You hear next to nothing about them, but they may yet be the salvation of American democracy.
Ever since the rise of farce-fascism under the leadership of Buffoon-in-Chief Trump, those of us with steadfast left-liberal beliefs who nevertheless had respect for the principle of conservatism, and for family, friends and neighbors who we knew to be good people with views to the right of ours, have wondered in horror how they could be letting such a thing happen. I’m not speaking here of public figures like John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Liz Cheney, all of whom had a different level of responsibility that they failed to rise to at a crucial early stage, although all of them later displayed considerable political courage. I’m speaking here of ordinary, everyday people who are perhaps uncomfortable with rapid social change, are traditionally religious, or hold “Main Street” type views on the undesirability of too much regulation and taxation. How could they support a man of no morals like Trump, who in his epic corruption, self-dealing, demagoguery, and incitement of political violence can be grouped among countless other such scoundrels who have been known to history ever since the ancient Athenians invented democracy?
Those who found excuses to go along with the MAGA movement pose a problem that I have discussed at length in this space. But the truth is, there are many who were just as horrified as us, and possibly even more so, because the MAGA cult has soiled the word “conservatism” and the good name of the Republican Party, seemingly beyond recovery. They voted for another Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 primaries and flatly refused to “hold their noses and vote Republican” in the general election—or if they did, they regretted it almost at once and did not repeat the error in 2020. I know a few of these people personally. They are the silent but solid minority of dissenting Republicans, some of whom are so disgusted they have formally changed their voting registration. Polling does not give a clear idea of how many of them there are, but their numbers were significant enough to give Biden a comfortable margin of victory in 2020.
They are our indispensable allies in the fight to save American democracy from the farce-fascist takeover. Ever since the modern era of democratic representation began with the American and French revolutions in the late eighteenth century, most democratic countries have organized themselves politically along a left-right axis, the terminology traceable to the seating arrangements in France’s first post-revolutionary parliament. Many have argued with considerable justification that the whole conceptual scheme is becoming outdated, and it has long been known that “far right” and “far left” patterns of rhetoric and thought blur into each other. But we seem to be unable to ditch these habits of thought. In American terms, “left” and “right” were known as “liberal” and “conservative” throughout the second half of the twentieth century, though “progressive” has recently become a more voguish word than “liberal,” and the American “left” has almost always been far weaker than its European counterparts.
In these times, all such distinctions pale in comparison to the chasm between those who still uphold poor old representative democracy and the powerful forces trying to persuade us that it has somehow outlived its usefulness and become a relic of the past. That was the argument of Mussolini and his Fascist Party one hundred years ago, and it is now the argument of the MAGA movement and its international so-called populist nationalist counterparts from Hungary to the Philippines. Ironically it is all of us, from AOC progressives to the bedraggled survivors of the Age of Reagan, who are the true “conservatives” in attempting to defend American constitutional democracy against the MAGA menace. If we win, there will be an almighty struggle on the American center right to define a new “conservatism” and either set up a new political party or rebuild the hollowed-out shell of the GOP. But that is not the left-liberals’ fight, and first there is a war to be won.