A Fear of Legitimacy: When the only political agenda is to deny Democracy by igniting culture wars
Senate Republicans will not issue any sort of a platform before next year’s midterm elections. At a meeting of donors and lawmakers in mid-November, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the Republican Party’s 2024 nominee would be responsible for deciding on an agenda. The Republican senators in 2022 will simply attack the Democrats.
Rather than advancing any sort of a positive program, Republican Senators will be focusing on culture wars. Those have devolved to a point that Republicans are denying the legitimacy of any Democratic victory because, by their definition, Democrats are destroying the country.
As Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said yesterday in a video from a parked car: “Joe Biden is a communist. And that’s what the Democrats are — they’re communists. A lot of people are swallowing down the word ‘socialist,’ but…they are communists.”
In fact, the Democratic Party advocates neither socialism nor communism. Socialism is a system of government in which the means of production are owned by the government and, through the government — theoretically — by the people. Communism is the final stage of that form of social organization. It abolishes private ownership of land, farms, and factories, giving control of all those things to the state, which, in turn, provides everyone with jobs, housing, education, and medical care.
Democrats are a far cry from calling for this system of government. What they are calling for is for us to maintain the system of government we have had in this country since 1933. In that year, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the government began to regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure projects that were too big or unprofitable for private industry.
In the years after World War II, Republicans joined Democrats in advocating this system, which filed the sharp edges off unrestrained capitalism and stabilized the economy, preventing another Depression.
On Tuesday, Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) called out the political reality of today’s America. “What you’re seeing here before the United States Congress is two clear, different visions of America and where we want to go and what we want to do,” he said. He insisted that “a strong middle class” after World War II was key to our national prosperity.
“Our greatest strength has been we reinvested into the United States. We reinvested into our communities. We invested in the technologies, and we dominated the industries: steel, glass, aerospace.” he said. He called out Republicans for their opposition to that reinvestment into America: “And now we’re hearing from the other side, ‘Shut government down, don’t do anything. We don’t want to be an honest broker.’ Tyranny?” he said, “What are you people talking about? We’re talking about universal preschool, and they have it as a communist indoctrination of the American student. It’s insane…. We have to rebuild our country!”
The American horror of socialism came long before Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution tried to put socialism into practice. Americans began to worry about socialism in 1871, the year after the federal government started to protect Black male voting with the Fifteenth Amendment.
Also in 1870, Congress had established the Department of Justice to guarantee that Black southerners could enjoy the rights former Confederates were trying to terrorize them out of. Suddenly, attacking their Black neighbors on the basis of race became unconstitutional, and the federal government began to prosecute those who did so.
In 1871, unreconstructed white southerners began to argue that they did not object to Black rights on racial grounds—which was unconstitutional — but objected rather on class grounds. They did not want Black men voting, they said, because formerly enslaved people were poor and were voting for leaders who promised them things like roads and hospitals.
Those benefits could be paid for only with tax levies, and the only people in the South with property after the war were white. Thus, Black voting amounted to a redistribution of wealth from white men to Black people, who wanted something for nothing. Black voting was, one popular magazine insisted, “Socialism in South Carolina.”
After World War II, Americans of all parties rallied around the idea of using the government for the good of the majority. But the idea that Americans who want the government to work for the good of the community were “socialists” regained traction with the rise of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Republicans under Reagan focused on slashing regulations and the social safety net.
But Americans continued to support an active government, and to keep those voters from power, Republicans in the 1990s began to insist that the only way Democrats won elections was through voter fraud. Those false allegations have metastasized until we are at a moment when Republicans refuse to believe that a majority of Americans would vote for a Democratic president.
Although Joe Biden won the 2020 election by a majority of more than 7 million votes and by a decisive margin of 306 to 232 in the Electoral College – the same margin Trump had called a “landslide” in 2016, Republicans are doubling down on the idea that the election must have been stolen and they must declare independence from the “socialist” government.
And yet, as Republicans around the country insist on the Big Lie, they are running up against reality, in the form of the legal system.
Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics