The end of American democracy is unimaginable

I should know, I tried to imagine it.

Every few days, there’s another article pointing out the likelihood that a Democratic win[1] in the 2024 US election will be overturned, and suggesting various ways it might be prevented, none of which seem very likely to work. The best hope would seem to be a crushing Democratic victory in the 2022 midterms, which doesn’t look likely right now[2]

What I haven’t seen is anyone discussing what the US would be like after a successful Trumpist (or other Republican) coup. The closest approaches I’ve seen are “looking backwards” pieces, written from an imagined distant future when democracy or something like it have been restored.

I decided to attempt the task myself and found it very hard going. The resulting piece is over the fold. I tried a few outlets for it, and no one was interested in publishing it. So, I’m putting it out here, with all its faults.

Suggested improvements are welcome, as is serious criticism. Snarks and trolls will be deleted and permanently banned [3].

The anniversary of the insurrection of Jan 6, 2021, and the realisation that it was almost successful has brought increasing number of Americans to the realisation that the end of democracy in the US is, if not inevitable, at least highly likely. The New York Times, the leading representative of mainstream liberalism, has said as much. But it’s easier to understand this point intellectually than to imagine what life will be like after democracy.

It is now clear that Republicans are both willing and able to overturn electoral results that don’t go their way. Officials who protected the electoral process in 2020 have been removed and replaced by partisans who assert that the election was stolen. The handful of elected representatives who have unequivocally condemned Trump’s assaults on democracy are being forced out, or have chosen to resign. It therefore seems highly likely that the Republican candidate will be declared victorious in 2024, whatever the voters might say. Given that assurance, it is even more probable that this candidate will be Donald Trump.

One possibility, which seemed very real until 2021, was that a large group of decent Republicans would recoil from attempts to overthrow democracy, and defect either to a third party or to support for Democrats. If even a quarter of Republicans had moved in this way, Trump and Trumpism would be finished. In reality, though, the number of elected Republicans who have made such moves, at either national or state level, can comfortably be counted on two hands.

The same is true of Republican voters. A substantial majority endorse the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen, and can be expected to endorse any measures, up to and including a second insurrection, to ensure victory in 2024. Of the minority who accept the obvious non-existence of cheating, some small group may shift sides. But even assuming a resurgence in the popularity of Biden’s presidency, there is little that enough will shift to produce the overwhelming Democratic victory that would be needed to forestall a successful attempt to overturn the results.

In these circumstances, it seems virtually certain that a Democratic victory in the 2024 presidential election, will be overturned. In the event of a legitimate Republican victory (under existing electoral college rules, and allowing for legal voter suppression), the chances of a fair election in 2028 will be reduced even further.

This isn’t a novel conclusion. Nearly every serious student of failing democracies regards the US as being in grave danger. Resistance relies mainly on an argument from incredulity: the end of American democracy is unthinkable and therefore impossible. To break down this incredulity, it might be helpful to think about what a post-democratic America would be like.

Initially, at least, the changes would not be obvious, and would undoubtedly be dismissed by many. A rigged election outcome would not automatically do away with electoral politics. Modern autocracies like Putin’s Russia maintain the façade of elections and multi-party competition, even though the winner is generally known in advance. And there have been enough surprise results in such countries that the Democrats will be likely to persist with business as usual in the hope of eventual success. But there is no reason to think such efforts will be more successful in the US than in other backsliding democracies.

An example closer to home is experience of the US South, where the attempt to create a genuine democracy in the Reconstruction era was decisively defeated by the ‘Redeemers’ who instituted the Jim Crow system: one party rule, cemented by a combination of voter suppression, vote rigging and violent intimidation, both by police and by rightwing thugs, with significant overlap between the two.

In considering possible resistance to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Trump restoration is in large measure, the latest stage of the backlash against Civil Rights that began with Nixon’s Southern Strategy, and most recently represented by the attack on ‘critical race theory’.

It makes sense, therefore, to assume that these struggles will dominate the political scene in the future, most obviously through the Black Lives Matter movement. Against this will be range the anti-BLM repression movement epitomised, in its legal form by slogans like Blue Lives Matter, and in the form of extra-legal violence, epitomised by Kyle Rittenhouse, and even more by the adulation he has received from the mainstream right.

The big difference between the coming struggle and that of the Civil Rights era is the role of the national government. Civil rights activists sought the involvement of the national government and the Supreme court to override racism at the state and local level, epitomized by the campaigns in cities like Montgomery and Selma

In the coming years, those roles will be reversed. The residents of cities and metro areas more generally will be overwhelmingly opposed to the national and state governments, which will rely on the support of exurban and rural voters

The Supreme Court will almost certainly act to back Republicans at every level. In these circumstances the odds will be stacked against the defenders of democracy. But the defenders of Jim Crow, facing similar pressures, put up a determined resistance for decades in support of a cause even they knew was morally indefensible. There’s no reason the same resistance can’t be sustained in the cause of democracy.

Class conflict is also likely to take place under conditions stacked in favor of capital. Among the few policy achievements of the Trump Administration was a massive tax cut, weighted towards corporations and high income earners. Conversely, worker militancy has been increasing ever since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis brought an end to the illusory prosperity of the early 21st century. Successful campaigns for a $15 minimum wage are among the outcomes

Despite this, the success of Trumpism owes a great deal to the Republican capture of the ‘white working class’, typically defined in US political parlance as those without a college education. White men without a college degree voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

The equation of ‘no college’ with ‘working class’ is problematic. The ‘no college’ group includes many farmers and small business owners, and is skewed towards older age cohorts, for whom college education was less common. And it includes lots of retirees, who have no direct interest in the outcomes of labor struggles, whatever their pre-retirement class position.

There are important countervailing trends. In electoral terms, the relationship between income and political alignment hasn’t changed. High income households are predominantly Republican (and also more likely to vote). Union households still vote predominantly for Democrats, though the long decline in union density has made this group much smaller than it was. And once we shift the focus from whites to the entire population, it’s clear that the majority of voters of working age supported the Democrats.

Despite all of these qualifications it seems likely that most whites who work for wages voted for the Republicans in 2020 and that most will be unlikely to join unions or support political campaigns in support of labor rights.

