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Defending Democracy

George Packer, in the latest Atlantic, argues that, confronting a Republican Party committed to an authoritarian quasi-democracy, defenders of democracy need “a broad alliance of the left and the center-right.”

He has a point, but only up to a point. Yes, defending democracy is more important than battles between progressives and centrists within the Democratic Party. Both factions need to recognize that they can only win nationally when they’re working together. They need to avoid what could sink the Republicans: “primarying” people in their own party with whom they disagree. 

Progressives in particular need to recognize that the Left has NEVER ruled in this country. The two high-water marks for the Left were the New Deal in the 1930s and the Great Society in the 1960s, when the Left had great influence but didn’t call the final shots. Progressives generate the aspirations of the party, but they need the moderates to enact them.

We come down to this: it will be up to the Democrats to defend democracy from the closest thing to Fascism we have ever known. 

Moderates must in turn recognize that most of the energy and ideas in the party come from the progressives. Moderates and progressives need each other. They must not be enemies.

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Packer also advocates a coalition with the moderate Right, Republicans and independents who reject the cult of Trump. Yes, it makes sense for such people to vote for Democrats in order to defend democracy. It makes sense for Democrats to support such candidates when they have a chance to win. For example, if Liz Cheney were defeated in the Republican primary and then ran as an independent, Democrats should endorse her rather than running their own candidate, as the best chance in a state like Wyoming to stop the Trump machine.

But here is where Packer gets it wrong. There is not a huge constituency of anti-Trump conservatives out there. There are prominent individuals like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney, but it’s not at all clear what their mass base is. Last month, the Pew Research Center reported poll findings detailing the distinct factions that make up each party’s coalition. 

Looking at people who identify as Republican, the vast majority voted for Trump at least once. Two tendencies, “Faith and Flag Conservatives” and the “Populist Right” are the hard core of Trump support, constituting nearly half of the GOP coalition. “Committed Conservatives” and the “Ambivalent Right” together make up about 1/3 of the Republican coalition, and could be the source of some defections, but it’s hard to imagine the Democrats attracting many of them. The rest of the people who identify as Republican are the “Stressed Sideliners” who make up about 15% of the coalition, but who are mostly disengaged from politics. Maybe some could be won over, but they’re not to be counted on.

We come down to this: it will be up to the Democrats to defend democracy from the closest thing to Fascism we have ever known. They need to draw in the disillusioned Republicans and Independents, and the way to do that is to deemphasize the more progressive parts of their agenda. The time for aggressively egalitarian tax reform, or a major expansion of the social safety net may come, but not now. “Black Lives Matter” wins, but “Defund the Police loses. Saving democracy has to come first. 

impeachment unavoidable

On top of maximizing voter mobilization, Democrats must also fight Republican efforts to disenfranchise those very voters by making it harder to vote and easier for partisan officials to intervene in vote-counting. This will involve both legal challenges and mass mobilization.

Taking a back seat will be hard pill for progressives to swallow, but they should imagine how much harder it would be under a Trump-Fascist regime.

John Peeler