By Reed Galen
In astronomy, a black hole’s event horizon is defined as “the boundary defining the region of space around a black hole from which nothing (not even light) can escape.” After nearly a decade, Republican leaders have succumbed to that force, crossed that boundary, and have neither the desire nor the ability to escape.
After Trump’s 2016 victory, his gravitational pull on the party was assured. As his grip tightened, he squeezed out people like me and millions of others who’d reliably voted Republican all our lives. Icons such as President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain passed from the scene. Conservatives like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were purged from the party. Their leavening effect gone, #UltraMAGA has taken over, going farther and faster toward fascism than even Trump was prepared to have happen.
In Republican-controlled states around the country, MAGA leaders took action, made statements, and handed down judgments that shattered whatever thin veneer of legitimacy the GOP had left.
In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves continued a three-decade tradition of declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month.” Because the loss of 650,000 American lives wasn’t enough, Reeves wanted to remind his state, and the world, that he believes slavery was an acceptable economic system. Not in a century have we seen this sort of “Lost Cause” nonsense foisted on Americans.
Last week, just up the river in Tennessee, Republicans in the state legislature expelled two African-American members for their demonstration following the Nashville school shooting. Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were thrown out of the body for ‘breaking decorum.’
As I watched white Republicans lecture these two men, the only thing they were missing was a Bull Connor hat and a Jackie Gleason accent. A third, white Democrat, was not expelled. What were Pearson and Jones guilty of? Reminding the GOP majority of their impotence in the face of dead kids.
Continuing our journey upriver on the Mississippi, Republican legislators in Missouri voted to defund the state’s libraries in retaliation for the state’s association of librarians filing a lawsuit against banning certain books. As most Missouri libraries, especially those in rural areas, are already underfunded, this action will disproportionately affect poorer areas.
While the GOP is using ‘pornographic material’ as an excuse to remove books from schools, the real target is knowledge, history, and free thought. In authoritarian movements, there can be no future – only a fictional past and a chaotic present. Ignorant children become ignorant adults; and voters who are much more easily manipulated.
In Idaho last week, Republican Governor Brad Little signed into law a bill that criminalizes crossing the state line to assist a minor in receiving an abortion, punishable by up to five years in prison. As abortion is illegal in Idaho without exception, this law would also apply to victims of rape and incest.
The workability of such a law is suspect, but this is also the first (but not the last) time MAGA politicians are attempting to restrict the movement of law-abiding citizens. In authoritarian countries, internal passports or travel papers may be required to move about. Here in the United States, citizens and legal residents can move freely. Or they could until last week.
On July 25, 2020, demonstrators in Austin marched in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. US Army Sergeant Daniel Perry, in Austin, working as an Uber driver, shot and killed Garrett Foster. Both men were armed, but Foster never raised his weapon. In Travis County last week, a jury of Perry’s peers convicted him of murder. That evening, Tucker Carlson went on the air and demanded that Texas Governor Greg Abbott pardon Perry. Abbott, being the invertebrate he is, immediately saluted and is now pursuing said pardon.
Abbott is a former state supreme court justice. He’s also the former Texas attorney general. He knows the law, but he will overturn the will of Texas citizens to score political points with our generation’s Father Coughlin. Abbott has opened the door to deciding, for political reasons, which convictions will stand and which he’ll personally overturn. The rule of law, already hanging by a thread in Texas, is on the verge of disappearing.
The actions I’ve recorded above took a week, one week, to occur. I have studied authoritarian movements and the works of contemporary experts such as Tim Snyder, Anne Applebaum, and Ruth Ben-Ghiat. When authoritarians and their minions take over, they move fast. They leave nothing to chance because they know their power is tenuous at first. Deep down, though, I believe #MAGA leaders know they’re in the minority: politically, morally, statistically, and historically. It drives them further into that black hole.
The movement that Trump unleashed is now fully in view. We cannot, and must not, allow our lack of imagination to be surprised by their actions. When we see our fellow citizens, our children, our mothers, and sisters and brothers on the receiving end of tyranny, we must stand by them. We can win this fight, but only if we commit ourselves to doing what is necessary every day to ensure we roll MAGA back wherever we find it.