A crucial question here is the stance taken place by big business. There are obvious reasons for business to back a Republican seizure of power, and call on the state to suppress worker resistance. On the other hand, global corporations rely on a professional workforce that is ethnically diverse and mostly college educated as well as being more likely to be unionised. Furthermore business has to reckon with the fact that a Trumpist government will be inherently unstable and prone to collapse from within. Enlightened self-interest would prescribe sustained support for democracy. But the short-term benefits of collaboration with the Republicans are likely to prove more persuasive.

At a day-to-day level the struggle will mostly be over the culture wars that are at the heart of Trumpism and Republican politics more generally. Here we can expect to see the politics of resentment become even more poisonous. The key driver of Republican resentment has been the fact that, even where they hold political and economic power, the Republican base (old, white, Christian, rural or suburban, and less educated, but often well-off economically) has found itself culturally marginalised. From their perspective, the history of the decades since the Reagan Presidency has been one of continuous defeat.

The change is most obvious in relation to religious belief. When the current older cohort of white Americans was growing up, they were surrounded by people like themselves. It could safely be assumed that nearly everyone was, or least professed to be a Christian. Not only that, but the great majority of Christians were Protestants. And, in large parts of the country most Protestants were evangelical. Non-believers were non-existent, or at least invisible.

As recently as 2007, 78 per cent of the US population was Christian, compared to only 16 per cent ‘Nones’ who described themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’. White Christians, at around 55 per cent, constituted a clear majority. Barely a decade later … White Christians account for only 43 per cent of the population, compared to nearly 30 per cents Nones. On current trends, Nones will outnumber White Christians by the end of the 2020s.

The shift away from religious belief is most evident among those with college education or more, rising to near unanimity among the eminent natural scientists who are members of bodies like the National Academy of Sciences. Resentment against these ‘elites’ reflects a perception that they look down on ‘real Americans’, that is, white Christians without college education

That won’t change, even with unchallenged Republican dominance of national and state politics. Rather, the reverse is more likely. In the early stages of the Trump era, there was, among mainstream liberals, an earnest desire to understand why so many American with little to gain from rightwing economic policies would support someone like Trump. It was, in large measure, this desire that propelled JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to the top of the bestseller list.

Vance’s own moral collapse, in the words of Tom Nichols, from ‘truth-teller in his own community, contemptible and cringe-inducing clown’ is a symbol both for the actual moral decline of the Republican base and for the shift from sympathy to contempt in the view of that base held by the supporters of democracy. It’s reflected in heavy-handed, but effective, satires like Don’t Look Up.

It is important to recognise that cultural dominance can be misleading. Although the youth culture of the 1960s was overwhelmingly radical, it wasn’t representative of the age cohort as a whole. The older Baby Boomers who make up the ‘Vietnam generation’ have voted roughly in line with the US electorate as a whole over their lives, sometimes slightly favoring Democrats and at other times Republicans.

In the current context, it’s important to distinguish the impact of demography from that of age per se. Young rural whites without a college education are still strongly Republican, but they are a much smaller population of younger age groups. Conversely, larger proportions of young people are non-white, urban and college-educated than in previous generations. But these qualifications are ultimately unimportant, given the steepness of the age gradient in voting.

So, the post-democratic USA will be one which the great majority of educated urban dwellers, and the majority of employed workers, will be alienated from a government of crony capitalists like Trump, kept in power by ignorant and bigoted voters, stereotypically old and rural.

This is a recipe for disaster. It is hard to predict precisely what form this disaster will take. Still, it is time to think about the possibilities rather than waiting for the catastrophe to happen.

fn1. There’s also the possibility that the Republicans win legitimately (that is, under the existing Electoral College and voting rules). But the same problem would then arise in 2028 under even less favorable conditions for democracy.

fn2. Please, no discussion of whether a coup will happen or how it might be prevented. I want to focus on the aftermath.

fn3. This includes jibes to the effect that US democracy has always been a sham. Tell it to the ghost of Ernst Thalmann.

30 thoughts on “The end of American democracy is unimaginable

  1. I imagine a lot would depend on how the incoming Republican administration rated in the areas of corruption and competence. Trump was corrupt and incompetent, and generated a massive negaitve groundswell accordingly. If a new Republican administration managed to provide solid economic growth, low unemployment, keep scandals to a minimum, clamp down on illegal immigration, respond t natural disasters effectively and back the growth of militarised police forces to keep public order, I expect it would command the support of the majority of the population.

    If on the other hand it did little but siphon wealth from ordinary Americans to the 1%, while allowing the private sector an increasingly free hand to do pretty much whatever it wanted, the country would be a ticking time bomb. The first major recession, or series of natural disasters, would likely trigger mass civil unrest. It’s doubtful that the Republican Party could remain united in such a scenario. The federal government would become increasingly incapable of governing the nation, with the states more and more inclined to manage their own affairs without reference to Washington.

  2. I am afraid to comment. I feel I’ve been told not to comment if my comments are in any way critical of bourgeois democracy.

  3. Thanks for trying to think of the future JQ. I cannot imagine a future sans democracy. Maybe I can but I avoid it and commiserate with Ikon, you may not like my comment. 

    Reassuring re Trump and supporters. See “Key Findings”. John Bolton says, in not the biggest survey “These findings are based on a national survey conducted on behalf of John Bolton Super PAC of 1,000 likely general election voters.”

    “New Poll Shows Trump Unraveling
    Voters identifying as “Trump Republicans” drop 14 points, Trump’s support tanking

    January 19, 2022

    “Statement by Ambassador John Bolton: 
    “The trend lines across our polls are definitive – support for Donald Trump is tanking within the Republican party. Trump’s endorsements are becoming irrelevant at best. For over a year, Trump has been telling anyone who’d listen ‘the election was stolen’ – now, when Trump says that voters shake their heads. 79% of all voters say Biden is ‘legally President,’ and 67% of Republican primary voters say Biden is legally President. Voters also think their vote will be counted fairly, and they see Trump’s personality as a major weakness. 

    “One final example: Last January, President Trump told Vice President Pence to throw out Electoral College votes. Pence said he did not have authority under the Constitution to do so. A majority (53%) of Republican Primary voters now agree with Pence not Trump. In fact, only 20% agree with Trump. Our party is not dominated by Trump.” 

