Opinion | Republicans are warning that tyranny is on its way


Faced with that kind of situation, some are spending less time arguing that their policy preferences are superior to Democrats’ policy preferences, and have instead gone to apocalyptic predictions of catastrophe should the Democrats take control. Here’s a striking one from conservative writer Rod Dreher:

Man told me today his Czech tenant tells him it feels like Czechoslovakia 1946 now (two years before the communist putsch). Another man told me just now his Romania-born in-laws are terrified, for the same reason. People who grew up under communism know something bad is coming. — Rod Dreher (@roddreher) July 2, 2020

You can smell the panic. And he’s not alone.

If your memory stretches all the way back to 2009, that kind of thing may sound familiar. When Barack Obama — a center-left president who spent years trying to win Republican support for his agenda — took office, many on the right absolutely lost their minds with fantasies of oppression and dictatorship.

Republicans said over and over again that Obama was a “tyrant,” when all that was happening was that he was enacting the policies he ran on. As Jon Stewart said in April 2009 after running through a litany of conservatives decrying Obama’s tyranny, “I think you might be confusing tyranny with losing.”

“When the guy that you disagree with gets elected, he’s probably going to do things you disagree with,” Stewart continued. “Now you’re in the minority. It’s supposed to taste like a s–t taco.”

But Republicans never seemed to get their minds around that idea. It was never enough to say “This is a very bad thing Obama is doing.” He had to be a tyrant who was moments away from rounding us up, imposing martial law, and putting us in FEMA concentration camps.

And now that Democrats might take power again, Republicans are getting a head start on warning about the utter cataclysm that’s on its way.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is saying that a Democratic victory could turn the legislative body he loves so dearly into an abattoir where liberty is hacked to pieces. Here’s the warning he issued on Thursday, referring to “51 for 51,” the argument that Democrats should get rid of the legislative filibuster so bills can be passed on a majority vote, and then make D.C. a state:

A coalition of left-wing special interests are explicitly campaigning for, quote, 51 for 51. They want senators to vandalize the rules to pass legislation with a simple majority and then use that ill-gotten power to cement a presumed advantage by awarding the District of Columbia two Senate seats. They want to nuke the Senate to pack the Senate. This, Mr. President, is naked politics.

Politics? Well I never!

What’s most striking is McConnell’s assertion that majority rule in the Senate — in which, if you can imagine, votes are taken and the side that has more votes prevails — would constitute “ill-gotten power.” As opposed to the minority rule he seeks, in which Republicans would retain veto power even if the Democrats have more seats.

But don’t Senate Democrats wield that kind of power now? Yes, except the difference is that there really isn’t much Republicans want to do. There is no pile of ambitious Republican legislation being stymied by the filibuster to McConnell’s endless frustration. For him, being in control is the end, not the means.

Democrats, on the other hand, have a great deal they’d like to accomplish, both because it has been a decade since they had control of both the presidency and Congress, and because they’re the party that believes in government, which means they want it to solve problems.

So we can grant Republicans this: When they say that if Democrats took over it would be a catastrophe, they aren’t completely wrong, at least from where they sit. There would be significant, perhaps lasting change, much of which they will find quite distressing. They will be upset if abortion rights are protected, and government health insurance is expanded, and taxes are raised on the wealthy, and action is taken on climate change, and workers’ rights are safeguarded, and immigration policy is reformed.

Perhaps even worse, Democrats could succeed in unwinding some of the ways Republicans manage to retain power while winning the support of a minority of voters. To someone like McConnell, that’s a greater threat than any policy reversal.

If you’re a Republican, it’s a terrifying prospect. Which is why, if there isn’t some dramatic change in the polls, Republican anxiety about the horrors that await them will only increase. Arguing about the need to keep them in office so we can get a capital-gains tax cut will seem like an insufficient response to the threat. So their warnings of disaster will grow louder and more panicked.

And then if they actually do lose, their dismay will explode like a supernova. We know, because we’ve seen it before.

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