A Response to Objections to My Claim that MAGA is an Authoritarian Ideology and that Democracy Should Prevail | kjl, Sept 19, 2022

Recently I posted these to Twitter:

These were among the replies I got:

I said I'd respond when I had time. I couldn’t condense a thoughtful reply into a tweet and didn’t want to try to write a long series of tweets so I've published my response here and to a PDF that can be downloaded or viewed online. The link is at the bottom of this post.

For the record, I don't monetize my social media account nor the website and I've set the website to collect the minimum possible data that the host, Google's Blogger, allows. I take seriously that we all have a general default right to privacy in what we think about, read, and talk about. What I do see is anonymous information like the number of users, their or their VPN's general location, time spent on the site, etc. Google, the NSA, Putin, or others might surveil online activities but I don't see IP addresses nor do I want to.

I’ll defend the assertion that MAGA is an authoritarian ideology. And I’ll respond to the “Democracy?” tweeter to explain why I think you’re mistaken in your reply to my claims. To the “Democracy?” guy: please note the spelling of "you're" and congratulations to you as well!

Authoritarian power systems have a figure at their head wielding power not necessarily limited by law. In general contrast, the US system is based on Constitutional law, not the whims of a boss. State and federal judicial systems interpret the Constitution and rule on questions of law. The US Constitution establishes a set of individual rights and the US federal system is referred to as a republic, meaning that the public elects representatives and an executive who has limited powers. Our constitutional republic is a form of democracy. My view is that it’s a step in the right direction away from the tyranny of monarchs and religious dictators.

Colonial elites sought independence from those tyrannies and from external controls in general. The process of the formation of the federal system resulted in some good protections of individual liberties for some people. Over a couple of centuries those protections have been expanded to formerly excluded groups despite periods of backsliding. MAGA leadership is acting to reduce the public’s already limited control over public policy while it simultaneously proclaims with great passion and pageantry to be doing the opposite.

A prominent and telling characteristic of authoritarian ideologies like MAGA is a hostile disregard, in line with the boss and his subordinates’ instructions, of critical court rulings like those determining an election to be valid. MAGA doesn’t defend our constitutional republic. Upon the command of MAGA leadership it denounces and violently attacks the Republic. In a constitutional republic, those loyal to the constitution defend the rule of law even if they don’t like laws and judicial rulings on election integrity, on the regulation of high magazine-capacity semi-automatic rifles, or on anything else.

We all have to decide whether we abide by the law. I personally don't necessarily begrudge those who don't abide by every particular law. But claiming that the entire system is illegitimate and should be overthrown for the purpose of installing your preferred leader - that's a call for the overthrow of the constitutional republic that we have in favor of an authoritarian state where the law is whatever the boss and his heavily armed followers, not the Constitution and the judicial system, say it is. In my opinion we all have a natural right to argue for and fight for whatever we believe we should. But the MAGA cause is not the defense of our constitutional republic. MAGA rallies for the dismantling of the republic and for the empowerment and financial enrichment of MAGA elites. I think that cause and the arguments that support it are fundamentally flawed. But I do recognize the right to express and pursue MAGA beliefs. My above posts express my opinion that pursuing the MAGA cause, especially with arms, is a terrible mistake that leads to more, not less tyranny.

As for the assertion that the word “democracy” means permitting a majority to vote to steal personal property - that’s not a definition that’s used in serious discussions of real world forms of democracy. I don't support that. You don't support that. And I suspect no one else does either. It’s a deception that’s sometimes propagated to rally opinion and sometimes violent action against things like pluralism, fair taxation, controls on lucrative but environmentally destructive practices and other challenges to profit margins and elite rule in general. No one should be persuaded that democracy is a bad thing. The claim that democracy permits theft is an old and cunning trick meant to encourage support for elite and even authoritarian rule - they object to chipping in and to any democratic controls on concentrated power. Supporters of democracy understand that both the will of the people and strong protections of individual rights are essential in guiding public policy. We don’t need masters. We don’t need rulers. We need more, not less self-governance.

The United States is a kind of democracy. More specifically it’s a constitutional republic (meaning a representative democracy) with a set of protections of individual rights. Even more specifically it’s a representative democracy with power heavily concentrated in large corporations and the wealthiest individuals but with some protections for individual rights. It’s democratic to the extent that informed public opinion is expressed in public policy, policy that also carefully protects individual rights. Economic elites are extremely over-represented in policy formation and have always been the primary beneficiaries of state policy, a problem recognized and lamented even by James Madison, the main architect of the Constitution, toward the end of his life.

MAGA leadership would dismantle the constitutional republican democracy that we have and hand even more power over to economic elites under the direction of whomever captures the imagination of the MAGA base and wears the crown, if MAGA seizes state power.

Again, in my opinion everyone has a right of conscience to choose where their loyalties lie. Constitutional patriots will accept the dozens of judicial rulings, including Supreme Court decisions, which all verify the Constitutional legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. People have a natural right to disregard laws and judicial rulings, in my opinion, and even to take up arms against a government system if they’re certain they have no alternative and they are prepared to accept the consequences of violence, although I think in the present case no worthy cause is evident and violence is an extremely grievous mistake. MAGA loyalty, to the extent that MAGA actions seek the overthrow of our democratic form of government, is not to our Constitutional system and instead lies elsewhere.

The many legitimate grievances we have can and should be addressed by democratic means (the kind of democracy we have - with protections of individual rights - not the kind without them that we don't have and that no one wants). Our democracy clearly needs improvement and there are popular reforms that can and should be enacted. Let’s put our efforts to that task. Taking a sledgehammer to the system may seem appealing in the moment but a better basis is not likely to arise from the ashes. We have plenty to work with if we organize and press our case by civil means, not divided by devious rhetoric, but united in cause. We are not each others' enemies.

MAGA leadership, in contrast, is like much of the political world across the political spectrum. It’s full of opportunists attempting and often succeeding in dividing and conquering, as is the usual political strategy of elites. The MAGA version of divide and conquer is particularly extreme. But behind the rhetoric and grand spectacle, MAGA is clearly anti-Constitutional and anti-democratic. MAGA arose to serve one man. It’s a response to rhetoric projecting an illusion of patriotic service to the public. But it’s legislative actions overwhelmingly benefit economic elites. The leader's and his political organization’s programs concentrate power further away from the public and into the hands of rulers and large corporate entities. Many opportunistic political and media elites and merchandisers have joined MAGA leadership, taking the ride and enriching themselves by feeding on the MAGA public's unquestioning belief, generous financial support, and willingness to take up arms against the Constitution and its defenders. It’s a bonanza for opportunists of all kinds and it’s coalesced a militant minority faction of the public that is poised to bring down our constitutional republic only to replace it with whatever Donald Trump wants.

Again, I recognize everyone's general right to pursue their conscience and beliefs. But it’s clear to me that MAGA leads to destruction, a contraction of individual rights, and an expansion of tyranny. In my opinion it should be opposed at the ballot.

minor revisions 09.22.2022