    “Key findings from the poll include: 
    “Joe Biden has rebounded and now narrowly leads Donald Trump in a general election match up (44%-43%) after trailing in the September poll. Both Independent and Undecided voters now dislike Trump more than Biden. With Independent voters….”…

    “In First, US Labeled ‘Backsliding’ Democracy as Global Authoritarianism Grows

    “A new report calls the rejection of the 2020 election results by many in the Republican Party as an “historic turning point” for the United States.

    “The Global State of Democracy report, released by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA):

    Click to access the-global-state-of-democracy-2021_0.pdf


    Manchin & filibuster are a worry fir reforms with and or when democracy asailed. I do not get Manchin.

    “Joe Manchin Falsely Says Senate Has Always Had the Filibuster The filibuster is actually not in the Constitution.
    JAN. 10, 2022

  4. The end of American democracy or the end of democracy in the USA?

    IMHO the American democracy is not working well for the great majority of people in the USA. J.Q.’s post contains some examples of social and racial tensions. The income and wealth concentration, the inadequate health system, …, the death of the American dream could be added. But, at least in 2020 the American democracy kept the feature of a democracy of disposing of a government without a revolution. That is the Capitol ‘revolution’ of January 2021 failed. Something has to change and it is not a revival of Trumpism. This something has to change not only in the USA but in just about all western democracies.

    Not being qualified, formally or informally, in politics, I rather stick to my lane, economics. Recently I have read the book “The Value of Everything – Making and Taking in the Global Economy” by Mariana Mazzucato (2018). I am not fond of this book for a long list of reasons. However, it contains one observation regarding a change in the calculation of GDP, which, IMO, is crucial for understanding why focusing on GDP as an indicator of “output” (the term used in Keynesian economics) has become misleading for policy purposes since the financialisation of ‘the economy’. Moreover, the extreme concentration of wealth, particularly in the UK and the USA (which Mazzucato focuses on) is directly linked to the rent taking (rather than wealth creating) of the financial sector.

    Mazzucato uses the notion of a production boundary to review the history of economic thought, starting with the mercantilists, to describe what activities were considered ‘productive’ over time. She observes: “As late as the 1960s, national accountants viewed financial activities not as generating value but as simply transferring existing values, which placed it outside the production boundary.” And, “In its current incarnation, finance is seen as earning profits from services reclassified as productive.” (p, 16). [I seem to remember having read a date when the SNA (System of National Accounts) made this reclassification. However, given the style of the book, it would take me ages to check.]

    While I was aware of the other shortcomings of the calculation of GDP, which Mazzucato also discusses, I was not aware of the reclassification of the finance sector.

    The promotion of Finance, as an academic discipline, started in the USA in the 1970s. I assume the ‘elites’ (political, institutions, business and academic) in the USA do have considerable influence on the SNA. By the 1980s the financialisation was well on its way in the USA, the UK and then in other places. This framework is now part of “American democracy” (and beyond the USA). I can’t see anything wrong with an end to this version of democracy because policies directed at ‘growth (of GDP) and jobs’ based on this accounting system ignores the economic interests of the people. Indeed, I can imagine it will come to an end but to be replaced with a better version.

  5. Unlike most European states (or Australia) the US is very decentralised, with much control exercised by townships, counties, cities and states. The central bureaucracy is comparatively small, and works more by policy direction and handing out funds than by direct action. The areas most supportive of Trumpism are poorer, more reliant on central handouts; the richer areas are Democratic. One can see a situation where passive resistance at the non-federal level forces the administration to tolerate dissent or, if fanatic enough, tries to enforce compliance and engenders enough active resistance that its resources are severely strained – perhaps diminished. In some ways reminiscent of the period 1830-1860, when the Slave Power quashed dissent at the federal level but allowed free states room – a path that failed when Dred Scott made the choice between slavery and abolition binary.

  6. When talking about democracy I can’t but help think of the U.K. and Brexit.

    Of 46.5M registered voters it only took 17.4M to win the referendum and leave the EU.

    Despite the importance of the decision 13M failed to record a vote.

    The near, mid and long term consequences of Brexit are of economic loss.

  7. Don´t think actual elites make good enemies. The elites “feared” in other nations moving away from democracy are to an even larger extend imagined ones. Moving against say actual atheist tenured profs at prestigious Unversities would be much harder than insulting Soros. Looking at this more as a spectrum – the US never was a particular shining example for democracy, there are differences to the US in Russia, Hungary or Turkey that make life harder for democracy. For one the critical race theory mentioned is an actual thing in the US and not just entirely imagined. In Russia, the strongest opposition is more homophobic and nationalistic than Putin. What seems missing from the text is the military. If the army supports a Coup, things get very problematic.

  8. Modern, western democracy has always been a compromise with the ruling elite which retains a greater or less amount of power depending on which nation and time period you pick. There is a school of thought that broadening the franchise and other generally empowering measures (welfare, minimum wage, workers rights, universal health and education) over the first half of 1900s was a preemptive response by ruling elites to the threat of socialist revolution. At the time the concept of socialism hadn’t been poisoned by totalitarian regimes which are now seen by most in the west, especially in the US, as being synonymous with socialism. Democracy was seen as closely linked to or even inseparable from the concept socialism back then by those on the left and most political thinkers across the spectrum, and therefore seen as an anathema by some political thinkers on the right.

    While some nations’ governments introduced the democratic and socialistic policies and institutions mentioned above out of a genuine desire to achieve a better society or even as part of a long term project towards a fully socialist society, whatever that was envisioned to be, others did so as a compromise out of fear of a fully fledged socialist revolution. The result was that the power of capital was never really curbed in the west which was supposed to be on of the goals of democracy. The concept of democracy was successfully co-opted and came to be seen as synonymous with the free market, a term that was really a more marketable stand in for capitalism. This inversion of political definitions was helped no end by the fact that for most of the twentieth century the greater part of the worlds population lived under regimes that called themselves socialist but were only socialist in economic distribution, not decision making, and certainly not politically socialist according to any meaningful definition of the term.

