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Serial Arsonists

Prompted by Daniel Nexon at Nightcafe

Nayib Bukele. secured a crushing reelection in El Salvador, where decades of corrupt mismanagement by establishment parties opened the door to right-wing populist authoritarianism.

It’s not difficult to understand the basis of Bukele’s victory. Liberal democracy, such as it was in El Salvador, failed the country. As DJW wrote in his preview of the eleciton, “for ordinary El Salvadorans, the sharp decline in crime is an important and positive good and I can hardly blame them for rewarding the man who appears to be responsible for it.”

El Salvador faced an objective, genuine, and systemic crisis in public order. The same is not true in the United States or Europe, but reactionary populists have been able to manufacture the appearance of one through multi-pronged propaganda campaigns, often with assistance from the mainstream media.

In America, the right—including so-called “mainstream” conservatives—has done its best to actually produce a crisis of liberal democracy. The only thing unusual about the “it’s funny, but not funny ha-ha” Republican bullshit that went down yesterday is its brazenness.

Starting in 1995, a growing percentage of GOP officials have adopted a straightforward strategy toward Democratic presidents: “destroy the ability of the U.S. government to function.” The GOP leadership made two decisions after it took the House and Senate in the 1994 elections: use the threat of shutdowns to force sweeping concessions from Democratic presidents, and do its best to deny Democratic presidents major legislative victories.

After the 2008 election, the Republican leadership decided to double down on that strategy. Mitch McConnell, of courses, was one of the main proponents of using hyper-partisan obstructionism to restore GOP power. This approach has become so dominant that even nominally pro-democracy Republicans like Mitt Romney are perfectly happy to use the filibuster to cripple the ability of the U.S. government to address pressing problems. McConnell has figured out, of course, that breaking the legislative branch is a great way to empower a far-right judiciary, even if he isn’t always happy about handing specific policy victories to the full-blown fascist wing of his party.

What Trumpism has done, in essence, is reconcile the short-term tactics of the GOP—making it impossible for the U.S. political system to function effectively when Democrats control the White House—with the long-term consequence of those tactics—hollow out liberal democracy.

Which leads me to two brief observations.

First, I’ve spent my entire adult life waiting for the GOP to come to its senses, yet each cycle it degenerates further. Second, there may be times and places where “breaking the system” benefits the radical left, but the politics of “acceleration” currently—and overwhelmingly—favor the forces of reaction. The evidence is written all over global politics, and anyone who thinks differently is deluding themselves.

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