A pro-Trump mob breaks through police barriers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Screenshot from a video published by ProPublica)
Two months before the 2016 presidential election, an article in the Claremont Review of Books, an obscure journal of conservative ideas, went viral.
The author, who identified himself as Publius Decius Mus, a Roman leader who sacrificed himself in battle around 340 B.C., declared that 2016 was the Flight 93 Election. Conservatives had to charge the cockpit or die.
According to Publius, whose real name was Michael Anton, an essayist and national security consultant, a victory by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would plague America with unlimited mass immigration and “… Illegitimacy. Crime. Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government. Politically correct McCarthyism. Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure …”
And so on.
Publius/Anton was skeptical that Clinton’s 2016 Republican opponent, Donald Trump, could pull America out of its death spiral. Still, a flawed tribune was better than none, he argued, and like his Roman forbearer, conservatives needed to risk self-sacrifice to save the nation.
This apocalyptic vision, preposterous as it was, motivated Republicans through victory in 2016, the abnormal Trump presidency, the Federalist Society takeover of the Supreme Court, and the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
In this process, which began long before Trump took office, the Republican Party became radicalized.
In fact, political science research shows that the current GOP is one of the most reactionary political parties in the world, ranking with Golden Dawn in Greece and the parties supporting Marine LePen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary.
Republicans are not interested in democratic governance. Nationally, only one-third of them believe President Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. Only one-third say they would trust the results of the 2024 election, compared to 82% of Democrats and 68% of independents.
As of November 2021, one-third of Republicans believed violence may be necessary to save the country. Only 10% of Republicans believe Trump bore a lot of responsibility for the Jan. 6 riot. Over one-half say it was a combination of Democrats and Antifa.
Talk about cancel culture.
We are looking at a delusional group of sore losers who would rather wage war on the Constitution than surrender their hold on power.
Political science research shows that the current GOP is one of the most reactionary political parties in the world, ranking with Golden Dawn in Greece and the parties supporting Marine LePen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary.
Biden asked the right question: What are Republicans for?
None of them supported the president’s rescue bill a year ago. Few supported Biden’s infrastructure bill, though all of them welcome the projects it is bringing to their districts.
Thanks to Republican support of the Senate filibuster, no action is being taken on voting rights. Together with renegade Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, a united GOP is blocking paid family leave and lasting reductions in child poverty.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Harrisburg are running on nihilism, opposing equal educational opportunity, preventing a living wage, banning abortions, ignoring climate change, and hoarding billions of dollars of federal rescue and budget surplus funds.
Many Republicans have concluded they can only win through suppressing votes, taking control of election machinery, and whitewashing history.
For all the faults of the opposition party, Democrats have generally failed to take advantage. For one thing, they have been guilty of being too nationally and presidentially focused. They expect an Obama or Biden to save the day, and are inevitably frustrated.
Instead, a new resistance is needed to defeat the dark forces that seek to undermine national progress through state and local domination.
To some extent, Democrats have been held back by Michelle Obama’s advice: When they go low, we go high.
With all due respect, there is nothing low about playing hardball, if it means reshaping institutions to expand democracy and establish majority rule. Abolishing the filibuster, for example, is a no-brainer. So is making large political donations and the real donors transparent.
In contrast to the hate, fear, exclusion, and lies of Trumpian conservatives, the progressive message must be based on love, hope, inclusion, and the truth. Progressives are in the political game to make everyone’s lives better, not to set people in opposition to each other.
It all begins with local action. In the words of a famous community organizer: “[I]f more people start to truly cherish and value the engagement and the work in their own backyard, it will precipitate much larger change. It takes a lot of mass-public-building engagement, unrecognized work until it gets to the point that it is so big that … it is unignorable….”
It is no exaggeration to say that this year – when Pennsylvanians will vote for governor, U.S. Senate, and legislators in newly-apportioned districts – and 2024, when the presidency is again at stake, these contests are Democrats’ Flight 93 Elections.
Democrats and progressives must charge the cockpit or watch democracy die.
Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @mcclelef.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.