Monday, January 03, 2022


Vox's Zack Beauhamp has written a long, sobering article about the ways our current democracy crisis might resolve. Nearly all the scenarios are bad. I agree with Beauchamp about the dangers, but one of his doomy scenarios strikes me as highly unlikely, and one seems the most plausible.

Here's the one I don't believe is at all likely:
Barbara Walter is one of the world’s leading experts on civil wars....

Her forthcoming book, How Civil Wars Start, summarizes the voluminous research on the question and applies it to the contemporary United States. Its conclusions are alarming.

“The warning signs of instability that we have identified in other places are the same signs that, over the past decade, I’ve begun to see on our own soil,” Walter writes. “I’ve seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see those signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate.”

Walter uses the term “civil war” broadly, encompassing everything from the American Civil War to lower-intensity insurgencies like the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Something like the latter, in her view, is more likely in the United States: One of the book’s chapters envisions a scenario in which a wave of bombings in state capitols, perpetrated by white nationalists, escalates to tit-for-tat violence committed by armed factions on both the right and the left.
I really can't imagine this. Can I imagine a wave of bombings of state capitols by white nationalists? Sure. What's implausible is the reaction of the left.

There are violent people on the left, but I can't think of a single faction of leftism or liberalism that's prone to violence and is likely to be angry at an attack on a state capitol. Most of the people on the left who display comfort with politicized violence are radicals, not liberals; they despise the sorts of liberal and left-centrist Democrats who work as governors and state legislators about as much as they despise conservatives. (Many despise the liberals more.) Also, I can't imagine a faction of violent leftists who are strategic. Our most violent lefties have two tactics: (1) head into a gathering of Proud Boys and get into fistfights and (2) head into an area of commercial or government buildings and start mindlessly smashing windows and setting fires. The notion that violent lefties will carefully choose bombing targets that are of strategic importance to the right seems preposterous.

Liberals, meanwhile, will wait patiently and non-violently for the authorities to bring the right-wing bombers to justice, because that's what we always do: cross our fingers and hope the system works. (Maybe we'll mount a couple of non-violent demonstrations, which might or might not be punctuated by Black Bloc knuckleheads breaking windows at a CVS. But thoughtfully targeted retaliatory violence won't happen.)

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know which scenario in Beauchamp's article seems most plausible to me:
Since coming to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orb├ín has systematically transformed his country’s political system to entrench his Fidesz party’s rule.

Fidesz gerrymandered parliamentary districts and packed the courts. It seized control over the national elections agency and the civil service. It inflamed rural Hungarians with anti-immigrant demagoguery in propaganda outlets and attacked the country’s bastions of liberal cultural power....

The party’s opponents have been reduced to a rump in the national legislature, holding real power only in a handful of localities like the capital city of Budapest....

The fear among democracy experts is that the US is sleepwalking down the same path.
Of course we're sleepwalking down the same path. Liberals and the mainstream media have finally started to bestir themselves in opposition to Trumpian assaults on democracy, but pre-Trump assaults were allowed to proceed unchecked for a decade and a half. ACORN was destroyed, precincts were closed, voter rolls were purged, and so much gerrymandering took place that Democrats can't win legislative power in many states. Those states already are Orban's Hungary.

There was no violence on the left in response to any of this. There was little or no peaceful protest. Unless that changes, we're inviting the GOP to finish the job.

I assume the next all-GOP federal government will sustain the illusion of free and fair elections while rigging the game in the party's favor indefinitely. I hope I'm wrong about this. But if it happens, it's easier to imagine our side doing nothing -- or, again, waiting for established institutions to save us -- than doing whatever might be necessary to prevent it.

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