What you need to know about the anti-democracy movement

Who’s funding it, why it’s inspired by Viktor Orban, and what it aims to achieve

By RobertReich/ RobertReich.substack.com / May 19, 2022

Decades ago, America’s wealthy backed a Republican establishment that believed in fiscal conservatism, anti-communism, and constitutional democracy. But today’s billionaire class is pushing a radically anti-democratic agenda for America — backing Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, calling for restrictions on voting, and even questioning the value of democracy.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech financier who is among those leading the charge, writes “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

Thiel is using his fortune to squelch democracy. He donated $15 million to the successful Republican Ohio senatorial primary campaign of J.D. Vance, who alleges that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy has meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.” And Thiel has donated at least $10 million to the Arizona Republican primary race of Blake Masters, who also claims Trump won the 2020 election and admires Lee Kuan Yew, the authoritarian founder of modern Singapore.

The former generation of wealthy conservatives backed candidates like Barry Goldwater, who wanted to conserve American institutions. Thiel and his fellow billionaires in the anti-democracy movement don’t want to conserve much of anything — at least not anything that occurred after the 1920s, including Social Security, civil rights, and even women’s right to vote. As Thiel wrote:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

Rubbish. If “capitalist democracy” is becoming an oxymoron, it’s not because of public assistance or because women got the right to vote. It’s because billionaire capitalists like Thiel are drowning democracy in giant campaign donations to authoritarian candidates who repeat Trump’s big lie. 

Not incidentally, the 1920s marked the last gasp of the Gilded Age, when America’s rich ripped off so much of the nation’s wealth that the rest had to go deep into debt both to maintain their standard of living and to maintain overall demand for the goods and services the nation produced. When that debt bubble burst in 1929, we got the Great Depression.

It was also the decade when Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler emerged to create the worst threats to freedom and democracy the modern world had ever witnessed.

If freedom is not compatible with democracy, what is it compatible with?  

On Tuesday night, Doug Mastriano, a January 6 insurrectionist and Trump-backed Big Lie conspiracy theorist, won the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania (the fourth largest state in the country, and the biggest state that flipped from 2016 to 2020). Mastriano was directly involved in a scheme to overturn the 2020 election by sending an “alternate” slate of pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College — despite the fact that Trump lost Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes. If Mastriano wins in November, he will appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, who will oversee the 2024 election results in one of the most important battleground states in the country.

Meanwhile, the major annual event of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — the premier convening organization of the American political right — starts today in Budapest. That’s no accident. The Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party have become a prominent source of inspiration for America’s anti-democracy movement. Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, describes Orban’s agenda as that of a “Trump before Trump.”

Orban has used his opposition to immigration, LGBTQ rights, abortion, and religions other than Christianity as cover for his move toward autocracy — rigging Hungary’s election laws so his party stays in power, capturing independent agencies, controlling the judiciary, and muzzling the press. He remains on such good terms with Vladimir Putin that he’s refused to agree to Europe’s proposed embargo of Russian oil. 

Tucker Carlson — Fox News’s progenitor of white replacement theory — will be speaking at CPAC and broadcasting his show from Budapest. Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows will also be speaking (although he refuses to speak to the House committee investigating the January 6 assault on American democracy).

If America and the world should have learned anything from the first Gilded Age and the fascism that began growing like a cancer in the 1920s, it’s that gross inequalities of income and wealth fuel gross inequalities of political power — which in turn lead to strongmen who destroy both democracy and freedom.

Peter Thiel may define freedom as the capacity to amass extraordinary wealth without paying taxes on it, but most of us define it as living under the rule of law with rights against arbitrary authority and a voice in what’s decided.

If we want to guard what’s left of our freedom, we’ll need to meet today’s anti-democracy movement with a bold pro-democracy movement that protects the institutions of self-government both from authoritarian strongmen like Trump and his wannabes, and from big money like Peter Thiel’s. 

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The Last Days of American Democracy?

By Arlen Grossman

Published in OpEdNews.com/ May 20, 2022

Published in DailyKoz.com/ May 22, 2022

The political situation in this country is precarious, especially amidst a worldwide trend favoring autocracy over democracy. Conditions here will worsen if the Democrats aren’t willing to stand up to the bizarre cult-like mob that calls itself the Republican Party. Reproductive choices, gay marriage and other civil rights could be swept away in the drive to remake this country into a right-wing, autocratic theocracy.

The Democratic Party received an unexpected gift package, wrapped in blue ribbons and bows, on May 2 from the United States Supreme Court. But the gift will only be beneficial if the Democrats use it wisely.

The gift, of course, is the draft resolution of the Court’s ruling on access to abortion. This Supreme Court intends to erase Roe vs. Wade, the decision, nearly 50 years ago, that gave women the right to make their own choices about reproductive issues rather than have a legislative body of mostly old, white men make the decision for them. Other constitutional rights and laws, considering the conservative makeup of this court, are at risk.

That danger is very real. Polling has indicated that Republicans are on the verge of retaking the House and Senate in the coming midterm election. The enthusiasm, the energy, and the passion these days has been coming from the pro-Trump, MAGA wing of the Republican Party.

In comparison Democrats seem to be in a semi-comatose state, unable to figure out how to slow the momentum of this alt-right movement. The party is now forced to take on the important task of contrasting their likelihood to protect our Constitutional rights and freedoms versus Republican attempts to restrict them. 

If that goes well, the Democratic base could be fired up enough to vote and inspire others to do the same. If successful, the Democratic Party might, against all odds, be able to gain seats in Congress and state legislatures across the country. 

If not, we may be witnessing the final days of democracy in the United States. The imperfect form of democracy we’ve tried to maintain and improve since the founding of our country almost 250 years ago, is losing its grip and could very well come to an end in a matter of months. Most Americans aren’t aware and don’t understand the significance of changing from a democracy to authoritarianism. They may soon find out.

Any chance to salvage what remains of our democracy will be challenging and require extraordinary will and effort.

Inexplicably, millions of Americans have embraced the insanity, conspiracies, and lies of this modern Republican Party, and must be convinced not to abandon hard-fought democratic values in favor of empty authoritarian promises. After all, with GOP changes in voting laws, voter suppression, and gerrymandering, a losing Democratic Party may be out of power for a very long time. 

How can the Republicans, who have no useful policies, plans or ideas (other than those that favor their wealthy donors) be doing so well in the polls? It is likely because of worries about inflation, crime, immigration, and changing demographics, as well as the historical tendency to vote against the party in power. In addition there is the influence of Fox News and other popular right-wing media, who love to fan partisan flames, aware that anger and division result in elevated ratings and hefty profits. 

The reactionary, and arguably neo-fascist push from the right wing must be forcibly challenged by pro-democracy forces. That critical job falls to the polite and reasonable Democratic Party. 

Fortunately, the Democrats, with help from the ultra-conservative Supreme Court, have been handed an opportune issue that could inspire and motivate their voters. They couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to contrast their party with the angry, repressive Republicans.

This GOP is pushing a debunked claim, with no evidence, that President Biden and the Democrats stole the 2020 election. They know it must be true because their leader Donald Trump said so and everybody knows how gracefully he accepts defeat. In addition, the Republicans are a party in which many members made a concerted effort to overthrow a duly elected president and nearly succeeded by violently storming the Capital just weeks after the 2020 election. 

Even though millions of Americans watched it happening on television, the Republican leadership tells us not to take this attempted coup seriously. One Republican lawmaker, overlooking several deaths and suicides and over 150 injuries among Capital and Metropolitan Police and participants, described it as “a normal tourist visit.”

The Democratic Party needs to fight back vigorously and challenge this fanatical onslaught from the right. But are Democratic leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (age 82), Senate leader Chuck Schumer (71), Rep. Steny Hoyer (82), Rep. Jim Clyburn (81), and President Joe Biden (79) up to the task? With the exception of Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (80), Republican leaders appear to be younger, more driven, and more uncompromising than the Democrats.

It is too late to change the Democratic leadership now, so they must be pushed and persuaded to fight back with at least the same intensity as their GOP opposition. American democracy is truly at stake. This is no time to be pleasant and collegial. Every possible law, rule, regulation, and strategy should be used against the opposition. 

The January 6 committee needs to do more to hold Republicans accountable for the attempted coup. In addition, the Justice Department, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, needs to move quickly and decisively against these zealous insurrectionists and their Trump White House allies. If Garland won’t do it, he needs to be replaced by someone who will.

Taking the lead from their unhinged leader, former President Donald Trump, nearly the entire Republican party seems to be experiencing a dangerous psychotic break. Reality, facts, and truth are inconvenient and dismissed. All that matters to them is winning, regaining power, and “owning the libs.”  

Democrats need to fight back with unwavering intensity against this existential threat to our broken political system. The party, imperfect though it is, is all that stands between our weakened democracy and a pro-Trump autocracy. The Democratic Party needs to act quickly and decisively. The stakes could not be higher.

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The Smart Vote

Some Del Rey Oaks residents are concerned how the FORTAG trail will affect their city and plan to stop it by voting yes on B. I am voting no on B. It should be noted that there will be $10.3 million in state money to provide some wonderful improvements for our city. That money will disappear if B passes. Arlen Grossman | Del Rey Oaks

Letter to Editor, Monterey Coast Weekly, May 12-18, 2022

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Sanctity of Life

Come back, George. We really need you!

Posted in Abortion, humor, religion | Tagged | 1 Comment

Look at the Court Ruling in a Positive Way

By Arlen Grossman

Published as Letter to Editor in Monterey Herald, May 5, 2022

As a progressive, I see a very significant silver lining in the Supreme Court’s intention to strike down Roe vs Wade. It might just wake up and motivate a slumbering Democratic Party electorate who would otherwise sit out the next election and allow Republicans to take back Congress. Watching the right wing court strip women of their right to control their own bodies should convince Democrats that elections do matter.

The only way to stop Republicans from dragging this country back into the dark ages is to go to the polls and elect representatives who will not only change the Supreme Court but will work for the people rather than just corporations and right-wing interest groups. The ballot box is the last and best chance to resist those forces who wish to crush  hope and progress in our troubled country.

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DeSantis’ Attack on Disney Shows how Fascism Progresses Toward the Later Stages of Tyranny

DeSantis, Abbott & other Republican neofascists are playing a dangerous game, that will rip America apart, using Disney as a proxy for the racial and gender minorities they want as whipping boys 

Thom Hartmann11 hr ago
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has declared war on Disney, while his colleague in Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, is on a jihad against the parents of trans children.

This is how fascism progresses through its later stages toward tyranny.

Democracies typically don’t turn into fascist oligarchies by being invaded or losing wars. It usually happens from within, and is driven by an alliance between demagogic politicians, corrupt religious leaders, bigoted street brawlers, and some of the wealthiest people in society. 

First, fascists identify groups of people they believe are both vulnerable and sufficiently powerless that they won’t be able to fight back. Typically, these are racial, religious, political or gender/sexuality minorities.

Enormous efforts go into demonizing the people the fascists have identified; members of the group who’ve committed crimes are heavily publicized, while “think tanks” and fascist allies in the media identify malicious “reasons” for those folks’ “deviance.”

Efforts by members of the demonized groups to achieve parity or equality in society are characterized as a “theft” of privilege and assets from the majority, legitimizing both verbal, legal, and physical attacks on members of the group.

For example, the billionaire Murdoch family’s top-rated morning show, Fox & Friends, recently wandered into a discussion about white people being “marginalized” by the possibility of our public schools teaching the actual racial history of America.

“[T]hey are not only trying to raise up minorities and make sure the playing field is even,” Brian Kilmeade said, “they’re trying to take down the white culture!”

Kilmeade, in full “White people are the victims!” mode, went on:

“Why are we being marginalized on a daily basis…? And it’s not even subtle! It’s actually out there! It is written in black-and-white!”

It’s played out this way in every democratic country that has fallen to tyranny from within. It’s how it happened in the 1930s in Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain, and today in Hungary, Poland, Egypt, Russia, The Philippines, and Turkey, among others. 

More recently, Swanson Food Heir Tucker Carlson went on a rant about the Great Replacement Theory.

