Minoritarianism: We must live through all time
“…the pattern of this journey…closely parallels the classic pattern of authoritarianism and the police state: discrediting the court, intimidating the press…depicting the federal government as the enemy of the people, depicting social welfare as the contaminant in our lives, promising to use presidential power to end violence, arguing the end justifies the means…slyly suggesting those of opposite opinion are perhaps of questionable loyalty, and always insisting freedom has gone down the drain.”
–E.B. White, “Democracy is Destructible,” October 8, 1964 from On Democracy
The Senate’s January 6th hearings are making it clear to everyone except those still married to Trumpism that what we witnessed that day wasn’t just the manifestation of the chaotic mind of a tyrant wannabe (though it certainly was partly that). It was the result of a deal the wealthy oligarchy made decades ago with right-wing extremists whose mission has always been to restore Minoritarian rule to America. Both groups find rules, structures, and power-sharing inconvenient, and the concept of a “common good” an insult to their real or perceived status. Those who are aggrieved by inclusive democracy – the anarchists, white supremacists, and right-wing libertarians – don’t have the resources, organization, or brain power to dismantle democracy. But those who have inherited great wealth, and want to keep it in the family, do have those resources, and they have recruited the very “factions” and “mobs” James Madison, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson warned of in “The “Federalist Papers.”
“The Federalist Papers” advocated for the decentralization of power and the creation of indirect democracy – a democratic republic – to guard against the abuse of power to foment mob violence, which inevitably leads to some form of authoritarianism. “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason,” Madison wrote of ancient and (then) modern direct democracies. A partially decentralized republic would “extend the sphere” of people who had access to the vote and also protect against the formation of factions and their corruption by unethical, ambitious politicians who play on their emotions.
But the Framers’ notion of liberty was very limited. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were just for the white patriarchy; everyone else has had to fight in court and in mass movements to be considered worthy of the blessings of liberty. We have made significant progress in this long, often bloody march toward inclusive democracy. Over time, the Supreme Court has tended to support legal claims that “the people” includes women, racial minorities, and other historically marginalized people, and that states don’t have the right to deny their Constitutional rights. This greatly bothers some people. Rulings requiring fairness in hiring, pay, taxation, and equal access to housing, jobs, the vote, and education have diminished their power and influence, so they have been working for decades to return America to the “great” days of Minoritarian government.
The erosion and corruption of American democracy isn’t the work of a single family or corporation, but the history of the Koch family’s involvement in politics illustrates how the American oligarchy has won back government. Sixteen years after E.B. White wrote “Democracy is Destructible,” David Koch, heir to a vast petroleum fortune, ran for Vice President on the Libertarian ticket. The party platform called for the abolition of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public schools, the Post Office, the Environmental Protection Agency – in fact, as Grover Norquist later said, to make government so small, they could “drown it in a bathtub.” When Koch’s ticket lost, the family formed the Federalist Society, whose goal was to train members in libertarian “originalism.” This flimsy excuse for a philosophy is that the Founders’ intent when they wrote and ratified the Constitution must be the touchstone for all judicial decisions. It’s nonsense, of course – even the Framers knew it would be a generational project to form a “more perfect union.” But the small-government messaging was advantageous, and corruption was in the Kochs’ wheelhouse. Their and other billionaires’ fortunes would fund the training and campaigns of their graduates, who were then elevated to positions of power within governments, most critically within the judicial branch. From there, they could free the wealthy from taxes and regulations, and create a large pool of economically desperate, uneducated, and disposable workers.
We in New Hampshire have been fighting Federalist-funded Minoritarian rule for 5 years. Americans for Prosperity, one of their many funding arms, helped finance the Free State Project’s invasion of the state and has been the engine of the takeover of the Republican Party by these right-wing libertarians, some of whom were present for the storming of the Capitol. They didn’t control the Legislature 4 years ago, but they have an oligarch friend in Governor Chris Sununu, who is worth millions, much of it inherited, from oil and real estate investments. He vetoed over 60 bills the Democratic majority passed on behalf of the people, who wanted legislation to support working families, public safety, and public education. The Legislature didn’t have enough votes to override any but one. Since gaining the majority, the GOP has passed hundreds of laws that defund education, increase the likelihood of gun violence, and restrict reproductive freedom and freedom of speech, while siphoning tax dollars into the pockets of private schools, fossil fuels, and Sununu’s ski resort. On July 3rd, 2022, the eve of the mass murder of Independence Day parade-goers, Jason Osborn, the House GOP leader, tweeted, “Instead of spending $20 more than you did last year on your Independence Day hot dogs, lay off the calories and grab a few more rounds for your AK-47. You’ll thank yourself later.” This is what the New Hampshire GOP has become.
Federally, “originalists” on the Supreme Court and right-wing political operatives in the halls of power are fulfilling the goal of installing government of, by, and for the oligarchs. It’s almost as if they used White’s and Madison’s warnings as a blueprint for destroying democracy.
• Maintain the appearance of democratic institutions, but promote loyalists, the corrupt, and the easily corruptible into positions of power; support them as they undermine the agencies and governmental structures they influence or control.
• Hone the message: “We” stand for patriotism, freedom, Second Amendment rights, traditional values, a culture of life, etc. These slogans needn’t have any meaningful relationship to what the movement is really about.
• Recruit extremist factions to act as a shadow army: White supremacists, Nazis, self-styled militias, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Free Staters, Christian nationalists looking to create a theocracy – anyone who believes “the end justifies the means.”
• Create enemies – those who are “of questionable loyalty”: political opponents, immigrants, liberals, journalists, women, LGBTQ+, Antifa, BLM, CRT, RINOs (whatever suits the political moment); and fabricate scary stories about them and how they want to replace “real” Americans.
• Elevate a figurehead as champion. Trump’s resume as a corrupt mogul and violence-prone thug made him the perfect candidate. His inaugural speech, per White’s warning, painted America as a smoldering wasteland not because the rich and powerful like him are cheating them, but because government had failed them, and promised, “I alone can fix this.”
• Lie. Convince followers that nothing is as it seems: the pandemic is a hoax; journalists are “the enemy of the people”; Democrats are cannibals. The champion is the one true authority. If that fails to win a lawful election, create and promote the Big Lie: the 2020 election was stolen, and only the armed recruits can rescue “their” America.
The Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol failed to keep Trump in power, but Grover Norquist’s goal is dangerously close to fruition. We must understand that “drowning government” means killing America. We are not a patch of land to be owned by oligarchs and their shadow army; we are a set of ideals that only can be realized by government, as outlined in our state and federal Constitutions and interpreted through law.
But the structures of our government have eroded so badly, they are no longer sufficient to support democracy without extraordinary effort and sacrifice by the few principled Republicans left in positions of power and a groundswell of activism from the majority. America has overcome challenges before from Minoritarians’ thirst for power. It’s our turn now. We must support Democratic candidates all levels and hold them accountable once they’re in office; fight in the courts to regain and maintain our rights; join together in overwhelming numbers in peaceful civic action.
If we don’t step up now, chances are that the words of a young Abraham Lincoln will prove to have been prophetic: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Jean Lewandowski is a resident of Nashua.