The MAGA Threat Is Greater Today Than It Was in 2020
“For the first time since before the Civil War, a fascist party has taken control of the House of Representatives. (I define a party as fascist if it does not accept legitimate election results and does not reject political violence; check, check.)”
—Michael Podhorzer, Weekend Reading, November 22, 2022
Lots of hard work and savvy grassroots organizing stopped MAGA election deniers from winning battleground Senate seats and offices controlling election machinery last November. Celebrating that achievement—and noting the ways it put a wrench in MAGA’s 2024 coup plans—was and is totally appropriate.
But let’s get real about what MAGA did achieve. The bitter truth is that MAGA is more dangerous and better positioned to take political power in this country than it was in 2020.
Fracas in the House shows ultra-MAGA is in charge
The backstabbing fracas among Republicans over who would be Speaker of the House had some entertainment value. And no doubt it alienated some voters from the GOP. But from beginning to end, the underlying politics of the battle proved that Podhorzer’s point quoted above was right on target. Kevin McCarthy may be sitting in the Speaker’s chair, but the fascists-in-suits of the “Freedom Caucus” are calling the shots.
No way it could be otherwise. Podhorzer again hit the nail on the head, writing that “the Republican Caucus taking power in January will be even less committed to the peaceful transfer of power than the one it succeeds, having purged nearly every one of its members who voted to impeach Trump the second time. Jim Jordan, who assisted the insurrectionists and refused to testify before the January 6th Committee, will chair the Judiciary Committee.”
With Jordan at the pivot, House investigations of the January 6 Committee, as well as the FBI and other security agencies, were approved as part of McCarthy’s concession list to become Speaker. These need to be understood for what they are: projects designed to protect and legitimize right-wing militia and paramilitary violence and prepare the ground for more of it in the years to come. The timing may be a coincidence, but it’s no accident that leading MAGA figures such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are key advisors to Jair Bolsonaro, whose supporters just rioted and invaded government buildings in Brazil January 6-style.
A few so-called moderates groused a little about the terms under which the most extreme MAGA stalwarts will pull McCarthy’s strings. But not a single one pushed back against the dictat by election deniers and 2020 coupsters. The House majority is now openly aligned with the January 6 insurrectionists against those who defended what remains of US democracy: Only one of the 222 House Republicans attended the January 6 ceremony honoring police officers and others who faced violent assault from the MAGA faithful.
MAGA operatives run the Supreme Court
Likewise, the current SCOTUS majority are not jurists who have any kind of “conservative” principles. They are as much political operatives as the members of the Freedom Caucus in the House, products of a systematic (and openly proclaimed) 40-year effort by the Federalist Society to turn the judiciary into an instrument of its reactionary political agenda. To today’s Supreme Court “The 20th Century Was Wrongly Decided.”
The Court majority and the entire MAGA coalition it serves are committed to “repealing the New Deal and Great Society safety net; unions and protections for working people; environmental regulations, civil and human rights for anyone who is not a white straight cisgender Christian male, and the very concept of public goods.” Put another way, they’re gunning for your Social Security and Medicare, your rights to vote, control your body, breathe clean air.
Red wave hit 35 states
Another indication of MAGA’s continuing strength is the midterm results in states where a blatant MAGA election denier was not contending for either the governorship or a Senate seat. In the 15 states where such MAGA candidates were prominent, the anti-MAGA majority turned out and prevailed. But in the other 35 states, the results were very close to the expected “red wave.” Republican turnout exceeded Democratic turnout. Black voter turnout was down, with both voter suppression and weaknesses in Democratic and progressive efforts contributing to the problem.
The problem was especially acute in the South. Chris Kromm, writing in Facing South, points out that “Republicans gained about 55 legislative seats” in that region. He added that “Republicans hold majorities in all of the South’s 26 legislative chambers save one: the Virginia Senate, where Democrats cling to a narrow 21 – 19 majority.”
Republicans hold trifectas—control of both the legislatures and the governorship—in 22 states. And with “states’ rights” coming back courtesy of the MAGA Supreme Court, we can expect to see more voter suppression, more gerrymandering, and more repressive legislation generally everywhere the GOP holds power. These states will become “authoritarian enclaves” within the U.S. federal system, reprising a model of government pioneered in the Jim Crow South after the rollback of Reconstruction.
Trump may be fading, MAGA is not
Then there’s all the media buzz about the GOP “moving beyond Trump,” complete with coverage of the maneuvers undertaken by other Republicans with presidential ambitions. Trump may indeed be fading, but rather than marking MAGA’s decline, his demise is a sign that the torch is passing to leaders who bring a more disciplined and strategic approach to the drive toward one-party authoritarian rule.
Among those, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis currently has the inside track. DeSantis has “already absorbed all the lessons of Trump…without the baggage,” notes Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University who is an expert on fascism and the author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.
DeSantis “already rules Florida the way a fascist would, if that fascist were an American politician without access to his own military force who did not (yet) enjoy the power to shut down media he did not like.” His latest stunt—demanding an investigation of medical experts who offered accurate information during the pandemic—only underscores how absolutely ruthless he is.
All across MAGA world, the level of coordination between office-holders, top Republican officials, and armed fascist groups is now a matter of record, documented in several sections of the January 6 Committee Report. Active participation with or acquiescence to that coordination—meaning support for right-wing political violence—is now all but universal in the GOP. And valuable as the January 6 report is, it doesn’t point out the central roles Christian Nationalism and white supremacy play in the worldview and practical strategy that drove the insurrection—and still pervades the MAGA-controlled GOP today.
2024: A coup in different form
As MAGA prepares for 2024, Fox News and other right-wing media, weaponized white evangelical churches, and well-funded efforts to spread disinformation further buttress their bid for total governmental power. The tactics they’ll use are unlikely to duplicate those of 2020. But the goal—replacing majority rule with a white minority theocratic state—the U.S. variant of fascism – remains the same.
It’s going to take an outpouring of resistance even greater than 2020 to simply hold the MAGA vs. anti-MAGA stalemate we have now, much less push MAGA to the margins and start a new progressive cycle in U.S. politics. Resistance must be full-spectrum – electoral engagement to defeat MAGA candidates at every level in the 2024 balloting is absolutely essential but not enough. Year-round organizing in key constituencies; day-in and day-out fights over issues that affect the rights, health, and well-being of the popular majority; and the construction of a more united social justice trend that can take independent initiative are also a must.
Turning those general guidelines into concrete strategies and plans is complicated. But getting focused and staying focused on the level of danger posed by MAGA’s drive for power is the crucial first step.
[Max Elbaum is a member of the Convergence Magazine editorial board and the author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Verso Books, Third Edition, 2018), a history of the 1970s-‘80s 'New Communist Movement' in which he was an active participant. He is also a co-editor, with Linda Burnham and María Poblet, of Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections (OR Books, 2022).]