Our Split-Level NeoFascism
In keeping with my obsessions on this substack, I need to point out that the antics of Trump’s MAGA caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives can distract from what I see as the other key dimension of political struggle in the U.S. — state and local government.
I don’t need to recapitulate at any length the insanity in the Federal government. Bolstered by a packed Supreme Court, the GOP is angling to hold the world economy hostage via threats to block a routine increase in the debt limit. The ransom would be cuts in Social Security and Medicare. A default by the U.S. government on debts for the safest securities in international finance — U.S. government bonds — would have unknowable consequences for the world economy. (Note that in finance, since time is money, even just paying a debt late is a default.) And knowing — finding out — is not something that should be contemplated. Needless to say, debt limit increases during the Bush or Trump Administrations never came in for parallel scrutiny.
The lesser threat is to hold up future budgets and provoke a new Federal government shut-down. It is lesser because government by continuing resolution, also described as “flat funding,” is damaging but short of catastrophic. The Rs dirty secret is they like their own pet appropriations bills too. Deals can and will be struck.
As I said, all that distracts from the equally dangerous Trumpist organizing at the grassroots. As Trump crony and convicted felon Steve Bannon said on his podcast: “The path to save the nation is very simple — it’s going to go through the school boards.” The article linked above provides some encouragement that the effort is not invincible, but still there is no sign of any let-up here in Virginia. Governor Youngkin, failed account manager chased out of the Carlyle Group, is zeroing in on the Fairfax public schools, race-baiting the school board and administration over their efforts in the field of diversity-equity-inclusion (DEI).
It should be said plainly: opposition to admissions criteria to elite schools that allow for some flexibility when it comes to people of color, or criticism of DEI policies as an affront to “merit,” are appeals to racism. The implication that allowance for factors in addition to test scores and grades is a rejection of “merit” rests on a definition of merit consistent with white supremacy that precludes equal opportunity for African-American and Hispanic students.
The political game here is to hive off some Asian-American voters from the Democratic Party, completely similar to gambits in years ago with respect to Jews. In the latter case it failed, since we Jews still disproportionately vote Democrat, understanding that at bottom, these bigots are not and have never been our friends. I doubt that Asian-Americans will be any less insightful in this respect.
As I’ve written, the Republican ascendancy in Virginia, in the form of a turnover in the offices of governor, attorney-general, and lieutenant governor, plus the lower house of the state legislature, rests on a year of demagogy regarding Critical Race Theory, DEI, alleged transgender student predators, and dirty books in school libraries. The Fairfax Foofaraw is just the latest salvo in this bombardment of bigotry.
“Neofascism” may be a little strong to describe all this, but the fact remains that the Republican Party of yesteryear has been transformed by a line of deplorables from Newt Gingrich to Pat Buchanan to the TEA Party to Donald Trump to whatever comes next. To me, any movement that is sufficiently authoritarian as to be intent on eliminating democratic institutions qualifies.
Youngkin is relatively slippery in this respect, angling between the old GOP establishment and the new extremists. So far he has failed to register in presidential polls, but it’s easy to see him on a national ticket with Florida’s execrable, unambiguously MAGA governor Ron DeSantis. Youngkin is term-limited in Virginia and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. There isn’t all that much daylight between him and our very moderate senators — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.
The new Republican Party is dedicated to electoral tactics that cement them into power indefinitely. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio are cases in point: the GOP majorities in state legislatures are grossly inferior to their shares of registered voters in those states. When it comes to drawing district lines, where Democrats play fair and Republicans play dirty, the dismal outcomes are not difficult to foresee. When the Rs lose a statewide office like governor, where gerrymandering is not feasible, their super-majority state legislatures try to enact new bills denuding Democratic governors of executive powers.
Rerunning all the old civil rights struggles is not a pleasant prospect. Ideally we would be fighting new battles to win new ground, rather than struggling to retain past victories. Unfortunately, the trend in Virginia is pointing to the latter burden.
This is the sum and substance of my own campaign for the state legislature, coming out of Loudoun County.