How Political Extremism Becomes Self-Sustaining.

When economic and societal problems go unaddressed, dissatisfaction with government grows. Far right extremists use that dissatisfaction to get elected. Then, when they’re in the office, they ignore the problems to pursue their own ideological agendas. After all, it’s not in their self-interest to solve issues they can use in their campaigns for re-election. Indeed, they may even pass legislation to make the problems worse. (Remember the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations that exploded the federal deficit? Or how about their cuts to the IRS which made it virtually impossible to audit the tax returns of the wealthy?).

To cover their deceit, the extremists blame others for the problems. They distract voters and create fear by vilifying minorities, such as people of color, immigrants, non-Christians, and the LGBTQ community. Meanwhile, real world problems such as the climate crisis, immigration reform, corporate consolidation, and wealth disparity worsen.

It’s a cycle that has inspired some voters to embrace autocrats in the hope that a strong man unencumbered by democracy can make the desired changes. Indeed, that pattern has led reasonable people to embrace the world’s worst dictators: Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, and others.

Once the autocrats are in power, they attack and dismantle the institutions of democracy. They vilify the free press by calling it the enemy of the people and they replace it with propaganda outlets. To protect themselves, they undermine the judicial system by packing it with loyalists. They appoint loyalists in positions of authority throughout the government giving it the veneer of respectability while, in effect, turning it into a useful tool against any opposition. And they create doubt in the electoral process by claiming interference by the opposition and limiting those who are allowed to vote.

If all this seems a bit familiar, it is exactly how Donald J. Trump and his Republican allies operated. When enough voters recognized the attempt to destroy our democracy, Trump and his allies attempted a coup by challenging electors and encouraging violence resulting in the January 6 insurrection.

When the insurrection failed, they turned to propaganda to accuse Biden of inflationary policies and used the courts to drag out investigations long enough to gain a slim majority in the House. Given control of the federal purse strings and oversight committees, they are now in a position to investigate the investigators. Moreover, they can use their positions of power to create a flurry of propaganda and misinformation to further their cause – to replace democracy with the form of white Christian autocracy envisioned by their sponsors.

That much should be obvious to even the most casual political observers. The question is: Will ordinary Americans care enough to prevent it?