Strategy in the Time of MAGA: Block and Build
The following is a slightly edited version of a presentation made to a forum sponsored by the San Francisco Gray Panthers on July 18, 2023. The presentation covered three points: (1) the nature of the threat from the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) bloc; (2) the key elements of MAGA’s strategy to take power and impose authoritarian rule and a white Christian Nationalist agenda; and (3) a summary of the “Block and Build” strategy to defeat MAGA and shift the direction of the country.
The MAGA Threat
The front page headline on the July 17 New York Times was, “Trump and Allies Forge Plans to Increase Presidential Power in 2025.” The article underneath contained extensive quotes from former President Donald Trump’s political team about their plans to bring every federal agency directly under president’s control if Trump wins in 2024. The Justice Department will become his political police, the EPA will become a tool of the fossil fuel industry, NLRB will become a union-busting weapon, and so on. Trump will claim the right to “impound funds” Congress has authorized, meaning Trump could unilaterally cut Medicare and Social Security.
A Republican presidential and congressional victory in 2024 would also bring a national abortion ban and national right to work law; more tax cuts for the rich; an eliminationist program for transgender people; Jim Crow 2.0; and a combination of McCarthyism and COINTELPRO for the left.
The drive for that agenda is not new. It is the latest phase of the 60-year backlash against the gains of 1960s and the 1930s that began within hours of passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Trump’s 2016 victory was the product of 50 years of organizing driven by two of the most deeply rooted forces in U.S. society: a wing of the capitalist class rooted in the fossil fuel industry and libertarian billionaires like the Koch brothers, and the layers of people of many classes who are wedded to ordering society with clear racial and gender hierarchies.
An outpouring of resistance by the larger but fragmented and less-well-organized anti-MAGA majority prevented MAGA from achieving its goals via the 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections. This has produced a kind of stalemate between the MAGA and anti-MAGA blocs. The drama being played out today centers on whether MAGA will succeed in gaining full federal power in 2024; and, if they are beaten back, what will be the character of the anti-MAGA governing coalition.
The MAGA Strategy
MAGA has already gotten dangerously far in its quest for unlimited power. It has captured the Republican Party and the Supreme Court. It holds trifectas (the governorship and legislative majorities) in 22 states. It is lavishly financed, has an organized political base in the white Evangelical Churches, and has a powerful narrative that appeals to white grievance and provides a deep sense of meaning and empowerment to those who accept it. MAGA has an unmatched propaganda and disinformation apparatus in Fox News and other right-wing media. Its loyalists are active within the armed bodies of the state at all levels. And it has incorporated openly white supremacist and fascist militias into its coalition to serve as modern day brownshirts.
All this was the product of decades of work guided by a sophisticated strategy. MAGA operatives studied the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy and knew that the fascists first came to power by legal and constitutional means. Once they had it, they used it to eliminate all opposition.
MAGA strategists then developed a strategy to take and retrain power adapted to the particular constitution and electoral system of the U.S. This country has no constitutional protection of the right to vote or of each person’s vote counting equally. The Voting Rights Act addressed that deep flaw, but it was not part of the Constitution itself and right-wing strategists knew it could be overturned to allow massive voter suppression and gerrymandering. There is no constitutional ban on money unduly influencing elections. The Electoral College and Senate system is racially biased in favor of small, mostly white states.
The right, via organizations like the Federalist Society, played the long game. After decades of organizing, they managed to gut campaign finance restrictions and the Voting Rights Act. We can see the results in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina, which are about evenly divided between MAGA and anti-MAGA voters, but gerrymandering gives the Republicans control of the legislatures. States like Texas and Florida are already implementing key elements of the authoritarian agenda; they are accurately termed “laboratories for fascism.”
MAGA’s goal is to use disinformation, voter suppression, and gerrymandering—concentrating on battleground states and swing districts—to win full control of the federal government in 2024.
Block and Build
The U.S. majority opposes the MAGA agenda. When it’s clear MAGA is on the ballot, MAGA candidates lose.
But the majority is not sufficiently organized and united. And within the anti-MAGA majority, progressives are not yet the largest and most influential force. There are promising developments in labor and youth-led movements around climate change, mass incarceration, and gun violence, as well as massive anti-MAGA energy among women and in the LGBTQ community. But it will take time and deep organizing to turn this sentiment into enough durable, institutionalized progressive clout to shape the full agenda of the anti-MAGA coalition and the country.
We can get the time and democratic space to build that clout of we can block MAGA in 2024. MAGA hopes to take power through electoral action, and we cannot afford to cede that terrain to the authoritarian GOP. We need to defeat MAGA candidates up and down the line and protect the result. If we do so while building the independent strength of grassroots progressive groups and functioning as the most resolute opponents of MAGA on every battlefront, we can move the country toward a robust multiracial, gender-inclusive democracy and deep structural change.
[Max Elbaum is on the Editorial Board of Convergence Magazine and is the co-editor, with Linda Burnham and Maria Poblet, of Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections.]
Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.