Igniting a Cultural War

7 mins read

Q: If you’re a would-be fascist and you’re losing, what do you do?

A: Two of the tricks in Trump’s (limited) bag are: “Get the fighters fighting” and “ignite a cultural war.” Here’s how you accomplish both with one Tweet:

(Destruction of federal government property is already illegal: 18 USC § 1361)

On the face of it, siding with Confederate-sympathizers is really stupid. Most presidents seeking reelection try to appeal to a majority of Americans. With this executive order, Trump is siding with those who want to save Confederate statues.

While there are more Confederate-sympathizers than we like to think, they are not a majority of Americans.

Trump keeps doubling down on what he calls his “base.” He ignores a pandemic, and indulges (and riles) the KKK and Evangelicals who are hostile to things like LGBTQ rights.

Some history about Trump’s “base”: During the Civil War, the Democrats were the Party of the Confederacy. The shift took about 100 years. During the modern Civil Rights movement, when the Democrats embraced Civil Rights, the KKK was without a party.

The Republicans invited them in because with the Confederate sympathizers, they could achieve electoral majorities. The Republicans invited them in quietly, with what we call dog whistles. They used coded language like “law and order” which many knew actually meant “put Black men in jail.” They talked about “welfare queens.” They dressed up the dog whistles in lofty, patriotic language.

Some conservatives, like Max Boot, have had moments of awakening when they understood that the Republicans had essentially made a bargain with the devil.

The bargain was: We’ll throw you crumbs and we won’t call you names, and you get us elected.

Bargaining with the devil is never a good idea. As the GOP demographics shrank over the past few decades, the white supremacists became a larger percentage of the shrinking GOP.

With the changing demographics (shrinking of the old Confederates and minority vote growing) Republican officials are in a bind. They can’t win a GOP primary—and probably can’t win a general election—without the support of the KKK and other white supremacists.

Many GOP elected officials (reportedly) despise Trump personally, but they’re afraid to cross him because he controls the “base.” It works like this:

  • GOP elected officials need Trump’s “base”
  • Trump controls the “base”
  • Therefore, Trump controls the GOP elected officials.
  • Republicans control the Senate and have much power in the states, so controlling his “base” gives Trump enormous power.

Trump doubles down on racist Confederate-loving politics to keep his base riled and maintain his power over the Republican Party.

Fascism needs an enemy. The paranoid element believes unseen satanic forces are trying to destroy the American “way of life.” See:

This book was originally published in 1952 and completely nails it. Trump appeals to (and manipulates) that paranoid element.

Trump desperately needs to present himself as a strongman to counter the humiliation he suffered in Tulsa, when he looked like a loser. Fanning the flames of a cultural war makes him look “strong” and excites his “base.”

Defacing federal property is already a crime, but here’s a fact often ignored on Twitter. Not all crimes are prosecuted. A pillar of democracy is that prosecutors have discretion over which crimes to prosecute. This is a good thing or we’d have an even more crowded prison system (I am not a fan of prisons).

This Tweet will embolden certain kinds of police officers:

It is likely to increase the violence by stoking Trump’s “base,” angering his opponents, and encouraging the police to fight the protesters.

People both overestimate and underestimate Trump. They overestimate his ability to be an executive officer and organize. His campaign is not competent enough to organize a rally in Tulsa. They are not able to manage a pandemic. They don’t know how. They are not equipped. It’s beyond their ability.

They can manage voter suppression, but not widespread voter fraud. This is partly why voter rights organizers like Stacey Abrams, who knows her stuff, focus more on voter suppression than machine vulnerability. (I said ‘partly’)

Voter suppression is simple bullying. Suppressing enough votes to sway an election is easy compared to conducting fraud on a widespread enough scale.

Ryan Teague Beckwith explained how that would work in practice in this thread:

Let’s say you’re a foreign power and you’ve decided to use counterfeit absentee ballots to sway the U.S. presidential election. Here’s what you would need to do in just one state:

—RYAN TEAGUE BECKWITH (@ryanbeckwith) June 22, 2020

Just as people overestimate Trump’s ability to carry out a complex operation, they underestimate his ability to control the narrative. He’s also canny enough to know that if he maintains controls of his base, he remains powerful and relevant. That’s why he doubles down on a minority of fearful and hateful Americans.

That’s also why the solution has always been soundly defeating the Fox-Trump-GOP in November. Democrats won the midterms by 8 points, and GOP demographics have shrunk further. Yes, Trump will shout “FRAUD” and “RIGGED” because when fascists lose, they claim victimhood, but on January 20, Biden will have him escorted from the White House.

Is it November yet?

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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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