Resolute Square

What a Former Republican Calls “The Conspiracy to End America”

Teri Kanefield discusses what our own Stuart Stevens calls "The Conspiracy To End America." The truth is that the truth is under attack.
Published:July 6, 2023

*Published with the generous permission of Teri Kanefield. Read all of her writing here.

By Teri Kanefield

1. As Trump’s Lawbreaking Becomes More Apparent, His Hold on Republican Voters Grows Stronger

Three things have been happening at once:

  1. Trump’s legal peril is increasing.
  2. Trump is making things worse for his cases through his public statements.
  3. Trump is solidifying his position as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

This week, the recording of Trump showing off classified documents in Bedminster was leaked to the press. I found this recording helpful because it has the text added as subtitles.

First, some background: Trump was apparently miffed by this article in The New Yorker:

What seems to be happening in the recording is this: To refute the claim that he was about to start a war with Iran, Trump waved around a secret war plan, which had been prepared by Milley and his team, and which (Trump claimed) proved that he wasn’t the one who wanted to launch a military strike against Iran. In the recording, he described the war plan as “highly confidential” and said, “As president, I could have declassified. Now I can’t, but this is still a secret. … It’s so cool,”

  1. If you haven’t listened to the recording, you should. It’s stunning. Trump demonstrated that he knew that: the plan was a secret,
  2. the document was classified,
  3. he no longer had the power to declassify it, and
  4. he wasn’t suppose to show it to anyone.

Poof. There goes several of the defenses he’s been floating. His first line of defense was that he could declassify the documents just by thinking about them. Next, he said there were no documents at that meetings, so there would have been nothing to declassify. After the tape was released and there were obviously documents, he said by “plans” he was referring to “building plans” and plans for golf courses strewn about his desk. Later, he said, “I would say it was bravado, if you want to know the truth, it was bravado. I was talking and just holding up papers and talking about them, but there were no documents. ” Then he added that he had lots of papers “stacked up” that included “mostly newspaper articles, copies of magazines, copies of different plans, copies of stories, having to do with many, many subjects.”

As everyone knows, a person who keeps changing his story is lying, but Trump doesn’t care, and neither do his supporters. People who are caught up in “us v. them” politics want their guy to win by any means necessary. They glorify strongmen and fighters, and lying is another way of fighting. Thus his supporters cheer as he lies.

Trump‘s lead grows after his second indictment

A new national NBC News poll showed that Trump expanded his lead over DeSantis and the rest of the Republican field after his second indictment.
As I’ve said in the past, Trump’s political needs are at odds with his needs as a criminal defendant, and he has made the decision to put his political needs ahead of his needs as a defendant. His hope is that he will become the next president of the United States, which he can do even if convicted on all 71 criminal charges against him so far. There may be complications if he is sentenced to prison by a state court, but if he wins the election (meaning that enough voters vote for him so that he wins the electoral college), he will have all the powers conferred to him by the Constitution. He will then seek to finish what he started during his first term: dismantling democratic institutions and establishing himself as a Putin-style autocrat, with the full support of the Republican Party. His campaign promise is to dismantle democratic institutions, so if elected, he’ll be able to claim he is acting on a mandate from the voters. He will enter the White House next time, furious and ready to wreak revenge on his enemies.

Given what the Republican Party has become, it is not a coincidence that his hold on the Republican Party is solidifying as his legal peril increases and as his lawbreaking becomes more obvious. In the spirit of “us v. them” politics, his supporters are driven by a desire to avenge Trump and land a blow on his enemies.

The only people surprised by the fact that indictments have increased Trump’s standing with the Republican Party were those who insisted all through 2021 and 2022 that indicting Trump would save democracy and the rule of law. (I was about to start naming some of them, but I won’t.) I will point out that even Elie Mystal now sees that even strong indictments will not stop Trump:

Mystal also understands the solution: The only way to beat this is at the polls. You’ve heard me explain why it makes sense that the current Republican Party will not reject Trump if he is indicted. Now let’s hear from a former Republican insider.2. The Conspiracy to End America

I was given an advance review copy of Stuart Stevens’ new book:

I read it and liked it as much as I liked his first book, It Was All A lie, so I provided this blurb:

The Conspiracy to End America is two stories in one: It’s the story of how the Republican Party came to reject democracy as a governing principle. It’s also the story of a former Republican insider and political operative confronting the painful truth that the party he once worked for has embraced authoritarianism.
“Pain is the best teacher in politics,” says Stuart P. Stevens. He thus concludes that “the only hope for the Republican Party is for it to suffer crushing defeat after crushing defeat so that it is forced to confront its failures.”

