Democracy and the Modern American Conservative

More Guns!This morning over at Washington Monthly, Jim Sleeper wrote, On Election Day, Let Texas Voters Tip Their Hats to Hong Kong. That headline is a reference to the fact that the Hong Kong protesters — and those at Tienanmen Square before them — made symbolic gestures to American democracy. It is interesting that destroying democracy should be the primary goal of one of the two major American political parties.

Most of the article is about the obsession with guns on the right. Guns are not a sign of liberty. They are a sign that if you have enough power, you can do what you want. And that has always been true. If you listen to people on the right, you will hear a constant refrain about taking the country back — as if the United States is somehow not valid if it isn’t doing exactly what they want. This dates back at least to the 1950s and the John Birch Society, as well documented in Wrapped in the Flag. And the whole point of the ostentatious love of guns is the not-so-subtle message, “If you don’t do what we want, we will make you do what we want.”

You can forget about everything else. The one defining feature of modern American conservatism is that it doesn’t believe in democracy. Yesterday, Bruce Braley quoted a conservative complaining about the politics in her state, “If Iowa gave power based on land ownership, the state would swing 180 degrees.” Indeed it would! And if only we just anointed Ted Cruz King of America, things would swing pretty far in her direction too.

All of American conservative politics eventually leads to Sharron Angle. She said what the majority of conservatives are thinking. Forget the “Second Amendment remedies” quote. In one interview after talking about how sporting goods stores couldn’t keep ammunition in stock because people were arming to fight the government for their “liberty,” she said, “That’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?” Someone who believes in democracy would think the next step would be organizing, educating, and generally sucking it up. But that’s not the fantasy of the conservative mind.

Notice how authoritarian this is. There are despots all over the world who are all for democracy as long as it keeps them in power. If they lose the election, well, that just means there was vote tampering and they have to declare marshal law until the situation is stabilized. This is no different than the conservative claim that they will try to “Take our country back!” at the ballot box, but if that doesn’t work, “Armed rebellion!” I don’t think they will actually do this, of course. They are mostly a bunch of chickenhawks who dream of their great guerrilla war. (I’ve got an idea: fantasy guerrilla warfare leagues!)

But these same people who complain that they are losing at the ballot box are the ones that are working so hard to suppress the votes of other people. So even their tepid support for democracy is anti-democratic! But it is based on the same thing that is behind, “Take our country back!” Just as the current America — Now and sixty years ago! — is not valid, many Americans are not valid. High on their list would be people like me and the kind of people who read this site. But it is pretty hard to stop us from voting without going full “King Ted Cruz.” So they go after easier targets — people even weaker than we are.

We have had this democratic republic for 226 years. It is sad that we now have to argue over the very idea of democracy.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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