely find one that even gave it the proper context: far-right Trumpists, lunatics, violent thugs, bigots, supremacists…being given plum Committee assignments in Congress. So let’s begin there.
Marjorie Taylor Greene? Who recently said that if she had led the Jan. 6 attack, “we would have won” and that people would have been “armed”? Who’s made a point of appearing in public and smiling alongside Holocaust deniers and literal supremacists? She’s going to be on the Homeland Security Committee. Think about how crazy that is for a second, as in “literally bananas”: someone who still vehemently champions Jan 6th and thinks of literal fascists as good guys…is now one of the people in charge of America’s Homeland Security.
Crazy town, and we’ve barely even begun.
Then there’s Paul Gosar. He’s also appeared with Holocaust deniers and white supremacists, which of course is an open signal to the base, barely even with a wink and a nod. He’s also known for sending a violent death threat to a fellow member of Congress, where: “[Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s] face is superimposed over the monster’s, before the three anime characters/members of Congress deliver a fatal strike to the back of the monster’s head. Blood is seen gushing from the attack.”
That guy? He’s now on the House’s…LOL…Oversight Committee. Totally normal, right, to put someone on in charge of oversight who’s celebrated killing his fellow members of a Congress in a wink, nod, joke-but-not-really.
Ah, friends. How deep this abyss of lunacy goes.
Then there’s everyone’s favorite con artist, George Santos. He’s the guy that’s reportedly lied about his entire background, from his grandparents being Holocaust survivors to his mother dying on 9/11 to scamming a veteran out of money he’d raised for his dying dog. Guess what his punishment — I mean reward — is. He’s on…wait for it…deep breath…the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. (Quite rightly, this was mocked online as welcoming an “astronaut” and a “Nobel Prize Winner” to the Committee.)
What exactly is going on here? It’s funny, but it’s not just fun and games. There is a point to this sordid spectacle. Making a mockery of democracy is a tactic that authoritarians and fascists love. Not just because it gives them a kind of perverse entertainment, but because it serves the purpose of undermining democracy from within, reducing to a coarse, cheapened thing, thereby weakening confidence and trust in it, not to mention its ability to do its job. I’ll come to all that, which can be put more simply: authoritarians make a mockery of democracy in order to hollow it out from within, even as they purport to be undertaking its hard work.
Now, none of the above was a fait accompli. This is basically what the new Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, let happen, in exchange for support from these lunatics and fanatics in the first place. A lurid deal — a power-seeking autocrat, allied with lunatics and bigots and liars, all of whom are taking a wrecking ball to democracy, gleefully.
OK. Now that you have a bit of actual info, which there’s still not enough of, let’s discuss all the above.
What’s really going on here? Well, think for a moment about proper banana republics. What happens in them? Aspiring authoritarians have learned to treat Orwell’s warnings as a kind of manual for how to destroy democracy. Remember 1984? In it, each Ministry did precisely the opposite of its intended job. The Ministry of Truth spread Big Lies, the Ministry of Love was responsible for the daily “two minutes hate,” where people united and screamed, raged, sneered at scapegoats. Sound familiar? It should.
Autocrats love using this method of destroying a democracy. When you win some power, democratically, that is, quickly appoint the most cynical candidate you can find to some mid-level office. So in plenty of failed states, we see patterns like the following. The Minister of Culture is a hateful bigot who wants to burn books and ban words and make being a certain kind of person a crime. The Minister of Science is a fundamentalist lunatic who thinks the earth was created a few thousand years ago, and thinks science itself is a dangerous heresy against religion. The Minister for Women is a dude with a track record of being a compulsive misogynist and serial abuser in his personal life, and loudly proclaims that men not being manly and faithful enough is the real problem, along with women not knowing their place, which happens to be in the kitchen and or bedroom. I don’t really have to point out which precise kinds of countries we see this pattern in — you know which ones they are.
The pattern is the thing to understand: a) appoint the coarsest, crudest, most vulgar person there is with b) the most cynical attitudes there are which c) stand in direct and diametrical opposition to the democratic expression, version, of the job they’re supposed to do. So the Minister for Science goes out there and makes nice with hate preachers, the Minister for Culture gives speeches about how books are dangerous things, the Minister for Women goes out there and leads the “morality police” in beating women. This is how you destroy a democracy from within — by appointing violent lunatics and bigots, who are quite happy to be not just as coarse as necessary, but as cynical as humanly possible. And that way, everything gets turned on its head — just like in 1984.
What’s another way of putting this? Gaslighting. So we could call this strategy something like “The Gaslighting Method to Burn Democracy Down to Ashes.”
Now. You might think to yourself, surely that can’t fully happen here — that only happens to countries where Ministers like that are uncouth men with long beards who wear turbans!! — but my friend, you’d be wrong. Let me give you an example that’s uncomfortably close to home, to show you just how easy it is destroy a democracy — even one that used to be rich and powerful and, well, sane.
