Once again Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao had their dinner conveniently interrupted. This time it was a heckler who protested the planned cuts to Social Security. Predictably, people are taking sides on social media. Why? It’s the nature of our tribalistic politics. I have said it in the past. It feels increasingly like we are in the middle of a civil war. Granted, it Is cold…so far. Sooner or later these moments and divisions will lead to open warfare. We saw a similar process before the Civil War. Sooner or later beatings, or worst, will occur. And when that happens, most Americans will pretend surprise and shock. We already did, when we indeed had a shooting.
You could even argue, with some measure, that we already have seen some hot flashes. The shooting of Steve Scalise, and attacks on congressional offices are but some examples. And those attacks seem to be increasing in frequency. So are the events at Charlottesville, and the increasingly frequent street fights. Early rumors of this were Tea Party rallies in the first term of the Obama administration. We have been building towards greater division and open cultural warfare.
First things first, McConnell’s policies are horrible. He is indeed going after the Social Security system, Medicare and Medicaid. Destroying the meager American safety net has been an objective of the far right. This is a multigenerational goal, and they are this close to achieve it. This is why they need the budget to be completely out of control. Nor is he listening to the majority of the country, but instead he prefers the corporate interests that he serves. So this is a hardly a defense of a rather effective, albeit extremely doctrinaire Senate Leader.
However, these tactics, born out of frustration, are not effective. How do I know? History. Similar ploys were tried in other closing societies. Countries going down the path to authoritarian rule see desperate people try desperate gambits to slow it down, and reverse it. This is not unusual or unexpected. But if we shame them in public they might finally pay attention! Or so the thinking goes. However, it will harden them in their resolve to continue their policies.
The close cousin of this public shaming is the other approach. That is, we need to fight them in the streets… which is also extremely ineffective, even if it all of this makes you feel better. What this is doing is increasing angst among all involved. Fear is a particularly nasty emotion. It can lead to very irrational acts. And this goes on all sides. in this desperate play.
Fear can also be used, effectively, to close a society down, in the name of law and order of course. We have plenty of examples of this process elsewhere.
President Donald Trump is already weaponizing the actions by a few people. When he says that Democrats produce mobs and Republicans. produce jobs, he is preparing the soil to cancel civil rights in the United States. In fact, as these protests acts are magnified, and become more frequent, the majority will welcome a return to order. Or at least it will not protest the closing of society.. this dynamic is hardly surprising. Moreover, he told us that demonstrating should be illegal, and he is increasing the use of law and order frames.
Fear as a Motivator
I know McConnell is likely. not capable of having empathy for strangers. It is the way he talks of those with less than he does. Perhaps he is kind to staff and family, that I do not know. And I would be speculating as to his private sphere. In the public, he has yet to show that side. . The President is even less empathetic, and with him we even have more private information to deduce this.. But to understand how powerful a motivator fear is try to have some empathy for McConnell, or any other politician facing an angry person, or more, when having dinner. Walking in somebody else’s shoes matters in this case.
Most of us will have a flight or fight response, because that is how the body works. Who is this guy screaming at me? Why is he screaming at me? Am I trapped? Should I fight back? Should I flee? Most of us are not lawmakers. Ergo we lack the ability to fight back later by making the actions of the heckler illegal, or less than legal. Members of Congress have that power.
Bear in mind, in the case of Leader McConnell, he is in the line of presidential succession. His wife is a cabinet secretary. He has the means (and motive) to ask, even demand, a protective detail. This detail will have a chilling effect and make him even less approachable. This is a desirable effect from his point of view. Remember, he and others in the Republican caucus do not want to face constituents.This will further isolate him from you, as well as other members of Congress. Remember, these people do not represent your interests. In an oligarchy, we are not important. So having a deeper bubble is desirable. In a democracy a member of the House or Senate would hold town meetings, and speak with the general public. The fact they avoid the people speaks volumes as to who they represent.
Fear will also be used to turn the hyper-partisan base to the ballots. Why Trump framed things the way he did. He is not an idiot. He knows precisely what he is doing. Democrats are a bunch of anarchists, we are the law and order party. What he says is not subtle anymore. This precedes the kinds of laws present in closed societies. It does not matter if we keep the illusion of elections.
This is predictable if you know history. And as people become more desperate to be heard, they are turning to tactics that justify autocratic rule. We saw this process during the rise of Nazi Germany. Fights in the streets were used to justify law and order policies. We saw it in Italy. We saw the same effect with Francisco Franco. Granted, there was a civil war in Spain as well, before Franco took power. Every Latin American general worth his salt used fear of disorder and protest to close their societies down. Vladimir Putin has made this an art form. It is to the point that protests in Russia, when they occur are tightly controlled by the police. We saw it in the 1970s after the ‘68 student movement in Mexico.
But, we have rights!
Correct. You and I have a right to redress our government. But we need to be strategic about it. Street fights with the Proud Boys will get them useful propaganda to use against you. It will show the angry, out of control liberal in all his or her glory. We were just defending ourselves officer, really. One core principle of propaganda is to accuse the other side of precisely what you are doing. Why? It works. This is why this is an old chestnut of the propaganda toolset. In a limited form it was used, not effectively, against Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. Why? Civil Rights activists did not take the bait.
Once riots broke out, Richard Nixon weaponized those riots and was elected in ‘68 on a law and order platform.
This is why. those street fights will excuse the closing down of all protest. Don’t take the bait. Heckling a United States Senator in the halls of Congress, by all means. Heckling them when they are having dinner will ultimately be counter productive. Use your head, and be strategic. And if you most, make sure any demonstration is recorded by your friends, from multiple angles if possible. Be hyper-polite, and confront them by engaging. Do not heckle. Keep your cool, and channel your inner Gandhi. Make sure to control this as much as you can. Remember, not screaming, not pointing fingers, but engagement is less likely to be weaponized by the other side. Now, confronting loudly a member of Congress on their turf, as in Congress, by all means. It can be more effective. Those sitting on the sidelines also expect the latter.
You are an actor on a grand stage. Remember who your audience is.
The most effective protests in the United States, the ones that actually led to positive change, took decades. I understand why you believe we don’t have time, but strategic thinking is critical. Those demonstrations were also peaceful. This is why Colin Kaepernick kneeling down was so dangerous to the power structure. Like sitting down at lunch counters is was the antithesis of the disorder authoritarians rely to close down societies. It takes time. But weaponizing fear will make the job of turning this around a lot harder.
Some of us have warned, since at least 9–11 and the Patriot Act, that American Society is is undergoing systematic closure. We are a less and less democratic, open society, where constitutional rights are respected and encouraged. Yes, we pay homage to them. But the crackdown on the Occupy movement should have woken people up. It came after. somewhat effective non-confrontational tactics were used, with a fair use of propaganda in the media. Most occupiers were on the fringes, so many Americans ignored the warnings.
This time around you need to remain mobilized. You need to defend your allies. You need to remain fully engaged. But you need to be strategic. The people in rural areas and the Midwest are engaged because they fear the. demographic and economic changes that are happening. Urban and suburban areas of the country want to slow down the Trump effect. But giving in to our fear and behaving in stereotypical fashion will allow the law and order party to take away your rights.
The stakes are very high. Heed the lessons from history.