After identifying targeted minorities — for today’s GOP that includes Black people, trans kids (and their parents), pregnant women, and Democrats — and encouraging legal and physical violence against them, fascists move to the second major step: seizing enough economic and political power that they can reshape society itself.

This requires bringing in morbidly rich people and enlisting the aid of big business. 

So, first, they go after the biggest businesses. One of the biggest businesses in Florida is Disney, so Ron DeSantis tried to get them on his bigoted side. They didn’t go along with it, so now, in typical strongman fashion, DeSantis feels he has to destroy them to save face.

As German industrialist Fritz Thyssen writes in his book I Paid Hitler, he pressured German President von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, and then lobbied the Association of German Industrialists, that country’s and era’s version of the US Chamber of Commerce, to donate 3 million Reichsmarks to the Nazi Party for the 1933 election. It brought Hitler to power.

Hitler’s sales pitch to the German people was that Jews, gays, and socialists had “stabbed Germany in the back” and were trying to “strip” good white Christian Germans of their “rights” and twist society to conform with their “perverted” ideas and lifestyles. 

Hitler blamed the 1933 economic crisis on German minorities, Jews and gays, and accused Germany’s second largest political party of complicity with them; the German people went along with him. Once the Nazis took power, they changed election laws in such a way that they would never again lose.

Republicans and rightwing billionaires, of course, are doing much the same thing right now in America.  One wonders if they’ll have the retrospective angst that haunted Thyssen until the day he died.  He wrote about it in I Paid Hitler:

“I am not a politician, but an industrialist, and an industrialist is always inclined to consider politics a kind of second string to his bow — the preparation for his own particular activity. In a well-ordered country, where the administration is sound, where taxes are reasonable, and the police well organised, he can afford to abstain from politics and to devote himself entirely to business.

“But in a crisis-ridden state, as Germany was from 1918 to 1933, an industrialist is drawn, willy-nilly, into the vortex of politics. After 1930 the aspirations of German industry may be summed up in one phrase: ‘a sound economy in a strong state.’ This was, I remember, the slogan of a meeting of the Ruhr industrialists in 1931. …

“I, too, approved this slogan, ‘To surmount the crisis it was necessary to reinforce the authority of the state.’ … I believed that by backing Hitler and his party I could contribute to the reinstatement of real government and of orderly conditions, which would enable all branches of activity — and especially business — to function normally once again.”

Unlike Thyssen, who volunteered to support Hitler’s rise to power with massive financial and business backing, Disney is pushing back against DeSantis’ efforts to remake society in an American neofascist mode. 

Unless they soon cave in, Disney’s executives probably won’t one day write in their memoirs, as Thyssen did in his:

“But it is no use crying over spilled milk. The strong state of which I then dreamed had nothing in common with the totalitarian state or, rather, caricature of a state, erected by Hitler and his minions.

“Not for an instant did I imagine that it was possible, one hundred and fifty years after the French Revolution and the proclamation of the Rights of Man, to substitute arbitrary action for law in a great modern country, to strangle the most elementary rights of the citizen, to establish an Asiatic tyranny in the heart of Europe, and to foster anachronistic aspirations of conquest and world dominion.”

This is not America’s first brush with oligarchic fascism, as I lay out in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy. President Franklin Roosevelt and Vice President Henry Wallace struggled with it in the 1930s with Charles Lindberg’s infamous Nazi-aligned America First movement.

In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”

Vice President Wallace’s answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. 

“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way.”

As if he had a time machine and could see the “conservative” media landscape today, Wallace continued:

“The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”

But Disney refused to use their media platform to advance the fascists’ agenda. It has only, however, slowed them down a bit.

Ultimately, as fascists gain more power and grow bolder, nothing is off the table. This is the threshold we’re approaching today, where they don’t just trash minorities and march through the streets displaying weapons and huge flags, but began asserting justification for violence and even murder.

Alleging crimes against the majority’s children is a fascist favorite, as Hitler charged with his repeated attacks on Jewish teachers, leading 15% of the nation’s teachers and professors (including a guy named Albert Einstein) to flee the country when he began his attacks on education in 1933.