You know who’s probably the most skilled party at this in the world today? Britain’s conservatives. And they’ve used exactly the strategy above to absolutely, utterly, totally destroy Britain, which is now a nation having a Great Depression level economic implosion, coupled with a social crisis on the scale of a 9/11…every month. But I’ll come back to all that, and yes, it’s really that bad, here, take Tim Harford’s word for it, if you doubt little old me.
Britain’s conservative party is so good at this stratagem of the Gaslighting Method to Burn Democracy Down to Ashes that…well, let me show you. Let’s do a few examples. The Home Secretary in Britain is the equivalent of the Secretary of State — responsible for the nation internally. This Home Secretary? She’s obsessed, maniacally, violently, in a shudder-inducing, frightful way…with…the precise opposite. Immigrants. Calling them “invaders.” Who are attacking in “swarms.” She’s obsessed — I mean that quite literally, she seems to never stop talking about it — with the precise opposite of the nation, which is people who aren’t even British. What doesn’t she care about? Anything that’s actually happening in the country. Britain’s having a 9/11 every two weeks or so, adjusted for population, because people can’t get ambulances, yes really, here are a few horror stories of people watching their relatives just die. And yet…the person who’s responsibility the internal state of the nation is…only cares about…people who aren’t even in it.
Crazy, right? But that’s the Gaslighting Method in action. And the sad thing? Is that it works. Or at least it has in Britain. She’s just the latest one. Britain’s had more than a decade of such Gaslighting. Twelve long years. And so today, incredibly, the average Brit really believes that, for example, immigrants are invading their country, and that’s just as big a problem as not being able to get an ambulance, whereas the real problem is that by becoming a hateful nation…the ambulance drivers were forced out. Think about how incredible it is to be able to literally brainwash a nation like this.
And yet…it has happened. That’s the power of the Gaslighting Method. But it works best, as Orwell knew, when it’s applied fully. When everything becomes Gaslighting. And that is what Britain’s conservatives excel at, why they’ve been in power for twelve years — three times as long as Trump. So let me give you some more examples. The “Equalities Minister”? You know, the person whose job, in a democracy, is to protect minorities, women, young people, the LGBT? She’s out there proclaiming how “anti-woke” she is…bragging about making professors cry…and that’s barely even the beginning. “The UK’s equalities minister mocked LGBTQ rights, questioned same-sex marriage, and called trans women ‘men’ in an audio recording obtained by VICE World News.” Did you get that? LOL…the UK’s “Equalities Minister” is basically the ghost of Rush Limbaugh. The nation’s gay community is basically terrified of her, because she’s about as friendly to them as Torquemada the Inquisitor was to Galileo. Think about that. The nation’s minorities are scared of the “Equalities Minister.” See how this method works? Why it works?
Then there’s the Prime Minister himself, Rishi Sunak. Until not so long ago, he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or basically the Finance Minister. What was he before he entered government? An economist, a teacher, a professor, a lifelong civil servant? LOL, no, he was an investment banker and hedge fund manager. With a Stanford MBA. Britain is now the only country in the world to be run by a Stanford MBA, and it feels like it, because Sunak’s Big Idea is basically to create “zones” where corporations run everything, and democracy itself, it’s rule of law, consent, rights, everything, simply ceases to exist. That idea’s exactly the kind of thing you might expect from a Stanford MBA, of course, because that’s about the only kind of person in the world, apart from maybe Rand Paul, who’d believe it makes any sense.
Crazy town, right? Think about all of that. The equivalent of the Secretary of State…spends all day…ginning up hate against immigrants and refugees…not actually doing anything or caring a whit about the functions of the state. The Equalities Minister strikes terror into the heart of every actual minority group, from the LGBT to racial minorities to religious ones. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister isn’t interested in democracy at all…his only plan is to create parts of the nation where it doesn’t exist anymore.
The Gaslighting Method in action. I could go on, for those who find all those jaw-droppingly weird, hypnotically perverse. There’s the former “Health Secretary” who just today called for people to have to pay to use the NHS. LOL, he used to be a banker, too. On and on it goes, endlessly. Even Dickens would find it hard to satirize this level of crazy town insanity, because, well, they flaunt it.
Why do they do that? Think about it. Why would you appoint someone, say, who’s vehemently opposed to the idea of equality for, I don’t know, anyone much, to be in charge of it for a nation? Or someone who thinks science itself is a sin that’ll send you to the inferno to…manage it? Or, say, someone who rages, obsessively, at people who aren’t even part of your country as its main problem, when all its basic systems are falling apart?
Well, you’d do it for a very good reason. To break democracy. On several fronts. First, you’d break it functionally.Instead of, for example, that equivalent of the Secretary of State going out there and fixing a broken healthcare system or what have you, well, too bad, I guess you’re not getting healthcare. Second, you’d break its spirit. In Britain, democracy’s spirit is gone. People just accept this clown show of governance with a grimace, and shrug about it, mostly. Third, you undermine confidence that democracy can ever function properly, because you’ve acted with such bad faith that you’ve eroded trust in it right down at the primal level.