    Capitalist or free market democracy was never really defined adequately in academic terms let alone as a coherent and well reasoned idea most of us could understand. Economic freedom and personal freedom were seen as being complimentary and any notion of participatory democracy and dealing with the danger of large concentrations of wealth were effectively removed from the popular definition of democracy, crippling its ability to deliver on its real promises while the expectation of those promises was left in place. This has led to a situation where discontent arising from lack of real empowerment has lead to the ruling elite continuing to appease us with real or superficial improvements to our lot without empowering us as agents for such change, and by divide and conquer techniques to distract and redirect our discontent towards other targets. These include immigrants, refugees, other races, political correctness etc etc to distract those on the left and racists, homophobes, and anti-environmentalists. As suspicion of the “other “ is an inbuilt human trait the the latter techniques are easy to apply.

    Democracy in the US has been more of a compromise, more thoroughly co-opted, than in most other western nations. The founding myths of individual rights and the notion that these exist naturally and that a government merely has to facilitate rather than conceive, create and enforce them contribute to the notion that democracy is a relatively passive process much like the free market is supposed to be. It is seen to be self reinforcing, self actualising without the constant need for adjustment and improvement. Indeed, the idea that democracy and the freedom it guarantees can improved upon is often seen as an anathema, with only minor tinkering needed to “create a more perfect union”. In the post war/Cold War era Americans believed they were the worlds best democracy, proven in their minds by raising living standards and the nation’s status as the lead economic, political and military power.

    Real political empowerment that would transfer power from wealth was kept out of political discourse as the free market was seen as solving the problem of wealth distribution and the right to accumulate unlimited wealth was unquestioned. As real wages decline, stagflation set in and the off-shoring of labour and production capacity began in the late seventies, the remedies applied were purely economic and almost always free market oriented. Politics had effectively been sidelined as a means of dealing with difficulties the nation faced. Any democratic empower people had to choose the direction their nation went in was effectively muted. Politics became nothing more than a debate over how best to facilitate the free market to move the country in desirable directions various attempts to create a welfare state over the previous thirty years were shut down by decisively by Reagan. Any notion that democracy and freedom were things that should evolve and be nurtured were now nowhere to be seen in public discourse, if they ever were there. They had well and truly become ossified and untouchable concepts, things to be grasped tightly to your bosom when you had nothing else.

    Up to this point, most Americans, even some non white and low income earners, could believe that democracy and freedom worked for them. As stagnating and declining economic conditions for the bottom two thirds of the country meant declining political power, the notion of freedoms became less real and more abstract but was still to be about the individual and absolute rather than something that is only meaningful when shared with each individuals freedom and rights depending on that of those around them. The inability of most Americans to succeed as free market agents maximising their own welfare was blamed on attacks on their freedom rather than the flawed notion that we can all be capitalists. There was some limited form of participatory democracy with town hall meetings. While real empowerment may have been a long way off things seemed to be moving in the right direction.

    What has come about now with the immanent fall of what should be seen as partial democracy is a result of misconceptions of what freedom and democracy are. Unfulfilled expectations for the attainment of a better society could never be met because of the belief that the growth and development of democracy had ended and improvements in all walks of life would continue with the automatic action of the free market and a political system that was sacred, enshrined in a constitution of quasi religious status, and should therefore be untouched in its perfection. Democracy was seen as an unchanging mechanism that facilitated this process. Those who took part in the Jan 6 riot fully believe in freedom and democracy in the narrow and limited definitions shared by nearly everyone in western society. Any nondemocratic regime that comes along in the next decade or so will be believed to be truly free and democratic by it’s supporters. Because democracy and freedom were never fully extended to the American people anyway it will be hard to fight back, as those doing so have an equally vague and unformed idea of what it is and what it should be. Until it is understood that individual freedoms without government intervention mean individual freedoms for the richest and most ruthless, real democracy will never get established n the US.

    The best case scenario would be that an anti-government government will be inherently unable to come to grips with the levels of power to undo the progress on the human rights and environmental fronts. And that decades of turmoil and instability will lead to the emergence a more pro active form of democracy, perhaps even an end to the stigma of socialism. The worst case scenario would be that disillusionment with democracy would see that it is abandoned by all but those seen as idealists and freedom would be “for those who have the courage to take it”. In other words the levels of power would be torn out in favour direct rule by force. Strongman rule at all levels of government will be established with political power used solely to protect itself. Cynics would say “it was ever thus” and this points to the main problem with representative democracy. We give up our power to distant politicians and genuine policies to improve society are easily portrayed as populist power plays by a ruling elite keen to keep the power we have abdicated.

    The latter scenario could almost be seen as a default setting for human societies but that sounds like trip down the route of social determinism and I have already strayed way outside my expertise in this overlong word salad, but it often seems like a tendency we need to constantly work against. We are still fighting over whether progressivism or conservatism are the best political models for moving forward and probably always will be. But we never really decided on an agreed definition of those terms, along with ‘freedom’ ‘democracy’ and ‘rights’, much less taught them in our schools and regularly refined those definitions in public discourse. Until we do this and see democracy as an ongoing project requiring continual work and understanding by all of us, we will loose our tenuous grip on this vague poorly understood thing we call democracy and all go the way of the US.

  9. Your article focuses on the mechanism by which democracy (US-style) may fail. The fact of the matter is that it has already failed in that whoever loses will not tolerate rule by the other. Once you lose that mutual consent, its already over. The mechanism question is about whether it becomes an outright fascist state led by a Trump or a Hawley, or it becomes a democracy under constant terrorist attack by new versions of the oath keepers or the proud boys.

  10. JQ, do you have any views on what the Australian government would or should say, in response to a 2024 coup?

  11. campidg, one of the best “overlong word salad”‘s I’ve read in a long time.

    If stagflation happens again, what effect on democracy?

    “How is the unemployment rate falling to such low levels? Is this normal?

    “In fact, you have to go back to the summer of 1974/75, to the moment when the low unemployment rates from the old “Keynesian” regime finally broke free from their moorings.

    “That was the period when “stagflation” hit Australia’s economy.”

  12. campidg’s summary was very good. The fundamental issue is that capitalism and democracy are antithetical. Capitalism is the rule of wealth. Democracy (proper democracy) is the rule of the demos, the common people, the populace. It’s no surprise that when the rule of wealth is fully enabled and unleashed democracy is curtailed and finally destroyed. The only way to increase democracy in the current situation, in the USA and elsewhere is to increase equality and to decrease large private wealth holdings.