Fascist politicians start alleging the most vile of crimes by the groups they hope to destroy: words like “grooming” roll off their lips with a smarmy ease.  

Soon vigilante groups set out to destroy those accused, sometimes politically, sometimes physically.

German Nazis were particularly fond of accusing people they intended to destroy or kill of sexual “crimes.”  As Thyssen wrote:

“General von Fritsch’s affair is also a good sample of the peculiar methods used by the Hitler regime. Fritsch was to be ‘liquidated.’ To achieve this, it is said, the head of the Gestapo personally reproached him with practising homosexuality.

“Fritsch, who denied this from the very start, was ordered to call at the chancellery of the Reich, where he was to be unmasked in the presence of the Supreme Leader. … It seems certain that General von Fritsch has subsequently committed suicide. I can at least say that whatever the actual circumstances of his death may have been, he was anxious to die.”

While history usually sides with the victims of fascists, as we’re seeing today with the people Putin is starving to death in Mariupol, that’s small comfort as they confront terror and death.

DeSantis, Abbott and the other Republican neofascists are playing a dangerous game, using Disney as a proxy for the racial and gender minorities they want as whipping boys. It’s a high-stakes political game that has torn societies apart and destroyed millions of lives in the past.

Standing against them are their victims and the Democratic Party, albeit hobbled in their efforts by the perfidy of Manchin and Sinema.  This autumn’s elections may well be the last chance for people of good will who believe in American values and eschew fascism to rise in opposition. 

Make sure everybody you know is registered to vote, regularly double-check your own registration to make it through a voter purge if you live in a Republican-controlled state, and volunteer to help out inside the Democratic Party or through any of the great groups fighting for a more just America.  

Time is short, as Fritz Thyssen and Vice President Wallace would tell you were they alive today.

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Makes Sense

Germany

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Chris Hedges Interviews Cornel West

April 15, 2022

In this premiere episode of The Chris Hedges Report, Dr. West joins Chris Hedges to discuss the decay of the American empire, the struggle to show international solidarity in the face of escalating militarism, and what it means to examine this historical moment through a moral and spiritual lens.

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Wake Up, Democrats!

Published in Monterey Herald, April 6, 2022

Dems should fight

We are on the verge of losing what is left of democracy in America, and the Democratic Party seems to do little more than shrug its shoulders. Republicans are on the attack, accusing the Dems of all kinds of deeds and crimes, mostly without substance. Polls show a strong chance that the GOP, who have accomplished nothing at all, could win both houses of Congress this November.

To prevent electoral defeat, the Democrats need to expose the number of Republicans who have committed political crimes. Yet for some reason, Attorney General Merrick Garland has shown little willingness to prosecute Republicans for January 6 and attempting to nullify the 2020 election.  Donald Trump and his family always seem immune to legal accountability. And now the Manhattan District Attorney is bailing out on prosecuting the financial crimes of the Trump family.

What will it take to get the Democratic Party to see the danger ahead? Could it be that leaders like Nancy Pelosi (82), Chuck Schumer (71), and President Biden (79) are past their prime and Dems need new blood to light a fire and go on the offensive? Maybe so.

— Arlen Grossman, Del Rey Oaks

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Dems should fight

Letter to the Editor/ Monterey Herald/ April 6, 2022

We are on the verge of losing what is left of democracy in America, and the Democratic Party seems to do little more than shrug its shoulders. Republicans are on the attack, accusing the Dems of all kinds of deeds and crimes, mostly without substance. Polls show a strong chance that the GOP, who have accomplished nothing at all, could win both houses of Congress this November.

To prevent electoral defeat, the Democrats need to expose the number of Republicans who have committed political crimes. Yet for some reason, Attorney General Merrick Garland has shown little willingness to prosecute Republicans for January 6 and attempting to nullify the 2020 election.  Donald Trump and his family always seem immune to legal accountability. And now the Manhattan District Attorney is bailing out on prosecuting the financial crimes of the Trump family.

What will it take to get the Democratic Party to see the danger ahead? Could it be that leaders like Nancy Pelosi (82), Chuck Schumer (71), and President Biden (79) are past their prime and Dems need new blood to light a fire and go on the offensive? Maybe so.

dems

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