Democrats should support Rep. Liz Cheney as she fights her party’s slide into authoritarianism
As Republicans move to expel Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership post in the House, the warning lights are flashing red for American democracy. Republicans are punishing Cheney because she has committed the cardinal sin of contradicting Donald Trump and defending the 2020 election results as legitimate. In the Party’s upper echelons, this is now considered treason.
In this fraught moment, Liz Cheney is the enemy of the tyrant, so she is my friend, politically speaking. Democrats should support her and the small band of other brave Republicans in Congress who are resisting the Party’s slide into an authoritarian cult.
Growing Parallels With Germany In The 1930s
The Republican Party is not a fascist party, yet, but the parallels with Germany in the 1930s are growing closer. Like many Germans of that era, large numbers of Republican voters and politicians have abandoned democratic values. They don’t believe that government policies should reflect the will of the majority, because they consider the opposition party illegitimate, “radical” and “socialist”.
As a result, many Republicans no longer accept the principle that their party must transfer power if it loses an election. They want to stack the deck, so they can ensure one-party rule. They are willing to cheat, by making it harder for Black Americans and other Democrats to vote.
These Republicans blindly follow their leader, a strongman who openly admires autocrats and who refuses to accept the result of a fair election. They believe his Big Lie, that the Democrats stole the election and the system is rigged. There is no evidence to support this claim, but they don’t care.
In the original Big Lie, Nazis claimed that Germany had lost World War I only because certain “internal groups” had sabotaged the war effort. That was also completely false. But they used that Big Lie very effectively to blame Jews and democratic Weimar politicians, many of whom were socialists, for Germany’s defeat.
Now, Republicans must be absolutely loyal to their leader, as he spews lies about the election, disparages racial minorities and appeals to white supremacists. Some of his followers, as we saw on January 6, will use violence to achieve their goals.
Many self-styled “patriots” have organized into heavily armed paramilitary groups, the militias. They have intimidated politicians in Michigan, occupying the state legislature, and paraded with their guns near Black Lives Matters protestors. The Proud Boys, a neo-Nazi group, and the Oath Keepers are fervent Trump supporters and associated with white supremacists.
Abandoning Democratic Principles
The analogy with Weimar Germany may seem alarmist, but let’s step back for a minute and consider how bizarre the current situation is:
· 60% of House Republicans voted to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election
· 70% of Republican voters do not think that Biden won the election fairly
· 30% of Republicans think that it would be appropriate to use violence in order to achieve their political goals and “save” the country
The vast majority of Republicans reject the results of an election that was untainted by fraud. Fifty Secretaries of State, many of them Republican, certified that the results were fair. The Republican in Congress are being hypocritical, of course, since they certainly think that they were elected or re-elected legitimately, through the same ballots that voters cast in the Presidential race.
These may not be fascist attitudes, strictly speaking, but they are fundamentally anti-democratic. What term would you prefer? Authoritarian? Illiberal? Those labels seem rather bland, given the danger these attitudes pose for our system of government.
Republican Leaders Could Have Derailed Trump
In a normal political party, in a healthy democracy, we would not be talking about Donald Trump and his “iron grip” on the Republican Party. Instead, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-TN) would have promptly acknowledged that Joe Biden won the election and publicly congratulated him. When Trump refused to accept the election results, they would have called upon the President to recognize his defeat.
After Trump instigated the attack on the Capitol, which endangered those Republicans’ lives, they would have called for Trump to step down, or they would impeached him. They would have made him a pariah and ejected him from their party.
Instead, a modern-day Quisling like Sen. Lindsey Graham says the Republican Party “cannot grow” without Trump. Ambitious younger politicians, like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), repeat Trump’s lies about the election, so they can ride on the Great Leader’s coattails. They are bright, Ivy-League graduates, and they know that they are lying. Like their German counterparts in the 1930s, they have lots of intelligence but no principles.
The Voter Suppression Onslaught
This sickness in the Republican Party, this deep-seated contempt for the basic ground rules of a democracy, is pervasive. We can’t blame all this rot just on Donald Trump or a few unscrupulous politicians. They have tapped into a profoundly anti-democratic strain that already existed in the Republican Party.
We see this on the state level, where numerous Republican-dominated legislatures are moving to enact laws to make it harder for their opponents to get elected. Georgia and Florida have rushed through sweeping changes that are designed to suppress Democratic voters. Texas is about to pass similar laws, even though it already has very restrictive rules on voting. Similar efforts are under way in over 30 states.
The legislators are using Trump’s Big Lie, claiming that they are trying to protect the integrity of elections, despite the lack of fraud. They use a thin veneer of legality to throw obstacles in the way of voters.
These new laws aim to restrict early voting and mail-in voting, because in 2020 Democrats used those options more than Republicans did. Several laws also tighten I.D. requirements, which are particularly targeted at Black voters. It is not a coincidence that Florida, Georgia and Texas have a history of suppressing minority voters.
Money Talks, Especially In Politics
I never thought that I would ask you to give money to an organization that backs Liz Cheney. But I also never dreamed that the Republican Party would kowtow to a would-be dictator and launch an all-out assault on our democracy.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote, “There are few emotions that cannot be expressed by money,” and that is particularly true in politics.
Democrats should take a deep breath and hit the “donate” button for Cheney. We should also support other Representatives, such Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Jeff Meijer (R-MI), who voted to impeach Trump and have condemned the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) is another one of the few Republican voices in Congress who is willing to stand up for democratic principles.
These politicians are paying a steep price for their commitment to democracy and opposition to Trump. Cheney has lost her #3 post in the House and the others have faced constant attacks from Trump and his followers. State leaders have censured them, and their prospects for re-election are clouded, to say the least. (Sasse was re-elected in 2020, so his seat is secure for several years.)
Cheney, Kinzinger and Sasse are deeply conservative. I deplore Cheney’s support for torture and her hawkish foreign policies. But when the house is on fire, I’ll work with anyone who is willing to help fight the flames.
The easiest way to do this is by contributing to Defending Democracy Together. This is an anti-Trump Republican organization started by Bill Kristol, the editor of The Bulwark and former editor of The Weekly Standard, both conservative publications. The specific effort you could support is their Republican Accountability Project. This initiative will back these four members of Congress; moderate Republicans such as Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AL); and others who have opposed Trump’s claims about election fraud.
A Battle Worth Fighting
At this point, Cheney and like-minded Republicans face an uphill struggle to prevent their party from becoming a full-fledged authoritarian movement. But it’s a critical battle, and Democrats should help them in the battle to save our democracy.