Angry And Afraid
There is a new silent majority in America—a peculiar coalition of Leftist Progressives, establishment Democrats and moderate Republicans who recognize how dangerously close this republic is to self-immolation.
By David Todd McCarty | Sunday, August 30, 2020
Fear and anger have always been powerful forces in American politics. But rarely have they been so effectively used to motivate the Left and Centrist elements of the electorate.
The idea of using a campaign of terror relying on base emotions such as fear and anger has typically been the purview of the far right, not the intellectual left or the practical center. The usual strategy would be to advocate for responsible, egalitarian moderation. But Trump and his cult of sycophants and evangelical kamikazes have unleashed an unintended strategy for those who oppose fascism. It just feels strange to many Americans, to be fighting fascism within the context of a domestic election—not a foreign battle field, and to be using the tactics of the right against them.
President Trump has always advocated for America First, so he brought the war he wanted to fight, the one he thought he could win, into the home of every American. Too much of a coward to fight a war against experienced authoritarians, he has staged a proxy war at home, pitting brother against brother, and neighbor against neighbor.
But this time around, it’s the GOP’s turn to be overconfident and underestimate the “silent majority” of voters. Trump supporters see themselves in a position of strength, a position of power. They are demonstrably excited and unusually energized. They view his win as inevitable. Just look at all the flags, they say. Everyone they know is a Trumper. Everything they hear confirms their distorted world view. For if God is for us, who could be against us?
The hubris is palpable.
But Trump has managed to do the one thing that Democrats have failed so miserably at for so long. He has motivated his own opposition with fear and anger, and fear and anger, as Trump can surely attest, are a powerful motivators. Every police shooting. Every vigilante murder. Every violation of democratic norm and social etiquette. Every scornful rejection of public safety. The sheer cruelty and abject indifference to human suffering. Each incident we experience vicariously on social media reinforces the notion that no one is coming to save us and we will actually have to do it ourselves.
Trump has finally energized the Democratic Party to do what they themselves have been unable to do, which is to convince voters that their vote is not only important, but critical and obligatory.
This is not to say it will be easy, or that victory is at hand. Democrats have a way of being both overconfident and pitifully ineffectual when it comes to elections. You need look no further than the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey where Jeff Van Drew, the incumbent Republican, who until just recently was a Democrat, is being challenged by Amy Kennedy, a well-funded Democrat.
Party loyalists like to quote voter rolls to explain that the district actually has a slight edge with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by a slight margin (171,000 Democrats – 150,000 Republicans). But what they don’t tell you is that Unaffiliated voters account for an additional 190,000 voters, larger than either party, most of whom identify as conservative and tend to caucus with the Republican Party. While the Cook Politcal Report current rates the race as a Toss-Up, mainly given Trump’s unfavorables, the district is still considered an R+1. There are a lot of intangibles at play given Van Drew’s recent defection from his own party, but it’s not a gimme. It’s literally a wide open race. But it’s not really a race between Van Drew and Kennedy. It’s not a race of ideas, or policy objectives. It’s a proxy war between anyone who supports Trump and anyone who opposes Trump.
There is a real danger, especially in CD2, to mistake Independents for swing voters. They are unaffiliated, not undecided. They are mostly Republicans who so dislike government that they don’t even want to be associated with the Republican party. They are clearly not party loyalists but that doesn’t mean they are unengaged. The small number of Lefty Independents who think the Democratic party is too moderate, are not enough to tip the scales, but they too are paying attention.
In New Jersey, as in America, everyone has chosen a side. It’s less an election than a culture war. Identity politics is all we have now and our personal identities are so firmly tied to our political identities that we can no longer separate the two. The culture war ensures that at least one of our many identities (Mother, Pastor, Conservative, Gay, Christian, Vegan, Sportsman, American) are being threatened by outside forces on a daily basis, and our identify activates under threat. We don’t walk around thinking of ourselves in terms of labels, until that label, that specific identity is threatened. Then it becomes a principle part of who we are.
There are increasingly more and more connections between our political identity and our personal identities that heretofore were considered apolitical. There is no respite from politics anymore. Not in religion, sport, education, health, work or play. You are no longer just a sports fan because you have to have an opinion on whether athletes should protest or not. You are no longer worried about a virus because it may compromise your family’s health, you wear a mask or you don’t, because it’s a symbol of your identity. Some would rather die than give up their identity.
It’s not mere political rhetoric when Joe Biden says this election is a fight for the soul of America. It’s a war to determine which tribe commands the more effective fear of the other, the greater anger. It’s not a battle of wits, it’s a fight for tribal domination. It’s vainglory on the one side. Life and death on the other. Celebration versus survival. It’s an epic struggle.
We will look back on this period as a defining moment, not just as an important part of our history, but as a tipping point that would decide whether or not we had a future. Possibly whether two and half centuries was all we had within us to begin with.
Many great thinkers have pondered on the fragility of democracy in America over the years, but it’s never been more apparent than it is now. How else can a country of such scale and diversity survive if not through the acceptance of a plurality of ideas and tolerance for dissent? If we lose that, we lose our ability to govern ourselves and will find ourselves ultimately subjugated to an authoritarian government who would rule us by force. There aren’t that many options after all.
It really is a war for the very soul of America. A fight for the future of democracy. Liberty. Freedom. Ideas. Dissent. Tolerance. Independence. Religion. Morality. Patriotism. Pride. Empathy. Love.
All the marbles.
Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard