Jennifer Rubin is one of the clearest-eyed columnists around, and as the MAGA movement has demonstrated both its staying power and its ability to mesmerize and propagandize angry voters, her clarity is welcome.
In a recent column for the Washington Post, Rubin “told it like it is.”
Right-wing pundits and Republican apologists are quick to blame “elites” or “the left” for a failure to respect and recognize the legitimacy of a MAGA movement based in election denial, White Christian nationalism and hostility toward robust democratic elections. It’s a demand for acceptance that is eerily reminiscent of other periods in U.S. history (e.g., the 1850s, the 1920s, the 1950s), which can illuminate the depth of our national problem.
Rubin referenced the eerily similar situation from just before the Civil War. Quoting from Jon Meacham’s recent book on Lincoln, she reminded readers that the South “could hear nothing more — could absorb nothing more — once it was told that the rest of the nation had found its way of life morally wanting. It felt judged, and it hated it.”
Substitute “election denier” for “the South,” and you have a fair approximation of the current state of American politics. Now, one side believes its viewpoint is essential to maintaining its power and its conception of America. It insists its followers can be “seen” only if the rest of us agree with their delusions and conspiracies.
That, of course, is not the way democratic systems work. Of course, the MAGA folks, as we have seen, are more than willing to jettison democracy if that’s what it will take to protect their status as the only “real” Americans–a status that they perceive (correctly) is endangered.
If there is no possibility of principled compromise–after all, how do those of us who occupy a fact-based reality “compromise” with delusion?–what can the rest of America do? Rubin doesn’t pull punches:
Aggravated by declining economic prospects, overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic and utterly divorced from mainstream news sources, they unsurprisingly glob onto conspiracies, hold up former president Donald Trump as their champion and refuse to process any information that conflicts with the victimhood they embrace.
While there are certainly persuadable voters who drift between the parties, one cannot attribute Democrats’ losses in certain areas of the country to “poor messaging” or even a specific policy failure. None of that would make any difference. It’s fantasy to think there is a segment of White male working-class voters eager to vote Democratic if only Democrats had not passed the American Rescue Plan or avoided dealing with bias in policing.
Rubin quite properly scorns the notion that policy differences explain the MAGA movement. The die-hards of MAGA are neither motivated nor mollified by policy. That said, she also recognizes that the appeal of conspiracies and various bigotries grows in situations of precarity and financial insecurity, which means that efforts to address those problems makes sense. As she notes,it pays political and economic dividends to “draw down the venom” in communities where people feel left behind.
She also recognizes that Democrats running in states with very different political cultures will necessarily run different sorts of campaigns.
The paragraph I found most insightful, however, was this one:
Everyone else has to vote. There is no substitute for high engagement, high turnout and an educated electorate. If 90 percent of the money spent on ads that viewers literally tune out were devoted to organizing on college campuses and other low-turnout environs, the results would be quite different for the pro-democracy, pro-pluralism forces.
Everyone else has to vote.
Before every election, we hear that “this election is the most important in our lifetimes.” This year, that warning rings true.
We can argue about causes of inflation, how to understand and address crime, how best to combat climate change….and a million and one other truly important issues. But a few short days from now, the ballots we cast will decide questions that are massively more important and fundamental. Next week, Americans will vote to confirm or deny our most basic aspirations–adherence to democratic norms and the rule of law, and affirmation of the legal equality/autonomy of all citizens, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.
Next week, our choice isn’t between Candidate A and Candidate B. Our choice is between the American Idea and White Christian Nationalism. We can hammer out our policy differences after we save democracy.
Rubin is right: Everyone who isn’t the product of MAGA madness–every American who occupies the messy, imperfect and maddening reality-based community–has to vote.