Today’s Authoritarianism Watch

Items today:

  • Heather Cox Richardson on the transformation of the Republican Party since Reagan, from a party of small government to one bent on enforcing Christian nationalism;
  • How Republicans now argue that juries don’t count (when they lose);
  • FDR’s four freedoms (of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear), vs. those of the current Republican party (to control, to exploit, to censor, to menace)

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, May 18, 2023

Beginning with Disney cancelling a $1 billion project planned for Orlando, FL, over Governor DeSantis’ persecution of them. More interesting is Richardson’s historical perspective on the Republican party.

The fight between DeSantis and Disney illustrates the dramatic ideological change in the Republican Party in the last two years. No longer committed to keeping the government weak to stay out of the way of business development, the party is now committed to creating a strong government that enforces Christian nationalism.

This is a major and crucially important political shift.

From the earliest days of the Reagan Revolution, those leaders who wanted to slash the federal government to end business regulation and cut the social safety net recognized that they did not have the votes to put their program in place. To find those votes, they courted racists and traditionalists who hated the federal government’s protection of civil rights. Over time, that base became more and more powerful until Trump openly embraced it in August 2017, when he said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

As he moved toward the techniques of authoritarians, his followers began to champion the system that Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán called “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy” in his own country. Orbán argued that the principle of equality in liberal democracy undermines countries by attacking the national culture. Instead, he called for an end to multiculturalism—including immigration—and any lifestyle that is not based on the “Christian family model.” He seized control of universities to make them preach his values.

Today’s Republican leaders openly admire Orbán and appear to see themselves as the vanguard of a “post-liberal order.” They believe that the central tenets of democracy—free speech, religious liberty, academic freedom, equality before the law, and the ability of corporations to make decisions based on markets rather than religious values—have destroyed national virtue. Such a loss must be combated by a strong government that enforces religious values.


Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 19 Mar 2023: As Trump’s legal woes mount, Republicans prep with a new talking point: Jury verdicts don’t count, subtitled “John Durham’s report cements the new GOP line of attack on democracy: Rejecting the legitimacy of jury trials”

When E. Jean Carroll won her defamation and sexual abuse lawsuit against Donald Trump earlier this month, Republicans knew exactly who they wanted to blame. No, not Trump’s defense attorney, who called no witnesses and offered no evidence in his client’s defense. No, not Trump, who keeps undermining his weak denials of the crime by bragging about how guys like him “historically” and “fortunately” get away with sexual assault. No, they blamed the jury.

“That jury’s a joke,” huffed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., or as Trump called him during the 2016 primary, “Little Marco”. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., echoed the same claim, grousing about “a New York jury,” as if it’s preposterous to try a case in the same jurisdiction where the crime actually happened. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., also took a swipe about the “New York jury.”

Plus discussion of the John Durham report.

Another example (after elections) of Republican making charges based on no evidence whatsoever, merely a dislike for the outcomes.


NY Times, Jamelle Bouie, 19 May 2023: The Four Freedoms, According to Republicans

Noting the latest vote in North Carolina to limit bodily autonomy, Bouie reviews the evidence to determine, “in the absence of a national leader with a coherent ideology and agenda,” “what the Republican Party wants to do and the best insight into the society it hopes to build.”

Relaxing child labor laws. Limits on what teachers can say in classrooms. And the effort “to make civil society a shooting gallery.” Then Bouie recalls FDR.

In his 1941 State of the Union address, Franklin Roosevelt said there was “nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy” and that he, along with the nation, looked forward to “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” Famously, those freedoms were the “freedom of speech and expression,” the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way,” the “freedom from want” and the “freedom from fear.” Those freedoms were the guiding lights of his New Deal, and they remained the guiding lights of his administration through the trials of World War II.

Now that might be an era when America was great, in a way, one than contemporary Republicans are retreating from. Bouie concludes and summarizes:

There are, I think, four freedoms we can glean from the Republican program.

There is the freedom to control — to restrict the bodily autonomy of women and repress the existence of anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles.

There is the freedom to exploit — to allow the owners of business and capital to weaken labor and take advantage of workers as they see fit.

There is the freedom to censor — to suppress ideas that challenge and threaten the ideologies of the ruling class.

And there is the freedom to menace — to carry weapons wherever you please, to brandish them in public, to turn the right of self-defense into a right to threaten other people.

Roosevelt’s four freedoms were the building blocks of a humane society — a social democratic aspiration for egalitarians then and now. These Republican freedoms are also building blocks not of a humane society but of a rigid and hierarchical one, in which you can either dominate or be dominated.


Relative sizing of the images is deliberate. I control the vertical, I control the horizontal…

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