America is Coming Undone Because Republicans Want an Authoritarian Theocracy
If you look carefully — or even just glance, really — you can see something a little bit scary. America is coming undone. I don’t just mean that in the informal way that pundits often do, but in a precise technical way. America’s undergoing a process of institutional decay and political disintegration. It is not working as a nation anymore because it’s political, social, and legal institutions have flatly ceased to function.
What do I mean by that? America’s conservatives are committed to the cause of either turning society into a fascist-authoritarian theocracy — or not having one at all. That’s plunged America into a constitutional crisis which nobody much is talking about — several, in fact.
Let me explain.
Red States are now in open rebellion against the “federal,” aka national, government. They simply don’t care what the law of the land is. They simply openly flout it, and rewrite it — even if that means violating it.
Let’s take the case of Texas. It recently passed a bill making people bounty hunters who can be paid a minimum of $10,000 to catch…women…for exercising their rights. That’s Talibanesque stuff — it literally puts every woman in Texas under the thumb of every man.
This bill is obviously and egregiously unconstitutional — it takes away women’s rights to privacy, association, expression, even speech, and self-determination. You can be punished, after all, for simply “intending to engage in aiding and abetting”…a woman. So much for free speech or assocation.
And yet the bill stands. Why? Because the Supreme Court did something that’s a time honoured mechanism of social collapse. It shrugged, and said, “We’re going to look the other way. Even if it should be unconstitutional, even if it obviously is, well, that’s for you to sort out.” Let me spell out what this mechanism of social collapse is.
In other words, America’s Supreme Court created a constitutional crisis. Texas’s bill is obviously flatly unconstitutional — and yet the Supreme Court simply refused to rule on the matter. That leaves America in a dangerous, dangerous place — a gray zone. If the highest court in the land won’t say that an abuse of power is obviously unconstitutional, what does that mean? Where does that leave a society?
In a kind of twilight zone, where authoritarians and fascists and theocrats will attempt even more flagrant abuses of power — to see what they can get away with.
And that’s exactly what’s happening now. Efforts are underway in state after state — Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, to name just a few— to replicate Texas’s success in degrading women, bringing the Handmaid’s Tale to life. These efforts are likely to be successful, too — precisely because a precedent has been set in Texas. It’s been established that if conservatives control a state, then egregious abuses of power like setting bounty hunters who are sad pasty incels on women is perfectly OK.
But this is the process of sociopolitical collapse going mainstream — and thermonuclear, too. What happens when five Red States have made men bounty hunters against women? Ten?
Is America a democracy anymore? A modern society? A free one? You begin to see how slippery this slope is.
So the first mechanism of social collapse is high institutions legitimating the abuse of power by looking the other way. What else would you expect from a Supreme Court where noted sneering misogynist Brett Kavanaugh — a man, let me remind you, accused of gang rape — and cult member Amy Coney Barrett — whose sect literally teaches women to submit to men?
But that paves the way for the second mechanism of social collapse: the creation of parallel institutions. What are “parallel institutions”? Well, let’s think about non democratic and anti democratic societies for a moment. They don’t have the same institutions as democratic ones at all. They have whole other families, sets, categories of institutions. Secret polices. Sham trials. Counterfeit elections. Mullahs and central committees. Bounty hunters.
Texas’s bill against women — dehumanizing them, objectifying them — did something much, much graver than most Americans yet understand: it created a morality police. You know the stories of morality polices in, say, Iran, beating women for showing an ankle? The Taliban’s morality police, which surveils women’s sex lives and reproduction? That’s exactly what’s happening in Texas, at an institutional level. Any man who wants to in Texas can now be paid $10,000 for policing women’s sex lives, surveilling them, literally policing them — not even for exercising their rights, but simply “intending to aid and abet” any other woman who does.
When you are paying men to police the choices of women, giving them the power to take away their basic freedoms of association, expression, privacy, speech — that is a morality police. Just because Texan men are suing women instead of beating them about the ankles doesn’t make it not a massive, systemic abuse of power. In fact, one could argue that being sued can scar you for life, bankrupt you, make you unemployable, give you bad credit — deny you all kinds of chances and resources. The punishment is real.
So what happens when five Red States follow Texas’s lead backwards into the Dark Ages, and establish Morality Polices? What happens when fifteen Red States have Morality Polices?
Is America still a democracy — or has it gone a very, very long to becoming a theocracy?
Now, hopefully, you begin to see what I mean when I say “America’s coming undone.” Its high institutions have legitimised the formation of parallel institutions at lower levels — severely anti-democratic ones, like morality polices, ones which abuse power to abuse people.
And this process is not going to stop anytime soon. America’s conservatives, of course, don’t just hate women. They hate anyone who’s not pure of blood and true of faith. So if you see the dots above — high institutions legitimate the establishment of parallel institutions at lower levels by looking the other way — then you can also foresee: conservatives are going to set up all kinds of parallels institutions, now, to attack all the people they hate.