That’s why autocrats love the Gaslighting Method of destroying democracy. Think about it in a little more detail. How does it make people feel? Well, for one, it acts slowly, but all at once, and then everything seems to upside down. As a result, people feel disoriented — but also powerless. The ones who are cynically undoing democracy from within are now senior managers, basically, Minister of this-and-that, or Committee-members-of-this-and-that, and the average person is completely removed from having any kind of democratic say-so over them at all, really. So they shrug, eventually, and resign themselves that a bigot is going to be in charge of “protecting” minorities, or a fundamentalist in control of a nation’s science and technology portfolio, or someone who spent their career “raiding” pensions now in charge of its finances.
These lunatics become the public faces of their given portfolios, and they spare no opportunity to demean, belittle, bastardize, and attack the very part of democracy they’re supposed to uphold. So the Secretary of State spends her days swearing at immigrants and refugees, the Justice Minister mocks the rule of law, the Minorities Minister goes out there and very publicly taunts and attacks gay people and women. People are repelled, sure. But that’s hardly all. Slowly, even the sane ones forget what democracy is, was, used to be. They forget, slowly, what it’s like to have politicians who do their jobs, handle the basic tasks of democracy with not just competence, but just not absolute, lethal bad faith. That’s Orwell’s “memory hole.” And as people forget what democracy used to be, can be, should be…they fall for the Big Lies.
The Gaslighting Method works. Just as gaslighting in the real world, sadly, works, too. The double whammy of disorientation and perversion leaves people gasping for moorings, in what feels like a reality that’s turned upside down. And just as gaslighting causes many victims to think of their abusers as their saviors, so too, it causes people to give up on democracy, even if they don’t know it, then slowly begin to believe the Big Lies, and then, wham, before too long, they’re right there, sneering and spitting on women, the LGBT, crying out that they’re the persecuted ones, screaming conspiracy theories about blood-drinking elites or pseudoscientific nonsense about the purity of their own blood or fantasies of divine salvation because they’re the chosen people. You know the score when a mind breaks, but what’s worth considering is how effective the gaslighting method really is at breaking minds.
Now. Let’s come back to America. I wrote all that because I wanted you to understand what seems like a simple enough point. The Republicans are making a mockery of democracy. True. But it’s not just a joke. It has a point. It serves a purpose. To corrode, coarsen, demoralize, undermine — and that way, to break the function, then the spirit, then the belief a democracy has in itself. And when that goes, my friends, not much is left.
Americans aren’t Brits. They’re, at this point at least, far more resistant to the Big Lies, and one reason is that Trump wasn’t in power for twelve years, the way Britain’s lunatics have been. So Americans don’t believe, like Brits do, that immigrants are like a Great Viking Army invading their green and pleasant land, LOL, what is this, the year 900? And yet what Britain teaches us is just how dangerously ultra-effective the Gaslighting Method really is. Brits didn’t used to believe all this nonsense. And yet they do now. At least enough of them to have rendered Britain a failing state, with little to no future.
The lesson there isn’t just “LOL, look at Britain.” It’s subtler. It’s about understanding that when we laugh at the lunatics, and their open embrace of perversion, idiocy, greed, and folly, we are also making a mistake. They do that for a reason. The reason is that done long enough, openly enough, flagrantly enough, it sets a chain reaction in motion, which is also a numbers game. Enough people give up on democracy — in spirit, in function, in form — shrugging at it with a grimace, that enough of them become fertile ground to for tomorrow’s seeds of lunacy to shoot up from. Today’s cynic about democracy is tomorrow’s radicalized mens-rights-activist is the day after tomorrow’s proud neo-fascist who’s grinning, hatefully, as Gosar or Greene attack someone or something today, science, women, fellow members of Congress, reality, justice, truth.
Corroding democracy by cheapening it is the point. Making a vulgar example of it — see how little this is worth? See how I can degrade this thing you once held dear? See how I can defile this treasure, and piss on truth, justice, reality, take a giant dump all over the house of peace and faith in each other, and our ability to govern ourselves for the common good? See how low I’m willing to go, as I corrupt something you cherish, and laugh? This is what degradation is. This is what I think of you. This is how powerless you are.
Do that to people long and hard enough, my friends, and in the end, they’ll do things that you never expected of them. They’ll become part of the perversity, and revel in it, too, because in the end, being degraded? It breaks you. That’s what the autocrats know. That’s why they love the Gaslighting Method, all of them, not just the ones wearing silly hats and stroking long beards — but the ones uncomfortably close to home, like in Britain, or sitting, now, in Congress.
And as Orwell pointed out? The best way not to let it happen is to understand what happens when it does.