I thought this was an interesting and informative, if not very chilling article, that landed in my newsfeed this am:
Good morning. The anti-democracy movement in the U.S. started before 2020 and may endure for years.
Bigger than Trump
On Feb. 24, 2016 — during Donald Trump’s Republican primary campaign and more than four years before he would falsely accuse Joe Biden of election fraud — somebody registered the website www.stopthesteal.org. It may have been Roger Stone, the Republican operative who was advising Trump’s 2016 campaign and appears to have coined the phrase “Stop the Steal.”
At the time, the target of the phrase was not a Democrat. It was Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest competition for the Republican nomination. After Cruz won the Colorado caucuses in April 2016, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered at the State Capitol in Denver and chanted, “Stop the steal!” During this same period, the website posted baseless allegations claiming fraud in other states.
This bit of history comes from Charles Homans’s latest revelatory story — which The Times Magazine has just published — about the anti-democracy movement within the Republican Party. The story’s central point is that this movement to create doubt about election results is older than many people realize and larger than Trump himself.
“What is striking about the movement around the supposed theft of the 2020 election,” Charles writes, “is how much of it — the ideas, and rhetoric, and even the people involved in it — predated Trump’s presidency, and in some cases even his candidacy.” And as that movement continues today, it is based less on the narrow goal of restoring Trump to power and more on a missionary zeal to put right-wing candidates into office.
The candidates running these campaigns this year, including the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania and the nominees for secretary of state (the job overseeing elections) in several other states, do not talk about Trump very often. They instead cast themselves as part of a larger crusade to preserve traditional American, Christian and conservative values. As Charles explains, they “see themselves as an American people distinct from the American population — a people whose particular loyalties, identities and values designated them as the nation’s true inheritors, regardless of what the ballots might have said.”
When Charles and I spoke yesterday, we spent some time mulling over why this anti-democratic movement has become a dominant force within the Republican Party now. Conspiracy theories have a long history in American politics, of course (including on the political left), but they have usually remained on the fringes. To take one example, the John Birch Society of the mid-20th century spread some similar ideas as today’s right-wing conspiracists do, but few Birchers won statewide or federal office.
What has changed? There is no single answer, but there are a few plausible partial explanations.
One is that many conservatives — especially white conservatives — feel more threatened than in past decades. They worry they are part of a fading minority. As Charles’s story documents, the Stop the Steal movement has strong roots in the Tea Party movement, which began early in Barack Obama’s presidency and frequently portrayed him as illegitimate and un-American.
Obama’s election, as the first Black president, was a clear sign that the country had become more racially diverse and seemed destined to become even more so. It also happened as the country was questioning traditional ideas of gender and sexuality and becoming more secular, with religious observance declining.
In his reporting, Charles interviewed a supporter of Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, after a rally and asked her what she expected if Mastriano won. “I see him stepping in and going back to the Constitution — putting God back in things,” she said. “He’s about bringing everything back,” she explained. “Everything back.”
Still, this racial and cultural reactionary response is almost certainly not the full story. After all, the U.S. has experienced more intense periods of debate over racial and gender issues — like the 1960s — without giving rise to a large anti-democracy movement. Today, several other factors also seem to play a role.
Four more reasons
One is the underlying level of frustration among Americans after decades of slow-growing living standards for most people. A financial crisis, which began shortly before Obama’s election, and the slow recovery from it exacerbated the dissatisfaction.
A third factor is modern media. On the internet, falsehoods can spread more quickly and be repeated more frequently than, say, the Birchers’ claim that Dwight Eisenhower was a secret communist. Fox News, meanwhile, broadcasts conspiracies to millions of viewers.
Finally, while Trump’s role is sometimes exaggerated, it is still central. In the past, national leaders tended to reject the conspiracies; in 2008, John McCain famously corrected one of his own supporters who called Obama an Arab. Trump, by contrast, promoted lies as no other modern U.S. politician has, making them acceptable to people who otherwise might have rejected them. And once he became president, many other Republican politicians chose to echo him or at least refused to denounce him.
That’s how the anti-democracy movement moved to the center of today’s Republican Party. For now, it still revolves around Trump. But it also has the potential to outlast him.