It’s coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat…
…It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA
— Leonard Cohen, in his song “Democracy,” noting accurately that democracy is not here yet. But it’s coming to America first.
I’m not much on predicting specific outcomes.
But here is what I see: very stable polls suggest Joe Biden is heading for an 8-10 point national win. He has solid stable leads in the three vital midwestern states that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The polls could be wrong; but the president isn’t behaving as if they are. His entire campaign in competitive states — and the behavior of many supporters — has devolved into conveying physical menace and openly announcing the intent to cheat and maintain power by getting corrupt courts to throw out thousands of legal ballots in places like Pennsylvania and Texas.
This is the essence of MAGA; and everyone on all sides knows it. I’m thoroughly uninterested in arguing reality with anyone.
The president seems to think he can win Florida just through legitimate voting; and he certainly can. It will be close here like it always is. His strategy for holding on to power seems to be win in Florida “legitimately” (if one ignores all the postal problems) on Election Night, declare victory, and then use raw power to shut down whatever else he can, especially in Pennsylvania.
Because Pennsylvania is forbidden to count mail-in votes before election day, the full count there likely will not occur on Election Night and the president will likely “lead” based solely on Election Day turnout. The president is telling anyone who will listen he plans to make sure, through the courts, that mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are never counted at all. I have always taken him seriously; and I don’t count on any institution to prevent this from happening.
I suspect most local elected officials and holders of concentrated capital in Polk County will cheer on the president’s menace and cheating-at-scale strategy. Election Night and the immediate aftermath is going be very ugly and unpleasant, I predict, no matter who eventually seizes power. And I don’t have a clear vision of who that will be. So that’s the grim news. One need not shrink from it. Look at it in the face. It’s the reason that you hear people say somewhat melodramatic, but understandable, things like: “This is the last chance to save our democracy from civil war.”
The strongest political coalition in the history of representative democracy
Here’s the better news: I disagree that this is “the last chance to save our democracy from civil war.” Indeed, I believe it is the first real chance to create “our” democracy and win the centuries-long American civil war — which I actually called the “Seminole Wars” in my book Seminole Wars: Essays of American Florida.
The menace of MAGA — that open intent to comprehensively intimidate and disempower by the president and many of his supporters — has forced together an extremely powerful political and social coalition in opposition. It is led by women of all types and diverse young people forsaken completely by America’s concentrated capital and concentrated guns. Gen X white men like me are the least important members of this coalition.
Voting is only one tiny, tiny part of this coalition’s power; and it will spend the rest of our lives squared off in a myriad of ways against the concentrated capital, concentrated guns, and concentrated violence of threatened and emotionally-weak men — at the ballot box, in consumer behavior, in the workplace, household, marriage, public schooling, elder care/health care and beyond.
So be of good cheer; this moment, no matter who seizes power, isn’t the last chance for anything. It’s the first.
As I see it, based on my study of American history, the political coalition emerging today in response to MAGA’s open menace is the only political coalition that has ever been capable of delivering politically, socially, and economically an America that delivers somewhat fully on the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
There is no guarantee that it will; but I can assure you that no other political force in America ever has.
In fact, I’m open to rebuttal on this; but I don’t think there has ever been a large, ethnically and religiously diverse democracy or republic, that has produced sustainably equitable access to capital and equal protection of law. The American anti-MAGA coalition has the potential to deliver the first; and the individuals who make up MAGA will have to decide how violent and menacing they are prepared to be to stop it.
The never-ending civil war
I’ll be writing much more about this in coming weeks, months, and years. But for now, if you doubt that America has never been “our” democracy or republic; or that there has always been an American civil war, take a look at this image of the American incarceration rate and homicide rate, charted on the same human scale. I’ve annotated it with important expansions of voting rights beyond white men — and the violent responses to those expansions.
Click to enlarge.
How is that chart indicative of “our” democracy or republic in any way?
Note that exactly 100 years ago, on Election Day 1920, the (entirely white) forces of concentrated capital and concentrated guns brought to a crescendo a months-long statewide effort to violently crush a massive black voting effort in Florida, led by black women in the immediate aftermath of women’s suffrage. The violence culminated in the Election Day massacre and racial pogrom at Ocoee — exactly 100 years ago.
Look at the state violence that “our” democracy and republic unleashed through incarceration immediately after passing the Voting Rights Act that Selma, Dr. King, and LBJ delivered in 1965.
How is the 1920 Florida voting massacre not a battle in a hot civil war? How is mass incarceration as response to the success of the Civil Rights movement, with no meaningful connection to the national murder rate, not an ongoing occupation in a hot civil war?
What’s different about this moment and the broader menace of MAGA?
I think this is the first time in American history that an ethnically-cohesive political minority has needed to openly and at very large scale use menace, rigging of courts, and raw power to hold off a diverse American majority. When those things have happened in the past, they tended to have wider popular support, target a narrow and vulnerable population, and happen in isolated and confusing settings. Think Tulsa or Rosewood or Ocoee etc. The 1920 massacres were popular among the white power structures and voters who carried them out.
This is different. No American political force has ever openly attempted to wipe out this many votes — hundreds of thousands — already cast. No political force has been so willing to disenfranchise even its own supporters if they happen to fall into a grouping of votes likely to go to the opposition. No political force has ever projected this much open physical menace toward its opponents at this scale. No minority American political force has so openly forsaken any attempt to win over a majority, rather than simply menace it into submission.
Thus, for the first time in American history, I would argue, a broad swathe of (largely white) people who have never before felt real political and social menace at scale, feel it today. It’s compounded by the indifference to life that MAGA has projected throughout the COVID era.
They’ve been forced to participate in a civil war they never knew existed — or at least never felt.
Not the civil war you imagine
The civil war that MAGA is creating will not be a civil war in the way typically imagined.
If it ever came to organized violence, concentrated capital and concentrated guns would have no problem winning it; and they would have no compunction about creating a body count as large as they need it to be. But that’s not the civil war they’re going to get from a coalition dominated by women and the unarmed. There may be a protest put down lethally here or there; and it’s true that the concentrated capital, guns, and violence of men will kill and menace exponentially more women and children than the other way around. But of course, they always have. They do so right now.
What’s going to unfold in the coming years is something akin to the national liberation struggles of India or South Africa, with this diverse majority coalition, led by women, squared off endlessly against the concentrated capital and concentrated guns of mostly, but not entirely, white men.
Without armies to confront and with prisons already too full, the forces of concentrated capital, guns, and violence will struggle to repress at scale. They will continue to be lethal at the margins and economically vicious in weaponizing their capital to create mass stress.
However, the coalition that MAGA has forced together in reaction to its menace has power, size, and incredible capacity to absorb punishment and keep coming — a historical hallmark of womanhood. It also has the majority and the future — unless concentrated capital, guns, and violence voluntarily changes its behavior.
I hope it does. Either way, this is the beginning — not the end.