When Stevens talks about the Republican Party rejecting democracy as a governing principle, what he means is they are rejecting rule of law.
(Explanation: A government is defined by how it derives its authority. A democracy derives its authority from laws rather than the whims of an autocrat.)

People reject the rule of law and democratic institutions when those institutions do not produce the kind of country they want to live in. There are not many alternatives to democracy. (Sociologist Max Weber, in his classic essay, “Politics as a Vocation,” says there are three.) There is autocracy, which derives its authority from the word of the autocrat. There are monarchies, but those take time to establish. So people who reject rule of law and democratic institutions must either embrace autocracy or anarchy.

As Stevens puts it: “As is always the case when an authoritarian movement emerges from a democracy, the justification for abandoning democracy in this instance was the danger that democracy itself presented.” (p. 76) 
Thus what Stevens means by “the conspiracy to end America” is this: If the Republicans have their way, America will no longer be a rule-of-law democracy. It will become an autocracy.

It’s important to keep our history in mind: The United States was established as a rule-of-law democracy, but only a small group of people (white, mostly landowning men) were included in “we the people.” For most of our history, all of our institutions (governor’s mansions, Congress, industry, universities) were under the control of white men. There were a few exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the laws protected white men. Others were legally under the dominion of white men.

It wasn’t until the modern Civil Rights and women’s rights movement that this began to change — and the backlash has been fierce. Compare these two pictures. The first is Congress in 1939:

This is from 2018 (I have it handy because I included it in my biography of Thurgood Marshall):

“Theirs is a movement driven by racial fear,” Stevens says. “The United States will become a minority-majority country in only a few more years, and all the Steven Millers in the world can’t stop that. How fast is America changing? In 1980, Ronald Reagan won a sweeping landslide victory over Jimmy Carter, garnering 489 electoral votes and fifty-eight percent of the white vote. In 2008, John McCain lost a not-very-close race against Barack Obama and received . . . fifty-eight percent of the white vote.” (p. 40)

Stevens explains that what is motivating the Republican Party is the “deep fear that the party is doomed.” (p. 131). He said this: “The demographic apocalypse confronting the Republican Party is both a powerful motivation for it to do whatever it takes to guarantee victory and its justification for doing so. If you believe that America was chosen by God to be a white, Christian nation, then the looming specter of a minority-majority America demands action.” (p. 132)

He also says, “Trump ran as a xenophobic racist, and once the Republican party embraced him as their leader, it legitimized threads of extremist conspiracies that had previously been limited to the ecosphere of the far right.” (p. 35)

In other words, Trump just brought out what was already there, simmering. He made the subtext into text. He stopped using dog whistles and openly embraced the anxiety of a certain segment of the population that something vital is being destroyed in America.

Stevens pulls no punches. He says, “Trump’s hate was creating a surge of appeal.” (p. 60)

Stevens talked about how Republican insiders went along with Trump in 2016. “The responses uniformly went like this: “If we, the party establishment, put our thumbs on the scale when Trump loses, it will not be because of his xenophobia, his racism, his anger. It will be our fault. We just have to let him lose and start over.” (p. 54)

Stevens would invariably respond, “But what if he wins?” And the answer always was, “He’s not going to win.”

Because in 2016 Republicans argued that they could mold Trump should he become president, Stevens compares the backroom deal that made Hitler chancellor to the way the Republican Party backed Trump in 2016.” Then, “After the Republican party accepted a platform that was nothing more than a fealty pledge to Donald Trump, it abandoned any pretense of being anything other than an autocratic movement.”