    It’s hard to see how such changes could be made in the USA. So we get to what “1984” predicted. Three totalitarian blocs in constant conflict and periodically swapping alliances. Everything declining and collapsing from conflict, climate change and novel zoonoses, unless humanity can finally unite against these existential challenges.

  13. This provides a balanced view. Trump will likely emulate the “soft fascism” of Hungary’s Orban. In particular:

    **The new government will use regulatory measures to support the sectors and industries that support it most in terms of electoral votes and party funding: carbon industries, the construction sector, domestic manufacturing.

    **The Republican regime will exit from all participation in efforts to stop global warming.

    **The politics of a populist Republican administration will aim at undermining American democracy and changing the level playing field in favor of a party-penetrated state apparatus.

    **Undermining the professionalism and neutrality of the judiciary, starting with the attorney general’s office.

    **Undermining the nonpartisanship of the military, using the military for domestic purposes to repress civil liberties and liberal opposition to the erosion of American democracy.

    **Redeploying the national domestic security apparatus — above all, the F.B.I. — for partisan purposes.

    **Passing libel legislation to harass and undercut the liberal media and journalists, with the objective to drive them economically out of business, while consolidating conservative media empires and social websites.

    Some argue that the incentives are for the type of illegalities John mentions particularly by appealing to certain racial minorities:

    “what is sure to be a major motivating force for a Republican Party given an extended lease on life under Trump: the need to make use of every available tool — from manipulation of election results to enactment of favorable voting laws to appeals to minority voters in the working class to instilling fear of a liberal state run amok — to maintain the viability of a fragile coalition in which the core constituency of white noncollege voters is steadily declining as a share of the electorate. It is an uphill fight requiring leaders, at least in their minds, to consider every alternative in order to retain power, whether it’s democratic or authoritarian, ethical or unethical, legal or illegal”.

  14. I have been thinking about the same question for some time and am reminded of Roth’s novels which explore, in fiction, what the end of democracy might have looked like in the 20th century in the United States. Not one to self promote, but I just wrote a piece that takes up some of these same issues. My contribution to this topic can be found on 3 Quarks Daily, see

  15. I miss a discussion of federalism. California managed to resist much of Trump’s attempted rollback of environmental protection, supported IIRC by other states with large populations (New York, lllinois, Massachusetts – the base of corporate America). Only Florida and Texas among the big states are Trumpist, and neither are safe electorally, even with voter suppression. The divide between progressive and reactionary states will widen. The former hold a large majority of the population but a permanent minority in the Senate, which will need radical reform if democracy ever recovers (think House of Lords, 1911).

  16. Eric J Weiner makes a lot of good points:

    Here are a few of the best:

    “Diverse democracies require high levels of emotional maturity, intellectual sophistication, and equitable relations of capital while totalitarianism, by contrast, is an infantilizing discourse unburdened by ethical constraints, the need to compromise, or the requirement for the people’s continuous participation in governance.”

    Comment: I agree with every point in this sentence and I am pleased to see that the “relations of capital” get a mention. These relations are at the heart of our problems. I’ve written on more than one occasion on this blog that capitalism and democracy are antithetical. The accumulation of power via capital runs counter to the processes of social or representative democracy. Contrast the power of one vote lost in the machinations of the “representative” democratic system to the power of a billion dollars pulling levers and indeed creating bespoke levers for the wealthy in that same system. Witness the billions of dollars the Super PACs system funnels in to buy (no other word) the politicians’ votes on key issues.

    “Once enough anti-democratic representatives are elected into offices at various levels of influence, they can then use the authority of their office to undo the democratic systems that put them there in the first place.”

    Comment: This conjures up the spectre of the self-coup or autocoup: “… a form of coup d’état in which a nation’s leader, having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances.” [1]

    “It is now a struggle over the hegemony of opposing ideological formations. This struggle marks the beginning of a “cold” civil war in the United States. What the pro-totalitarian movement in the United States understands that the pro-democracy movement does not is that they are playing a zero-sum game.”

    Comment: The game is perhaps more zero sum than many realize. The zero on the anti-democratic side is the true zero of human extinction. Capitalist totalitarianism as corporate and oligarchic dictatorship recognizes no limits on exploitation of humans or nature. Thus, runaway climate change and now runaway novel zoonoses will be the trends to the asymptotic endpoint of human extinction. The debate is not just about Democracy vs. Totalitarianism, it is actually about survival in social democratic form versus complete human extinction from capitalist totalitarianism.

    What we are seeing now with the COVID-19 pandemic is the playing out of a calculus of justifiable death by neglect and by deliberate zoonotic disease spread in a manner that is diagnostic of a neoliberal capitalist logic tending to the justification of the deaths of the weak, in a social Darwinist rhetoric. That the elderly, the weak, the sick, the immune-compromised and the disabled are being caused to die and left to die during a needlessly spread epidemic alerts us to the totalitarian conception of rights under corporate and oligarchic capitalism. The rich and the selfish strong make an alliance. The power of the rich oligarchs is allied to the power of the vigorous thugs who will do anything for pay or even for the rush of exerting physical power, domination and cruelty. This is what we are seeing played out right now.

    For anyone who is not super rich or super cruel and super vigorous physically, these are dangerous times. You will be culled away and the environment and climate you live in and depend on will be destroyed. Yet the total proportion of good people and reasonable people is still very high. They need only unite in solidarity and they can defeat capitalist oligarchic totalitarianism. First, they need to understand what is happening. This “understanding” will need to be visceral as well as intellectual. An intellectual understanding would be preferable but a visceral understanding may be necessary and will arise when people decide that the mental and physical cruelty that they and theirs are being subjected to is intolerable. This should engender a political economy revolution. Without a political economy revolution of one kind or another nothing will ever change and our slide to human extinction will continue.

    Note 1 : Wikipedia.

  17. I’m not so crazy for maths metaphors, but otherwise I found this powerful. Thanks.

    What I notice is, maybe not on this site but in general, people who are able to imagine the whole system, the environment, the planet, the world, life itself, humanity, everything we say we value and all meaning being destroyed (which they imagine taking place under the present economic system) and who are unable to imagine or unwilling to deal with any meaningful reform of it.

