A Warning: Will the 2024 Election End U.S. Democracy?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

January 6, 2022, marks the first anniversary of the violent effort by enraged supporters of Donald Trump to overthrow the nation’s Constitutionally based government.  Their effort was spurred on by a failed presidential re-election bid, but grew out of decades of organizing by rightwing, fundamentalist-religious, white nationalist and big-money class interests.

On the 6th, this force congealed around an autocratic leader, a complicit political establishment, a legion of enraged supporting troops and a hefty bankroll.  This force is redefining the political landscape.  Most consequential, they may win the 2024 presidential election and end U.S. democracy.

The U.S. begins the new year as a nation besieged by an economic recession, overwhelmed by a global pandemic, witness to endless invocations of a new Cold War and powerless in the face of an ever-deepening environmental crisis.  No wonder for many the Trump insurgency seems but just another wave in an increasingly turbulent sea.

Nevertheless, Trump’s political game is playing out with remarkable inevitability.  Biden’s popularity is sinking; the Dems can’t pass economic stimulation legislature let alone safeguard the electoral process; and the Congressional investigation of the January 6th “insurrection” is being mocked by ardent Trump supporters who use the legal system to drag-out their cases, hoping that with a new House in 2022 their cases will disappear.  Sadly, a Republican-controlled House in 2022 is more than likely.

The January-February issue of The Atlantic raises the specter of Trump’s reelection to the level of an impending national crisis. Essays and opinion pieces by George Packer, Barton Gellman, Tim Alberta and Vann R. Newkirk paint grim pictures of the unfolding post-January 6th political crisis.  They throw down the gauntlet to anyone trying to make sense of the growing underside of conventional politics and political reporting warning Trump may well be reelected as president in 2024.  And if he isn’t reelected, Trump supporters may revolt in a second civil war that will engulf America.

Packer explores a number of 2024 political options. He identifies one of the worst-case options:

The demonic energy with which Trump repeats his lies, and [Steve] Bannon harangues his audience, and Republican politicians around the country try to seize every lever of election machinery — this relentless drive for power by American authoritarians is the major threat that America confronts.

And he adds, most pessimistically, “The Constitution doesn’t have an answer.”

Gellman’s carefully researched, rigorously argued and deeply pessimistic article, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” is most disturbing.  Like the other authors, he reconstructions much of what happened on January 6th, focusing on the role of Trump’s key henchmen like Bannon and Rudi Giuliani.  However, he goes further by offering invaluable – and disturbing – insights into the make-up of the army of militant Trump supporters who either attacked the Capitol or justify the assault.  He is very worried as to what may come with the ascendency of what used to be a fringe movement of conservatives to a mass movement of “proto-fascists,” a term he doesn’t use.

Gellman insists that readers acknowledge the obvious:

It was citizen Trump — as litigant, as candidate, as dominant party leader, as gifted demagogue, and as commander of a vast propaganda army — who launched the insurrection and brought the peaceful transfer of power to the brink of failure.

He adds: “To understand the threat today, you have to see with clear eyes what happened, what is still happening, after the 2020 election.”  And then dismisses Trump supporters, noting “The charlatans and cranks who filed lawsuits and led public spectacles on Trump’s behalf were sideshows. They distracted from the main event: a systematic effort to nullify the election results and then reverse them.”

Much of Gellman’s analysis comes from a dialogue he has with Richard Patterson, a retired captain in the New York Fire Department.  Patterson speaks for a large segment of the Republican electorate who believe that Trump really won the 2020 election.  More so, he speaks for the growing number of deeply dissatisfied white people, but especially men, who believe in what is known as the “Great Replacement,” that white men’s place in society is being “replaced” by women and a growing number of people of color, especially African Americans.

Gellman also draws on the work of Robert Pape, director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST), who, with his team, provided invaluable profiles of the participants of the January 6th Capitol attack, the new “storm troopers.”  The CPOST team developed their profiles based on court documents, public records and news reports.

Gellman reenforces this insight, noting: “Slicing the data another way: Respondents who believed in the Great Replacement theory, regardless of their views on anything else, were nearly four times as likely as those who did not to support the violent removal of the president.”  Drawing upon Pape’s polling data, Gellman points out that “while just over 8 percent agreed that Biden was illegitimate and that violence was justified to restore Trump to the White House.” He then adds, “That corresponds to 21 million American adults. Pape called them ‘committed insurrectionists.’”

The ongoing Congressional investigation of the January 6th action suggests that it was a carefully planned attacked involving numerous meetings and conversations.  As the Rolling Stone reports,

These two [unnamed] sources also helped plan a series of demonstrations that took place in multiple states around the country in the weeks between the election and the storming of the Capitol. According to these sources, multiple people associated with the March for Trump and Stop the Steal events that took place during this period communicated with members of Congress throughout this process.

The analysis goes on to identify pro-Trump Congresspeople who “participated in these conversations or had top staffers join in” planning for the attack.  They include Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

Mark Meadow, Pres. Trump’s chief of staff, appears to have been the key liaison official between the White House and Republican Congresspersons and Trump and his officer corps of Bannon & company.

Gellman quotes Kathleen Belew, a University of Chicago historian and co-editor of A Field Guide to White Supremacy, who observed, “January 6 wasn’t designed as a mass-casualty attack, but rather as a recruitment action.”

Sadly, the January 6th uprising may well prove to be a dress rehearsal for the coming 2022 Congressional elections and the 2024 presidential run.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.