Recent articles on the Jan. 6 coup attempt have highlighted how much Utah Senator Mike Lee supported the coup. At a minimum he was supportive of Republican states sending alternate slates of Trump-supporting electors to Washington as a means to keep Trump, the loser, from having to do what every losing president has always done — ceding power peacefully.
A month before the election Lee showed his colors, asserting “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” Vox frames this in the context of the “we’re a republic not a democracy” argument (and shows how that distorts the founders’ intentions) — but points out it’s alarming in the context of whether Republicans accept an election they use. Which, as we know, they didn’t.
I’ll concede Lee is correct: a democracy can thwart flourishing by electing bad, incompetent leaders. But there is no system that guarantees competent leaders. Monarchs, theocrats, military dictatorships can all produce horrible leaders and miserable living conditions without any democracy. The reason democracy matters is that it’s much easier to replace the incompetent rulers without violence. As Winston Churchill said, it’s the worst possible system of government except for the alternatives. Contrary to Lee, it’s not democracy or liberty, peace and prosperity. It’s democracy and all those things; in the long run, it’s the best approach to liberty, peace and prosperity for all.
But that’s why Lee and other Republicans don’t like it.
The fact is, Republicans are a minority party. Since 1988, they’ve won the popular vote in exactly one election, 2004. They have policies that are even more unpopular, like raising taxes on non-rich people. “Typhoid Ron” DeSantis’ feud with Disney may leave taxpayers in Central Florida having to pay off $2 billion in corporate bond debt, which works out to a $2,200 added charge per taxpayer. As Paul Krugman says, France’s far-right party at least felt the need to offer some policies favorable to workers; Republicans offer nothing except white male supremacy.
Understandably this isn’t a winning platform. Due to the electoral college, the two senators even the lowest population states get and to Republican control of redistricting (e.g., DeSantis using it to crush black voting strength in Florida) Repubs are in a much stronger position than they deserve. Even so, democracy is working against them so it’s not surprise they hate it.
And beyond that, some right-wingers hate democracy because that’s who they are. They simply want an authoritarian leader who will tell them black is black, white is white, and anyone who disagrees will pay a price. Right-wing preacher Tony Spell, for example, says Christian prophets should rule the country, telling the priests and politicians how they want — oh, sorry, he pretends they’ll be saying what God wants, not what they imagine or pretend God told them to do. JD Vance insists a fascist coup — he doesn’t call it that, of course — installing party loyalists in every government position would be so much better than the alternatives; it’s only the fake-news media that make people think there’s anything wrong with it!
Authoritarian leadership doesn’t give us liberty, peace and prosperity. It gives the people in power, whether secular or theocratic, liberty and prosperity; they’ll have the liberty to do whatever they want, without having to answer to their supposed social inferiors. It’ll be peaceful because the dissenters and protesters will have no choice but to stay quiet or get shot. If you’re in the 1 percent, and a thorough sociopath, that’s a great life. Not so peaceful, free or prosperous for the rest of us. Particularly if you’re gay, trans, a woman, POC or anyone else who has to be crushed down for male supremacy (Vance is emphatic that he’s creating a world in which his son can be a Real Man).
The same enthusiasm for being held unaccountable fuels their hatred of journalism. DeSantis’ decision to end tenure, making it easier to fire professors for questioning the regime. Their embrace of cancel culture in the form of banning books they don’t like.
The library conflicts inn that last link is a good example of the importance of democracy: we have an elite, unelected board meeting in secret to get books pulled off the shelves. As Vaclav Havel says, it’s not enough for modern tyrants to hold power, they have to shut down dissenting voices. Not because they’re a threat to the rulers’ power but because the rulers can’t tolerate people challenging their version of the truth. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, “every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
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