    And that just does not add up (is that a maths metaphor?).

    Whereas, I take from this that any community that is strictly built upon control over resources has no future.

  18. If, for sake of argument, the orange-haired one got a second term, he would continue to behave in the same way he has always done, but this time with the seasoned experience of a first term in office, and hence a much greater awareness and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the two-party voluntary voting democratic system. Seems to me, if you put a vindictive arsehole in a position like that, you are seriously risking that democracy; given the extent of the instalment of his movement’s sycophants in local, state, and federal legislature, or positions in which they have a direct role in the electoral process (at one level of government), you would have to say the risk of finding one party no longer able to effectively participate in the electoral process (I mean the Democrats, through the efforts brought against them by the movement’s office holders around the country), and another party that is the arse-end of a shell taken over by the movement, well that seems very perilous indeed.

    The O-H one has the instincts of a totalitarian in the pre-totalitarian phase of legal takeover of power; the unknown quantity is if he has reasons for seeking a second term that go well beyond bragging rights, dismissal of legal problems, vindictive take-downs and/or arrests of political opponents, and self-enrichment. If he sticks to just that laundry list, it’ll be ugly and unpleasant, but not necessarily a complete meltdown of the system. On the other hand, if he has a more pernicious mission in mind, one that he has kept to himself, then it would be a five alarm emergency, and probably too late to do anything politically, since the O-H one would be holding most of the cards, even all of them. And in that scenario, political enemies in the hollow relic of a Republican Party would be on the hit list too.

  19. And, in addendum, the current Republican Party, and the O-H one, keep on using Racist Projection; i.e. they see any positive effort to deal with the long term damage of real racism as being a negative effect on their White Person base, a classic case of what I call Inversion. Anyway, they are wedded to that as one of the Big Lies they tell themselves and their base. When foreign political parties have gone down this path, it ended up very ugly indeed.

    It’s lazy politics at its core, for imagine an alternative scenario, where both political parties accept there has been and is a big problem with racism in society and institutional structures, but disagree on specific policy for addressing racism; that would be the intellectual and emotionally mature approach, and it would still admit a policy distinction determined by the two parties’ different central “beliefs.” Denying systemic racism where it clearly has existed, and still does, that’s the immature and perilous path to take, for it just continues to entrench that racism and its degrading effect upon a significant part of your society.

    If the O-H one and so on get back into power, this inversion of racism will be a pretext for driving through even more “electoral reform” policy, the true aim of which will be to cement the O-H one’s movement in power, at the expense of a significant fraction of the American society.

  20. Call me a Pollyanna, but I wouldn’t count out the federal judges so easily, even though there is a conservative advantage in numbers. These are people with lifetime jobs and, I expect, fairly cushy circumstances. And they have been socialized in a certain way within an inch of their lives. Given their position, they can afford to care about their own prestige, and I believe that many of them do – and, they will not allow a coup. Not even a slow, sneaky one. Some things are just wrong. And some believers actually believe.

    Having said that – just the fact that there exists now so much doubt about the vote-counting is pretty horrifying. In that sense, there is already the beginning of a coup. I wonder if there can be block chain voting? Bc we are going to need *a lot* of transparency. Yet, I don’t trust computers enough to give up paper. So, we need a hybrid. An un-hackable one.

    Polls suggest that many Americans are already living in a twilight of doubt about our elections – though, I do also think, people lie to pollsters all the time, and, if you were going to steal a presidency, wouldn’t you also steal Congress? – and that discomfort to me would be a factor in any post-coup world. And of course, it would be worse. Frankly, I feel some sympathy, for the mis-led. I remember what 2004 was like.

    Sorry if I am messing with the hypo too much.

  21. In some very important respects, “American democracy” already falls well short of what citizens of most existing democracies would regard as essential bottom lines. The Senate, for example, represents the sort of malapportionment that someone like Joh Bjelke-Petersen could only dream of.

    This provides a segue into my main point. The scenario JQ outlines bears a number of similarities to the situation that prevailed in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s, but also with some important differences such as the fact that Bjelke-Trump will not have to cope with restraint from above by a Malcolm Fraser, a Bob Hawke and an unstacked High Court. If effective popular resistance is to emerge, it will also require US liberals, radicals and remaining democratic conservatives to do something about their current diffraction into two-and-seventy jarring social media sects.

  22. And picking up on a theme in campidg’s excellent comment – the widespread adherence to simplistic and partisan conceptions of democracy – it is worth remembering that even after the revelations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, only 53.8% of Queenslanders voted for a change of government in 1989.

  23. A lot of very interesting comments here.

    There are ebbs and flows with the manner in which people deal with politics. I feel that, even when a so-called personal freedom is curtailed for the purpose of democracy—the compulsory “vote” (or, turning up in some manner, and getting your name ticked off the roll; how or if you actually vote after that point, that’s up to you)—at least ensure that we don’t get those strange effects of political parties trying their level best to prevent or discourage a certain sector of the society from bothering to vote for the other party, or any party; that’s the curse of having voluntary roll call/voting as the demarcation of a so-called Democracy. The simplicity of the compulsory turn out to get your name ticked off, is that no-one could deliberately curtail your right and obligation to do at least that much. In America, they took the notion of personal liberty much further than even JS Mills had pushed for; indeed, in the short read of “On Liberty,” Mills makes it abundantly clear that the good functioning of a society is predicated on some things being compulsory for you to be accepted in that society, or, to put it another way, if you refused to abide by those rules and/or laws, you were resolutely punished for it. Mill took the principle to be that we should allow and admit people to do what they will in private; however, they could not transgress on certain public laws, things for which only public misbehaviour could be observed, and put before a court as evidence. To be clear, Mills wasn’t being a prude; he was stating that a certain part of our lives was not the business of the State; but, if those same things were conducted in Public, it would be reasonable for that Public to have a say in whether such conduct was a transgression against the members of that society, as opposed to merely embarrassing or cringe-worthy. Mills was pretty clear that Personal Liberty had its limits, especially whenever we are part of a broader society.

