A Long and Slow Unraveling: The Systematic War on Open Society

As a Supreme Court stolen by the GOP refuses to stop a regressive anti-abortion law in Texas, it's necessary to remember how we reached this moment

The moment Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court was subverted so the Republican Party could stock the bench it was obvious where this was all going. After all, it was a process that had begun decades earlier as the GOP set their sights on the judiciary around the country, filling positions with jurists vetted, educated, and advocated by the Federalist Society, a project obsessed with reversing generations’ worth of progress in order to reconstitute a government in explicit favor of white, wealthy men.

News that the Court declined to rule on an oppressive and cruel anti-abortion law in Texas was only the latest result of this long, long project. The Supreme Court has an established Right Wing-bent now with an impenetrable majority that favors corporate rights and serves as a firewall for any progressive reform, even while the GOP and conservatism become more and more unpopular with the voting public. This ensures that, as long as that majority remains intact, it doesn’t matter if Republicans are incapable of winning another presidential election or even mounting much of a political movement. The work of men like Senator Mitch McConnell and a network of hidden billionaire financiers has created a seat of power that, at the moment at least, seems insurmountable.

There is a horror to this. Women around the country, particularly in Republican-dominated states, face a constantly diminishing standard of living in which Roe V. Wade and other definitive cases remain untouched for the moment but their realities become more and more restricted with every passing day. It is part of a system of hard and soft measures that have systematically shrunk open society and liberal democracy and effectively altered the political landscape within the United States of America.

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Many live in denial that this is happening, that open society and liberal democracy are both in crisis, because the Right Wing pursuit has been largely hidden behind focus-group tested rhetoric and kept mostly behind closed doors. Talking about judiciaries is mostly left to experts and obsessives. Legislation is, by design, incredibly hard to parse and can obscure so much behind legal jargon. And, not to mention, our media remains dedicated to covering our politics like it’s a game or sport in which playing “hardball” is simply a means to an end.

But this isn’t a game.

Women in Texas now face a life in which their ability to control their bodies and their lives is severely undermined to the point where receiving a legal abortion is arguably outlawed, even in cases of incest and rape. They are prisoners of a state. This isn’t something for the Chuck Todds of the world to debate “winning moves” and “how this will affect the next elections.” This is life and death. This is about fundamental rights.

These are soft measures of rolling back progress and attempting to reestablish the racist, sexist, classist roots of the country, and they have been attempted nearly every day of the nation’s life following any advancement or step forward. The Right has consistently opposed needed reforms that made people’s lives better or guaranteed even a meager improvement of their existences, and then, when they have lost, have pursued every possible means of working around the reforms or eliminating them altogether. This includes women’s rights, the rights of BIPOC and LGBTQ citizens, the poor, the elderly, the disabled. You name it.

But soft measures are far from the only means. When faced with a progressively progressive society and the prospect of a population that rejects them at the ballot box, the GOP has worked to disenfranchise voters, gerrymander themselves to perpetual power, and, now faced with those strategies not being enough, have adopted intimidation and violence.

For so long now, the Right has relied on conspiracy theories and fearmongering to keep a portion of the nation in fear of “shadowy forces.” This includes the New World Order, the Deep State, “Satanic Cabals,” all narratives about Jewish puppetmasters teaming with liberal traitors to undermine the state in order to steal their weapons, destroy their way of life, and throw them into concentration camps on the way to certain annihilation. Meanwhile, separatists, terrorists, and neo-fascist paramilitary groups clash in the streets with Leftists and reformers, all of it under the watchful participation of law enforcement and Right Wing politicians. Now, that rhetoric has been turned up as reactionaries like Tucker Carlson are telling their followers that all is lost unless they’re allowed to shred liberal democracy in order to institute an authoritarian regime that does away with pesky things like voting and human rights.

This creates an environment ripe for attacks on these rights, both in legislation and in the streets. It’s no coincidence, of course, that all of this is coupled with expanding gun culture to include open carry without permits, inviting supporters to fill the public arena with reminders that if things continue to escalate, if they follow the present trajectory, that many have the means and the will to turn this Cold Culture War hot at a moment’s notice.

None of this is limited to Texas. Attempts to manage the Coronavirus pandemic have resulted in armed militias flooding into the halls of legislatures, reminding elected officials they have a choice.

Give us what we want and nobody gets hurt.

For more on this topic, listen to the latest episode of the Muckrake Podcast, where Jared and co-host Nick Hauselman discuss the ramping up of violent rhetoric as the GOP threatens elected officials, opponents, and continues to attack shared, open society.

The “Critical Race Theory” outrage seemed to appear out of thin air. One day, it was a subject that only crossed the minds and desks of law students, the next it was all the GOP could talk about. It was, according to them, a Marxist plot to destroy America and indoctrinate children and students, an existential threat that demanded the base to fight as if their lives depended on it. Because they did.

CRT was a ruse, an umbrella term cooked up by billionaire-funded, Right Wing think-tanks as a useful cudgel in spreading the attack on the judiciary to America’s educational system. By affixing the term to anything politically offensive - including real and accurate history - the Right was able to further radicalize its base and direct them, like a weapon, to school boards and institutions around the country. To call it effective would be an understatement. Hordes have filled meetings, threatened officials, and have been mobilized by the think-tanks and politicians to takeover elective bodies and alter the curriculum to suit the GOP’s political goals.

It is not enough for the GOP to act as a political body. In fact, as I’ve said before, the GOP is not really a political party at all. There is no consistent ideology beyond the pursuit of power and profit by means of fanning white supremacist paranoia. What this body needs, as a dwindling power base, is to make its decreasing base louder, angrier, and more aggressive in order to make up for its diminishing power. This leads to a ratcheting up or rhetoric and more and more warnings of apocalyptic fear.

Republicans need their voters to believe that nightmarish danger lurks around every corner and unless they are willing to fight and possibly resort to violence the end is nigh.

In terms of soft power, the GOP’s takeover of the judiciary, coupled with legislation in the states it still controls, ensures a hampering of reform and the ability to continue chipping away at established rights. The specter of violence that looms over every meeting, every gathering, every election and every moment of every day, limits the benefits of an open society, namely the ability for people to enjoy their rights without living in fear of personal harm.

And what’s more, the GOP has painted themselves into a corner. Through this radicalism and fearmongering, along with the embrace of abject cruelty and racism, they have further alienated voters and rendered themselves unviable should they not pursue these hard and soft measures. Which means they will only increase. Which means we are not at the end of this brutal project, but possibly only beginning.

Jared’s book AMERICAN RULE: HOW A NATION CONQUERED THE WORLD BUT FAILED ITS PEOPLE (hailed as “an unflinching and well-crafted takedown of the nationalist rhetoric that fueled Donald Trump’s rise” by Publisher’s Weekly) will be re-released on September 14th as a paperback edition featuring a new, additional chapter addressing the attempted coup of January 6th, Trump’s attempt to steal the election, the Coronavirus Pandemic, and the continued crisis of rising fascism in America. The book is a retelling of American history that destroys our national mythologies that actively hide white supremacy and systematic exploitation and provides an explanation of how we’ve arrived at this moment and how we might find our ways out. Pre-order your copy today.