This report was written by David Sirota.
If you’re serious about preventing the rise of fascism in an advanced society, there would be two things you’d really want to do: You’d want to hold accountable those who incite authoritarian violence, and you’d want to make sure that desperate people get immediate help during an economic and public health emergency. You would want to do these things not just because it’s the moral thing to do, but also because such actions can tamp down the possibility of radicalization, insurrection, riots, social unrest, and chaos.
Unfortunately, many of the people elected to run the American government are not doing these things.
Today, 43 Republican lawmakers voted to acquit President Donald Trump, who faced charges for inciting the deadly uprising at the Capitol on January 6th. In effect, 86 percent of Republican senators created a precedent saying it is perfectly fine for a commander in chief to incite violence against democratic institutions — and their votes allow Trump to potentially run for president again, if impeachment ends up being the last word on the matter.
“Acquittal is not only approval of Trump’s effort to overturn the election and install himself in power, it is an invitation for him or someone else to... try it again,” tweeted The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer.
As if to prove that point, Trump’s son is already declaring that, after acquittal, his father’s authoritarian movement has been resurrected.
The Republican senators who voted to protect Trump were loyally representing a significant swath of the GOP base. A recent poll found that nearly 40 percent of Republican voters said political violence is justified — a number that tracks with previous polling data detailing the Republican base’s authoritarian tendencies. As it relates to the violent insurrection itself, a separate ABC-Washington Post poll found two thirds of Republican voters believe Trump behaved responsibly after the 2020 election.
GOP lawmakers were not just expressing the desires of their voters — they were also expressing the complicity of corporate America. Indeed, Matt Stoller is correct: When Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is on board, it is a sign that for all of their pretend attempts to be mad about anti-democratic violence and offended by Trump’s incitement, “Big corporate donors are fine with the acquittal and with Trump being president again.”
Democrats, meanwhile, justified backing off their call for more witnesses because in the reported words of Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.): “People want to get home for Valentine‘s Day.”
At the same time, it has now been more than a month since top Democrats promised immediate $2,000 checks to millions of people facing starvation, eviction, and bankruptcy. In late December, these Democrats excoriated then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for blocking a vote on the checks — but Democrats have not held a single vote on the checks since they have taken control of Congress.
Instead, they have made headlines reducing the proposed checks to $1,400, then suggesting they may make millions of people ineligible for the promised aid, then touting proposals for new tax cuts for the affluent. And now Senate Democrats have scheduled a week-long recess.
A legal precedent offering authoritarian right-wing politicians impunity for inciting violence. Effete liberals in the capital promising a few crumbs of aid to a starving nation, then languorously delaying the aid while threatening to reduce it. You know the part in a sci-fi film when the scary music is building, and things are about to get downright dystopian? That’s the point it feels like we have reached right now.
The weird thing, though, is that we are all in the audience, yet it feels like relatively few see the big picture.
Sure, there is — rightly! — outrage at the insurrectionist Republicans who have defended Trump. But it feels like few see or care about how this isn’t an isolated incident, but part of a societal trajectory.
Few seem aware or angry that corporations have refused to take serious steps to defund the Republican apparatus that abetted the insurrection. In fact, elite media outlets have published hagiographies reputationally laundering the moguls behind that machine.
At the same time, Democratic partisans seem blissfully ignorant of the pervasive economic desperation in America — the very kind that has been present during those dark moments of history when fascism reared its ugly head.
These partisans seem wholly unconcerned about their party’s lethargy in Washington, happy to smugly insinuate that those expecting a check don’t understand the legislative process and don’t understand that $1,400 is actually $2,000, even though it most certainly is not. They somehow still believe that word-parsing “well, actually” op-eds and tweets and MSNBC roundtables will satiate millions of people who were told to expect help but haven’t gotten any.
All is not lost. There is still time to fix things. There is still a legislative maneuver potentially available to hold Trump accountable. And those survival checks still can be sent out right now, if Democrats get serious. And the good news is that at least a few progressives in Congress seem to understand how dire and urgent the situation has become.
But make no mistake about it: We are now at the turning point. This movie will either become an inspirational story of fighting through adversity to change our course and achieve a better future. Or it will become a nihilistic horror show.
We are not in the theater watching from a distance. We are not streaming this on Netflix from the safety and comfort of our homes. We are all characters in this story. We all have a role to play and we all have to choose whether to be protagonists fighting for a better democratic future or antagonists allowing partisan tribalism to facilitate the rise of fascism.
It’s time to choose which side you are on. Choose wisely.
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