    In other words, Mills could clearly perceive that if people were in mutually agreeable private behaviour, it shouldn’t have a lot to do with how they are viewed in public. We shouldn’t be voyeurs, to put it more bluntly. And, while a lot of his writings I can mount some argument against, I think that as an icon of the modern conservative right, they should at least have the done the courtesy, exhibited the curiosity to actually read “On Liberty,” rather than tossing the title out like it is a revelation from the Bible. A reasonable reading of the essay is that Mills draws the line at people who force their own opinions through actions against others, i.e. JS Mills does not see a place for people who bully and cajole others into doing their own dirty deeds, or backing off, or running away. He saw this sort of behaviour by someone as antithetical to the function of normal society. This view was independent of any religious or moral aspect. Mills was dead against people being able to behave like that, whatever the reason behind it. Mills clearly understood the trade-off between the freedom—liberty—of the individual, and the value that society or societies have, with respect to their individuals. It’s the balancing act against my rights versus your rights. If I am free to use violent means of winning an argument, then so are you; the bigger issue is that it is obviously fairly counterproductive if the way we resolve basic disagreements is by hoping to be the fastest draw on our guns/weapons. So, Mills, the arch-conservative and the poster child for Utilitarianism, drew the line at individuals being able to push around the rest of society, especially those who clearly could not physically defend themselves from such attacks.

    The vastness of the gap between the society in which Mills thought his philosophy would be applicable, and the modern version full of liars and fakes, of bully boys and tyrants, well it is a massive intergalactic gulf indeed. How we, in a couple of centuries of humanity, ended up with such a corrupted version of the societies that even the arch utilitarians of the 1790s were conceiving, well that’s not a great sign for those who are on the left of centre, and in my reading of it, is actually more telling of the naked corruption that has permeated the current right wing of a lot of parties. I am not saying anything about Left Wing parties, for the situation is greatly different to the early 20th Century, where the Left Wing were typically identified as being Communists (and that was often true enough, not a secret), or Social Democrat—cast as being the same thing as Communist, despite clear enough differences—between them and true Communists. The most striking thing in my opinion is that the combination of economic circumstances and the relative newness of Democracy in some of the countries in Western Europe meant that people who would otherwise have been hopeful and not inclined to support Nazism, did. We have a similar confluence of economic, public health, and societal circumstances now; it doesn’t mean things will develop in the same way as the 1930’s, but that time period in history should be a Reference Point, one we can use in order to not fall for that shite again. I personally think that Trump’s actions in office created the necessary space for Putin to be where he is today. I mean, the 2018 contempt for the Ukraine, and the praises for the Russia of Putin, well it could not but weaken the Ukraine’s position in the World. Trump didn’t stop at that; no, he pushed this line that the other NATO parties were weak, and weren’t pulling their weight, so why should the USA pull its weight? I have no direct insight into the dude’s brain, but there you go, that’s the way Trump behaved. No, I don’t think there is much to commend Trump’s so-called “perfect” phone call. It was a disaster for the Ukraine. Putin’s current demands, claims, and grievances, come across as superficially worthy, but on a more thorough examination simply lack merit. Whatever the case, Putin has put and is applying maximum pressure against the NATO partners.

    In a general sense, the current threats to Democracy of the sort that even Mills would have happily supported, those threats have almost inevitably arisen on the Right. Why is that? Is it the Authoritarian nature of many of the adherents of the Right? I’d love to think it was that simple, only the evidence is that something else, or many something elses, are what drives this seeking of a so-called strong man, some person who is willing to break the society’s rules, and in particular to use violence of a hyper-masculine nature in order to achieve their political aims. This in itself is fascinating to observe, for the most avid supporters of such authoritarian leaders seem to miss the point, that they themselves are not viewed by the chief as being anything but cannon fodder—at best. And yet, those people continue to flock to such an authoritarian, presumably because such an authoritarian answers their emotional need for someone or somebody to kick the bejesus out of whomsoever it was that had alienated those people in the first place, or at least were identifiable as people who should be scape-goated for whatever real or perceived crimes had occurred. The most stand-out of dictators who managed this most succesfully would have to be Adolf Hitler, for he made it front and centre the Organising Principle of his Ideology and eventually his Party. Hitler certainly knew how to be all things to nearly all people, and thus to offer already alienated people a way of punching back. Still

    So, when they quote or cite J.S. Mills, especially “On Liberty,,” it is worth going to the source, and checking the politicians’ words, the conspiracy theorists’ words, against what Mills actually wrote. I got the impression that Mills was a straight up and down conservative in the American sense of the word; but, he also took a view that the best of humanity was only possible when you had a society that admitted some space for personal privacy, but insisted on people not putting their own personal desires above those of other people. Especially if they were simply in a position to push their own desires through a power imbalance, etc.

    The talons of the Rethugligan party, the Trumpist Movement, is in everything. Trump has done an enduring damage to the Body Politic in America. Beyond that, his FU treatment of the Ukraine in 2018 was almost certainly one of the reasons that Putin felt the time is right to challenge the NATO alliance in direct terms. Ukraine isn’t even in NATO, so they cop blowback from both directions, yet at no fault to themselves.

    Finally, I just can’t believe we have failed to recognise Totalitarian behaviour, given the two biggest examples in human history having occurred in the 20th Century (i.e., Hitler, and Sfalin). It’s worth pointing out that those two totalitarian regimes signed an agreement that Hitler knew from the start he wouldn’t abide by. Is Putin the same in this regard? I don’t know. The actions he has taken would suggest that Putin is the same. This has to be a serious concern for the NATO alliance.

    Streuth. Time for bed, methinks.

  24. Don, J S Mill was never a conservative. He was a liberal for most of his life; towards the end of it he came to think that some form of socialism might provide the best economic basis for liberal freedom. He also advocated a “stationary state” economy (i.e. one in which there was no expansion of material throughput in the economy) and this concept was the precursor to much modern thinking about a “steady-state” or “post-growth” economy.

  25. turning up in some manner, and getting your name ticked off the roll; how or if you actually vote after that point, that’s up to you

    I’m curious to know where you’re getting that from.

  26. In the article below “Stack of capital. $73 Trillion Gilded Age”will lead to Next Gilded Age of Capital and Wealth ~2025-2050 and beyond. This new NGACW will outlast the last gilded age which Wikipedia says only ran for 30 years.

     **1 seems unlikely – high wage growth including JQ’s “Class conflict is also likely to take place under conditions stacked in favor of capital”, and as robots / AI will defeat wage growth **1, and AGW will in combination with **2, and “the high concentration of wealth became more visible and contentious.[2]” leading potentially to revolution imo. Hmmm… any fixes on the horizon?

    [**1] “The rapid expansion of industrialization led to real wage growth of 60% between 1860 and 1890, and spread across the ever-increasing labor force. The average annual wage per industrial worker (including men, women, and children) rose from $380 in 1880, to $564 in 1890, a gain of 48%.[ref1]”

    [**2] Conversely, the Gilded Age was also an era of abject poverty and inequality, as millions of immigrants—many from impoverished regions—poured into the United States, and the high concentration of wealth became more visible and contentious.[ref2].”

    $73 Trillion. 

    1.5% of 330m. <5m humans & $73Tn. How many companies and where is the question. The report from Cerulli in Bloomberg article below costs over $20,000. No advice if not rich.

    "Tax-Free Inheritances Fuel America’s New $73 Trillion Gilded Age

    "Almost half of all U.S. wealth transferred over the next quarter century will come from the top 1.5% of households.

    By Ben Steverman
    February 2, 2022

    "Americans can expect to inherit $72.6 trillion over the next quarter century, more than twice as much as a decade ago, in the latest indication of how soaring markets are poised to bolster the next generation of the ultra-rich.

    "Almost half of all U.S. wealth transferred from the end of 2020 through 2045 will come from the top 1.5% of households, according to estimates from research firm Cerulli. Using trusts and other techniques, the wealthiest Americans can shield the bulk of their fortunes from the federal government’s 40% estate and gift tax levy. President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have so far failed in efforts to plug such loopholes and otherwise boost inheritance taxes."

    And just to add to the list of potential tinpot fiefdoms, the Marcos's are returning to the political stage in the Phillipines. Money + short memories are winning. 

  27. The reality is that its statistically impossible to have a voter spike in a fair election. Voter spikes prove cheating. Some people can’t seem to differentiate between the score and the scoreboard. The last election was a coup which was all about taking control of the scoreboard. Huge amounts of money went into this coup. But we knew for an absolute verifiable fact that this was a coup on the night. We needed zero supplementary evidence to know this for a fact. Its not a line-ball call. Many people were saying that there was a colour revolution planned for the election. I could see them setting up the coup but I didn’t believe that they would have the nerve to go through with it.

    Given that we know all this for a fact, and that no-one can deny it without lying, then it will be a good thing if the fake results of the election were reversed, the coup was ended, and Trump was put back in his rightful position. He’s too old to cause too many problems. So where is the downside? The Democrat leadership would be in jail hopefully. A better left-wing party would rise to take its place eventually.

  28. Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Very real risk’ US democracy won’t exist in 10 years

    Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an Insider Now?
    After three years in the halls of power, she’s seen the “shit show” up close—and hasn’t given up on her vision for how to change it.

    “David Remnick, editor, The New Yorker since 1998 – Who’s in the room? You say the most powerful people.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – You’re talking about everybody from leadership to folks who are in tough seats, but all elected officials in the Democratic Party on the federal level. And people really just talk themselves into thinking that passing the infrastructure plan on that day, in that week, is the most singular important decision of the Presidency, more than voting rights, more than the Build Back Better Act itself, which contains the vast majority of the President’s actual plan. You’re kind of sitting there in the room and watching people work themselves up into a decision. It’s a fascinating psychological moment that you’re watching unfold.

    … And, when you have a gerrymandered House, when you have the Senate constructed the way that it is, when you have a Presidency that relies on the Electoral College in the fashion that it does, you’re in this room and you see that all of these people who are elected are truly representative of our current political system. And our current political system is designed to revolve around a very narrow band of people who are, over all, materially O.K. It does not revolve around the majority.

    DR – You’ve used a phrase “if we have a democracy ten years from now.” Do you think we won’t?

    AOC – I think there’s a very real risk that we will not. What we risk is having a government that perhaps postures as a democracy, and may try to pretend that it is, but isn’t.

    DR – What’s going to bring us to that point? You hear talk now about our being on the brink of civil war—that’s the latest phrase in a series of books that have come out. What will happen to bring us to that degraded point?

    AOC – Well, I think it has started, but it’s not beyond hope. We’re never beyond hope. But we’ve already seen the opening salvos of this, where you have a very targeted, specific attack on the right to vote across the United States, particularly in areas where Republican power is threatened by changing electorates and demographics. You have white-nationalist, reactionary politics starting to grow into a critical mass. What we have is the continued sophisticated takeover of our democratic systems in order to turn them into undemocratic systems, all in order to overturn results that a party in power may not like.

    DR – The concern is that we will look like what other nation?

    AOC – I think we will look like ourselves. I think we will return to Jim Crow. I think that’s what we risk.

    DR – What’s the scenario for that?

    AOC – You have it already happening in Texas, where Jim Crow-style disenfranchisement laws have already been proposed. You had members of the state legislature, just a few months ago, flee the state in order to prevent such voting laws from being passed. In Florida, where you had the entire state vote to allow people who were released from prison to be reënfranchised after they have served their debt to society, that’s essentially being replaced with poll taxes and intimidation at the polls. You have the complete erasure and attack on our own understanding of history, to replace teaching history with institutionalized propaganda from white-nationalist perspectives in our schools. This is what the scaffolding of Jim Crow was.

    So there are many impulses to compare this to somewhere else. There are certainly plenty of comparisons to make—with the rise of fascism in post-World War One Germany. But you really don’t have to look much further than our own history, because what we have, I think, is a uniquely complex path that we have walked. And the question that we’re really facing is: Was the last fifty to sixty years after the Civil Rights Act just a mere flirtation that the United States had with a multiracial democracy that we will then decide was inconvenient for those in power? And we will revert to what we had before, which, by the way, wasn’t just Jim Crow but also the extraordinary economic oppression as well?

  29. If, as of Killary’s speech yesterday, she is in fact gearing up to run, and if she and the Wall St-Clintonite cabal again steal the Dem’s presidential nomination then indeed there is no future in the US for what at any stretch might be reasonably called democracy. It is over. Dead. Biden has no chance of re-election, Harris has less than none, and Killary will kill anyone else’s left field chance to help it hang on to life a little longer.

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