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It’s Not the Economy, Stupid, But How Do We Get Through To People?

It shouldn’t be that hard to understand: The fact that one of America’s two political parties is led by a revenge-driven demagogue who wants to turn the country into a dictatorship and is willing to use mob violence to do so—and that the Party is completely with him in this—is a mortal threat to us all, whereas inflation is not.

I don’t mean to minimize the real trouble rising prices is causing millions of Americans who were already loaded down with credit card debt and working multiple jobs just to get by. Spiraling rents alone are doubtlessly rendering whole families homeless, and food banks that have been overwhelmed since the start of the pandemic are getting deluged once again. But inflation caused by “supply chain disruptions” from the pandemic, and now by oil price rises from Putin’s war on Ukraine, are causing similar problems all over the world. It’s highly debatable whether President Biden and the Democrats bear even marginal responsibility for any of it in America, although of course, as the party in power people will tend to blame them. But how can anyone imagine the MAGA-tized Republicans will do anything to address the problem? By pressing for more offshore and Arctic oil drilling that would take months or years to make even the tiniest difference? Anyway it’s clear that if they succeed in taking over Congress in November, their focus will be on destroying President Biden with nonstop investigations of his son Hunter, passing anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and other “culture war” bills that Biden will be forced to veto, and promoting the looniest Qanon types like Marjorie Taylor Greene into positions of power. And of course, laying the groundwork to end American democracy once and for all by corrupting the 2024 presidential election and installing Trump, DeSantis or God knows who as president-for-life.

“None of the problems that totalitarianism claims to solve is worse than totalitarianism itself,” the great 20th century French author and philosopher Albert Camus once said, and it is also the case the totalitarian governments only aggravate the problems that they harped on to get into power in the first place. How were the Bolsheviks able to take over Russia in 1917? By exploiting the popular cry for “bread and peace,” the latter meaning an end to Russia’ disastrous involvement in World War I. But from the moment they took power in a bloody coup, they waged a brutal civil war instead and starved the peasants in numbers that eventually totaled millions of souls. Hitler was supposed to have gotten the German economy humming and restored a sense of national pride; well, that was just great until he started the worst war in history, literally burning the German economy to the ground and humiliating the nation forever with the Holocaust and other stupendous crimes against humanity. Cannot American voters be made to see that MAGA back in power will likewise lead to national catastrophe, and no, gallons of gas and milk will not get any cheaper?

Part of the problem we face is that the Republican Party has played a central role in the American political system for two-thirds of its history, and many Americans simply cannot take in the fact that it is now a mortal threat to the country. Biden himself often seems to have trouble grasping this. You have people who have voted straight Republican all their lives and are not about to stop now. Then you have millions of voters who are not repulsed at all by Trump’s nonstop lies and bottomless cruelty, but find it invigorating. What else could explain the fact that some 12 million more people voted for him in 2020 than in 2016, despite everything? Who knows how many members of these groups, if any, can be turned around; our efforts must instead go mainly into persuading the millions of burned-out and frustrated Americans who are disappointed because Biden and the Democrats could not wave a magic wand and instantly restore the good times, that there is really no choice but to strengthen their hand so that they can go on trying.

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