By Robert Reich
Apart from specific issues and candidates that motivated voters on Tuesday, two contrasting parties continue to emerge in America – one, pro-democracy; the other, anti-democracy or neofascist.
The hallmarks of the neofascist party are its cruel nastiness and unwillingness to abide by election results. In other words: Trumpism.
Both were on full display election night as Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake assailed the “cheaters and crooks” whom she claimed were running elections, “BS and garbage,” “incompetent people,” “propagandists,” and “fake media.”
And as Rep. Andy Biggs joked that Nancy Pelosi was “losing the gavel but finding the hammer,” a crude reference to the attack on Pelosi’s husband that left him with a fractured skull.
Other GOP candidates and flaks hurled similar insults — “Merrick Garland needs some new pantyhose,” “Beto [O’Rourke] is a furry,” Sen. Mark Kelly is a “little man” whose “ears don’t match,” President Biden is a “lost child” with a “very dirty diaper,” Democrats are “lunatics.”
Contrast this feculence with Tim Ryan’s graceful concession speech in the Ohio senate race (I’ve pasted the live version below).
We have too much hate, we have too much anger, there’s way too much fear, there’s way too much division, and we need more love, we need more compassion, we need more concern for each other. These are the important things. We need forgiveness, we need grace, we need reconciliation. … I have the privilege to concede this race to J.D. Vance because the way this country operates is that when you lose an election you concede and you respect the will of the people. We can’t have a system where if you win it’s a legitimate election and if you lose, someone stole it. … We need good people who are going to honor the institutions of this country…. The highest title in this land is citizen, and we have an obligation to be good citizens.
Or with John Fetterman’s humble remarks after the senate race in Pennsylvania was called for him — when, wiping away tears, he told cheering supporters “I’m not really sure what to say right now, my goodness. I am so humbled, thank you so much …. This campaign has always been about fighting for anyone that ever got knocked down that got back up.”
Fetterman had been knocked down last May with a near-fatal stroke — which invited ridicule from Trumpists such as Trump Jr., who told a Sunday-night crowd at a rally in Miami that “if you’re going to be in the United States senator, you should have basic cognitive function. It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to have a working brain … We’re up against a Democrat party today that doesn’t believe that a United States senator should not have mush for brain.”
Gratuitous cruelty, derision, nastiness — they are one of a piece with authoritarianism because they feed off the same anger and fear. They also fuel the hate and paranoia that are causing Americans to distrust our electoral system and one another. And they can fuel violence.
When I was a kid I was bullied by other kids because I was so short. I remember the ridicule and the cruelty. The worst of the bullying, I later learned, came from kids who were bullied at home, often by abusive parents.
So many Americans feel bullied by the system today — bullied by employers, landlords, hospitals, insurance companies, debt collectors, government bureaucracies, and the like — that they’re easy prey for Trumpism.
This isn’t to excuse these people, but only to explain the likely source of their rage, and how the Trumpists are channeling it.
And why it’s so important to stop all forms of bullying in modern America — not only because such bullying is morally wrong but because its poison spreads throughout our society.
The results of the midterm elections could have been far worse. The extreme grotesqueries of the Trumpist right were soundly defeated — Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, Maine gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, and Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels (who promised if elected that no Democrat could ever win Wisconsin again). Most election-denying candidates for secretary of state were defeated.
As of Wednesday evening, Kari Lake was trailing her Democratic rival for Arizona governor, Katie Hobbs, by a hair. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (the freshman MAGA Republican from Colorado) was fighting to keep her seat,
But Marjorie Taylor Greene was reelected, as was Andy Biggs, and many other election-deniers. And Trump himself seems intent on launching another run on the White House (and on American democracy) within the week.
Not as bad as it could have been, but deeply concerning nonetheless.
We are still on the brink.