What Really Keeps Me Up at Night
It’s not fear of a right-wing dictatorship (or not simply that)
I spend a lot of time around here focused on the antiliberal right. Some of this is about what makes it tick—its ideas, passions, and dreams for the future of the country and the world. And, of course, a decent amount of this attention is devoted to the threat it poses to our institutions, norms, and culture. The two posts preceding this one did some of this work, looking at the difference between ideological and anti-ideological forms of right-wing antiliberalism as represented by, respectively, the DeSantis and Trump presidential campaigns.
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If Not Authoritarianism, What?
But truth be told, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about one Republican or another imposing authoritarianism on the country or behaving like an ancient tyrant out to use the nation as a vehicle for satisfying a craving for the adulation of a crowd. Some progressives will say this is a function of my privilege—of my relative security and awareness that I’m not likely to lose very much in an America where the antiliberal right has seized power. I don’t have brown skin. I’m not an immigrant from the developing world. I’m not a Muslim, or transgender, or a woman who might find herself in need of an abortion. There may be a little truth in this critique. I don’t think so, but people have blind spots and limits to their empathy. So it’s possible, I suppose.
The bigger source of my relative insouciance, I think, is that I just don’t think, even now, that the imposition of a right-wing tyranny is a likely scenario for the United States. Far more likely is a mutually reinforcing cycle of extra-constitutional power grabs, spasms of civil unrest, efforts to impose order, and more egregious acts of violence aimed at “the system.” This wouldn’t become a civil war like the one that consumed the United States in the 1860s, with massive armies facing each other for protracted, bloody battles aimed at seizing territory. But it would nonetheless be a form of low-boil civil war, perhaps resembling The Troubles in Northern Ireland more than any other recent examples.
Those who’ve been reading me since the time of my column in The Week know that this is my greatest fear—one that I wrote about on occasion while Trump was president. Given the very different shape of my subscription-based audience now, I should probably lay out my thinking on the subject anew, since I haven’t written about it much since coming over to Substack.