  • Now, here’s the important part: “If Trump is not ultimately the party’s nominee in 2024, its loyalty will pass to the next leader.” (p. 70) In other words, getting rid of Trump will not solve the problem. The GOP will simply look for another Trump-style leader who will similarly promise to eviscerate rule of law to prevent what they see as the ruin of America. Stevens marches through all the problems we know: Dark money in politics
  • Republican lies (for example, the lie about election fraud) being used to make the country less democratic
  • notions that are both wrong and dangerous, like “we are a republic, not a democracy,”
  • gerrymandering
  • Republican efforts over decades to appoint conservative judges
  • the origins and purpose of the Federalist Society

His conclusion: “It is naïve and foolish but predictable . . . [to] imagine that there is a possibility for the Republican Party to become a “normal” American political party once again.” (p. 41)

So basically, he sees no hope for the modern Republican Party.

He offers this solution: The only way to stop the Republican Party’s march toward authoritarianism and rejection of the rule of law is for the party at the ballot box. Like Mystal, he understands that the only way to stop the Republican push toward autocracy is at the polls.

3. The Supreme Court

It seems to me that there is a pattern to this week’s Supreme Court decisions: The majority wants to maintain the original contours of the Constitution while rolling us back about 100 years.

The Supreme Court began the week by issuing a decision in Moore v. Harper, in which the court rejected a fringe idea that would have upended our elections and allowed a few people to pick our president and elected officials. Had the Supreme Court gone the other way, elections would have become meaningless. Moore v. Harper was thus a win for democracy and rule of law.
It also seems like the Court released Moore v. Harper first to ease the blow of what was to come.

The next decisions handed down this week were designed to dismantle some of the rights Americans have acquired since the modern Civil Rights and women’s rights movement. As Hillary Clinton put it:

Of course, had Hillary Clinton been elected in 2016, we would currently have had a liberal majority on the Court that would be making very different decisions and reshaping our country differently. Therefore, it seems to me that she has a right to say, “I told you so.”

This is the pattern I see in the Supreme Court decisions: the conservative majority is not interested in creating an autocracy. They are interested in rolling back the clock on liberal progress made possible by the Earl Warren Court (1953-1969). My take—that the majority is not interested in creating an autocracy—is backed up by the fact that they ruled against Trump in his election fraud cases. Trump wanted the Court to validate his election fraud cases and install him as president in 2020. They didn’t try to do that.

  • Some background: The Earl Warren Court (1953-1969) was the most liberal Court in American history and arguably the only truly liberal court we’ve had. The decisions handed down during the Warren era entirely transformed America, moving us for the first time toward a true multi-racial and multi-cultural democracy. To take a few examples:Brown v. Board of Education (1954) overruled Plessy v. Ferguson and ended racial segregation
  • Engel v. Vitale (1962) and School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) enraged religious conservatives when it invoked the First Amendment, which requires the separation of church and state, to prohibit required prayers and Bible reading in public schools.
  • Roe v. Wade (1972) guaranteed the right to an abortion (this was handed down after Warren was no longer chief justice, but the composition of the court was still mostly liberal.)
  • Then there was a string of cases that reined in law enforcement and protected the rights of citizens and defendants: Mapp v. Ohio (1961), prevents police from using evidence that was obtained in violation of a defendant’s rights; Miranda v. Arizona (1966) held that people must be informed of their rights, Gideon v. Wainright (1963) held that defendants who can’t afford a lawyer must be provided with one at the expense of the government.
  • Etc, etc., etc.

The decisions of the Warren Court ignited a furious backlash. Conservatives spent decades working with a single aim: To transform the Court so that it would undo the decisions of the Warren years.

And here we are.

The Solution

The solution is obvious: Make sure that Democrats get elected in the next few cycles, which will again remake the court. Congress has the power to add justices, so a large enough Democratic majority in Congress can create legislation that will redress the balance of the court.

Will That Happen? Will Democrats win the next few elections?

I have no idea. Some of the conversations I have had recently on Mastodon were discouraging. I had people who call themselves “progressives” justify “protest votes” if the Democratic candidate doesn’t “win their vote.” (Me: Unless you vote in a way most likely to ensure progress, you are not a progressive and have no right to claim that label.)

I had another self-avowed anarchist (who claims to be a liberal Trump hater) tell me that the Supreme Court “has always been illegitimate,” which essentially shreds 1/3 of the Constitution. When I asked him if he wanted to shred the other 2/3 as well, he refused to answer. (When he understood he would not win me over to his anarchist views, he called me some very unkind names.)

Whether democracy will survive in America is an open question and depends on the voters. Elie Mystal and Stuart Stevens, two commentators with vastly different backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences, agree.