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Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, joined by, from left, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, Sen. John Thune, R-Sourth Dakota, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, speaks to reporters about the political battle for confirmation of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, following a closed-door GOP policy meeting, at the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 2. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Many people are worried, rightly, about what the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh means for America in the long term. He's a naked partisan who clearly lied under oath about many aspects of his personal history; that's as important as, and related to, the question of what he did to Christine Blasey Ford, a question that remains unresolved because the supposed investigation was such a transparent sham. Putting such a man on the Supreme Court has, at a stroke, destroyed the court's moral authority for the foreseeable future.

But such long-term worries should be a secondary concern right now. The more immediate threat comes from what we saw on the Republican side during and after the hearing: not just contempt for the truth, but also a rush to demonize any and all criticism. In particular, the readiness with which senior Republicans embraced crazy conspiracy theories about the opposition to Kavanaugh is a deeply scary warning about what might happen to America, not in the long run, but just a few weeks from now.

About that conspiracy theorizing: It began in the first moments of Kavanaugh's testimony, when he attributed his problems to "a calculated and orchestrated political hit" motivated by people seeking "revenge on behalf of the Clintons." This was a completely false, hysterical accusation.

But Donald Trump quickly made it much worse, attributing protests against Kavanaugh to George Soros and declaring, falsely (and with no evidence), that the protesters were being paid.

And here's the thing: Major figures in the GOP quickly backed Trump up. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate committee that heard Blasey and Kavanaugh, insisted that the protesters were indeed employed by Soros. Sen. John Cornyn declared, "We will not be bullied by the screams of paid protesters." No, the protesters aren't being paid to protest, let alone by George Soros. But to be a good Republican, you now have to pretend they are.

What's going on here? At one level, this isn't new. Conspiracy theorizing has been a part of American politics from the beginning. Richard Hofstadter published his famous essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in 1964 and cited examples running back to the 18th century.

But the significance of conspiracy theorizing depends on who does it.

When people on the political fringe blame shadowy forces for their frustrations, you can write it off as delusional. When people who hold most of the levers of power do the same thing, their fantasizing isn't a delusion, it's a tool: a way to delegitimize opposition, to create excuses not just for disregarding but for punishing anyone who dares to criticize their actions.

Senior figures in the Republican Party, which controls all three branches of the federal government are sounding just like the white nationalists in Hungary and Poland. What does this mean?

The answer, I submit, is that the GOP is an authoritarian regime in waiting.

Trump himself clearly has the same instincts as the foreign dictators he so openly admires. He demands that public officials be loyal to him personally, not to the American people. He threatens political opponents with retribution. He attacks the news media as enemies of the people.

Does anyone doubt that Trump would like to go full authoritarian, given the chance?

And who's going to stop him? The senators parroting conspiracy theories about Soros-paid protesters? The newly rigged Supreme Court? What we've learned in the past few weeks is that there is no gap between Trump and his party, nobody who will say stop in the name of American values.

But as I said, the GOP is an authoritarian regime in waiting, not yet one in practice. What's it waiting for?

Well, think of what Trump and his party might do if they retain both houses of Congress in the coming election. If you aren't terrified of where we might be in the very near future, you aren't paying attention.

The New York Times

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