What does that mean? Imagine two axes. One, all the people and groups conservatives hate. Not just women, but also immigrants. Gay people. Black people. Latinos. Minorities of any kind. Refugees. Artists, intellectuals, journalists, scholars, writers, scientists. On the other axis, imagine all the parallels institutions that anti-democratic societies tend to create — secret polices, sham trials, Gestapos, thoughtcrimes, political persecutions, and so forth.
Now cross the two axes.
You end up with a vast, broad menu of choices of abuse of power. Secret polices who punish anyone “intending to aid and abet”…gays…for being gay? Sham trials for minorities who aren’t “real” Americans…even though they’re Americans? Refugees forced into being labour in concentration camps? Political persecution of artists and scholars — like all those already being denied tenure? All that and more is what’s on the conservative agenda now.
That is sure to come for three very simple reasons.
One, America’s highest legal institution — the Supreme Court — is stacked with fanatics, who’ve just given conservatives across the country to build anti-democratic parallel institutions — morality polices, Gestapos, sham trials — an open license.
Two, America’s conservatives are obviously going to use this license, because their half of America is fanatical. Who really believes that people of the same religion are going to hell? That women are second class citizens? That minorities are “animals” and “vermin”? Well, sadly, America’s conservative represent a fatal confluence of groups who do: evangelical “Christians” (I put it in quotes because Christ would be horrified), neckbeard incels, misogynistic bros like Kavanaugh, sectarians like Amy Coney Barrett, and those cleverly taking advantage of all these fools, like Ted Cruz. America’s conservative heartland is pulsing with hunger to live in a totalitarian theocracy. You can feel it. Or at least those of us who’ve lived through just these social collapses can.
Third, the Democrats are doing a terrible job of fighting all this. Merrick Garland said, after the Texas ruling, that the Justice Department would challenge it. Since then? Crickets. The Democrats don’t have the stomach — or the smarts — for this fight. Joe Biden should be stacking the court. He should be sending armies of lawyers to Texas. Nancy Pelosi should be making a speech every single day about the danger of American theocracy — and whipping zoomers, millennials, and everyone sane under the age of 50 or so into a frenzy of resistance.
The Democrats aren’t fighting back nearly hard or fast enough. Why not? Because the sad truth is they’re not good at playing this game. They are bad at politics. They’re held hostage by two of their own — Manchin and Sinema — and refuse to discipline even them. So why would they discipline the other side, if they won’t even discipline their own? Hence, Biden won’t stack the Supreme Court, which is the obvious answer to all this — at least at the top level. He won’t issue executive orders to stop Red State governors in their tracks. He’s too busy signing nuclear arms deals with Boris Johnson, a fanatical nationalist and Scott Morrison, a climate change denier. What the?
And so this pressure, this agenda, to deconstruct America institutionally, from the ground up, will only mount. America’s fanatics didn’t give up on Jan 6th. They learned a lesson, and doubled down. One big coup failed — three attempts at it, in fact, soft, hard, and harder, culminating in paramilitaries storming the Capitol and killing people, and hoping to assassinate the government.
American’s fanatics learned that if one big coup failed — well, then they could try a million, at the grass roots level. What is it when a pasty incel sues a woman in Texas because he overheard her at a cafe talking about helping a friend drive to another state to get reproductive healthcare? That’s a small coup, a grass roots one — one man taking away the rights of three, four, five, ten women.
That is how societies really collapse, my friends. It’s not usually the One Big Coup you have to watch out for. It’s the Million Little Ones. One man in Texas can now subjugate and dehumanise ten, fifty, a hundred women — there are plenty of men who are already hoping to make it their job.
But how many such men, then, does it take to subjugate a whole society? If the ratio’s ten to one, fifty to one — not that many. A huge, huge minority can in fact go on to collapse a society, by working the levers of institutional power this way — gaining the license to build parallel institutions, abusive ones, and then using them to take away basic rights of speech, expression, association, privacy, self-determination, at a local level, one man abusing fifty women here, another a hundred there.
And before you know it, the American Taliban’s won.
That’s their game. That’s how they hope to do it. They’re not going to stop. They won’t rest until they really have made America a theocracy — and Blue States tiny havens of refuge for sane Americans. Until America’s a broken, fracture, shattered shell of what used to a democracy, aspiring to be a modern society, and now a place that looks a lot more like Afghanistan, Russia, North Korea.
The question is: does the average sane American get all this yet, or do they still think it’s “alarmist?” Because my friend, if the alarms aren’t deafening for you yet, after what Texas did to women, after Jan 6th, after the way they doubled down, after the way the Supreme Court created a constitutional crisis and shrugged and grinned, the way that America’s conservatives cheer on every kind of backwardness with a rabid, savage glee, hungering for a medieval society…maybe you need to get yours ears cleaned.