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Nothing Can Be Changed Until It Is Faced

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two people play tug of war, one person yells on in encouragement

MAGA can be beaten, and in a way that opens the door to deep structural change. To find that path, we first need to look the MAGA danger square in the face.

“MAGA is the modern incarnation of a reactionary, nativist faction that has been with us since the nation’s founding… This Faction has never recognized the legitimacy of any democratic outcome that conflicted with its White Christian Nationalist values…. Inevitably, the Faction violently resists every attempt to enforce democratic values for all – from Slave Patrols invading northern states to kidnap runaway “property”; to rebelling against the United States; to the KKK’s terrorist campaign to first end Reconstruction and then crush resistance to Jim Crow regimes while destroying the wealth gained by African Americans after WW I; to mass resistance against Brown and subsequent Supreme Court rulings; and now militia groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys attempting violent takeovers of both state and federal capitol buildings, threatening election workers and elected officials, and terrorizing communities of color.” 

–Michael Podhorzer, Weekend Reading, January 29, 2023, “There’s Nothing Funny About MAGA’s Clown Car”

This is the second column in a row that I’ve begun with a quote from Michael Podhorzer’s “Weekend Reading” series. Offering consistent no-illusions analysis of US politics, this series is a must-read for everyone who wants to understand the deep roots and current strength of the MAGA bloc—and how it can be beaten. 

Fortunately, “Weekend Reading” will now be available to the public on Substack. It’s free and I urge all readers to subscribe.  

The “Clown Car  piece quoted above provides detailed evidence of the thesis – which I echoed in my previous column – that the MAGA threat is greater today than it was in 2020.  In response, I think we need to embrace the sentiment articulated by James Baldwin in a 1962 New York Times essay where he called for his generation to “throw everything into the endeavor to remake America”:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

MAGA can be beaten, and in a way that opens the door to deep structural change. To find that path, we first need to look the MAGA danger square in the face. 

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MAGA’S post-January 6 comeback

The first section of “Clown Car” cuts to the chase: 

“On January 6, 2021, the criminal conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election—mounted by Trump and his congressional allies and backed by MAGA militias—failed. Yet MAGA finds itself in a better position than it was then, with control of the House of Representatives and even stronger Red state majorities, which they are already exploiting to illegitimately secure their own power and curtail the freedoms of their constituents.”

The rest of the piece provides the specifics. Here are the key points. 

  • MAGA has achieved full control of the congressional Republican Party. 
  • MAGA is re-creating the Jim Crow South.
  • MAGA defends its legislative majorities in the states with its war on voting.
  • MAGA deploys vigilante methods in its war against women, children and working people. 

The onslaught is everyday news 

MAGA’s actions have seemingly become part of the air we breathe. Political and legislative moves that two decades ago would have caused weeks of outrage have become normalized, blurring into one another day after day. If MAGA control of the Supreme Court and the Republican Party aren’t enough, any one of several recent events should be more than enough to sound an urgent alarm.

In what scholar and activist Barbara Ransby called an act of “textbook proto-fascism,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced at the end of January that that he was banning an Advanced Placement African American Studies course. The step is part of DeSantis’ drive to turn all of Florida higher education into a white Christian nationalist indoctrination machine. The College Board, having been pressured by Florida officials during the course’s development (which they did not disclose to scholars consulting on the syllabus), had already removed or reduced the treatment of key concepts such as reparations and mass incarceration.

That same week the Republican National Committee passed a resolution calling on Republicans to “go on the offense” concerning abortion in the 2024 election cycle. New anti-abortion legislation has already been introduced in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Idaho and pushes to further tighten restrictions are expected from MAGA legislators in other states.

In the first month of this year state lawmakers have introduced a record 200 anti-transgender bills—more than all such bills introduced throughout 2022. 

Republican leaders are moving to build a permanent “election integrity” apparatus in every state. Personnel will be trained to monitor (that is, intimidate) voters and poll workers. It’s another component of the GOP’s voter suppression crusade aimed especially at voters of color and young voters. Twenty-six states have created new punishments or toughened existing penalties for more than 100 election-related crimes since the 2020 election; details are in a late January report in Facing South titled “Criminalizing Voters in Southern States.”

On Capitol Hill, the MAGA Republicans voted to oust Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. The alleged basis—that Omar is anti-Semitic—coming from a delegation that includes Marjorie Taylor “It’s Jewish Space Lasers!” Greene and several members who pal around with holocaust deniers was an obvious fraud. As with the recent filing of impeachment proceedings against Alejandro Mayorkas, the Biden administration’s top border official, ousting Omar is simple muscle-flexing to gin up the MAGA base and intimidate all opposition.  

Galvanizing the anti-MAGA majority

The next step after assessing the MAGA threat is identifying the factors that will enable us to defeat it.

The central point in that regard is one Podhorzer stressed in his midterm assessment installment: “America is an anti-MAGA majority country when it knows that MAGA is on the ballot. That produced record-breaking turnout in both 2018 and 2020… [and in 2022] where voters understood the stakes, they voted as they had in 2018 and 2020; where they did not, they met the pundits’ expectations about a Red Wave.”  [emphasis in original]

Our task is to galvanize this majority to block MAGA and in the process build enough strength to open up a new period in US politics.  

The strategy, tactics, and concrete work required to accomplish that are necessarily complex and multi-leveled. Below I’ll lay out some of the key considerations in charting our course, which I plan to address to more detail in my next column.

The anti-MAGA coalition includes—and must include if it is to prevail—constituencies and organizations who hold very different political views. 

Tapping the energy of long-suffering constituencies requires more than pointing out how dangerous MAGA is. A vision of what can be gained if MAGA is defeated that will make life better for those whose needs have been neglected must be part of the mix. We can build hope in that vision by claiming all the victories that take us small steps on the road to the world we want to see—all the concrete changes made at the local, state and national levels that better people’s lives.

Appeals to the common economic interests of the 99% against MAGA’s billionaire backers cannot by themselves be effective. MAGA’s racist demagogy around Critical Race Theory, crime and “voter fraud”; its weaponization of transphobia; its glorification of guns and violence; and its corrosive misogyny all do real damage. We must counter that rhetoric, the accompanying policies, and their consequences.  

Defeating MAGA electorally at every level of government in 2024 is essential, but our efforts cannot be limited to electoral work or election-oriented messaging. Year-round organizing and engagement in day-in, day-out fights to protect people’s rights and better their living conditions are an absolute must. 

Our electoral strategy must give special attention to battleground states and districts, given the anti-democratic structural biases built into the US electoral system (the Senate and the electoral college), magnified by GOP gerrymandering. But we can’t write off geographies or sectors. We need to reach out to voters in every state and in urban, suburban and rural areas as much as is practical.

An orders-of-magnitude expansion and revitalization of mass-based, militant, grassroots organizations (including but limited to the labor movement) is required if we are ever going to get beyond fighting one defensive election after another. 

The generation called on by James Baldwin in 1962 to “Remake America” faced down the main enemy of their time. The blood, sweat, and tears of that period’s movements made “the 1960s” all but synonymous with ending Jim Crow, making the Vietnam War unsustainable, and a host of other gains for workers and the oppressed. Today we are living through the most intense phase of the 50-year-long backlash against that forward political surge. It’s our turn to resist the temptation to look away. It’s our time to “throw everything” into the battle at hand. 

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