Opinion | The MAGA movement cannot be reasoned with

Opinion | The MAGA movement cannot be reasoned with



Right-wing pundits and Republican apologists are quick to blame “elites” or “the left” for a failure to respect and recognize the legitimacy of a MAGA movement based in election denial, White Christian nationalism and hostility toward robust democratic elections. It’s a demand for acceptance that is eerily reminiscent of other periods in US history (eg, the 1850s, the 1920s, the 1950s), which can illuminate the depth of our national problem.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, for example, it was as if the South “could hear nothing more — could absorb nothing more — once it was told that the rest of the nation had found its way of life morally wanting. It felt judged , and it hated it,” writes Jon Meacham in “And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle.”

Substitute “election denier” for “the South,” and you have a fair approximation of the current state of American politics. Now, one side believes its viewpoint is essential to maintaining its power and its conception of America. It insists its followers can be “seen” only if the rest of us agree with their delusions and conspiracies. Sorry, but in a democracy, there is no compromise with that mentality. Buying into the “big lie” and white nationalism means rejecting the premise of constitutional government based on the creed “All men are created equal.”

The MAGA perspective explains the constant anger of a shrinking segment of Whites who, as George Mason University political scientist Ashley Jardina told the New York Times, feel “really threatened [so] are willing to reject democratic norms because they see it as a way to protect their status.” These Americans believe they’ve been deprived their “due” of elite status by a changing country.

Aggravated by declining economic prospects, overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic and utterly divorced from mainstream news sources, they unsurprisingly glob onto conspiracies, hold up former president Donald Trump as their champion and refuse to process any information that conflicts with the victimhood they embrace.

While there are certainly persuadable voters who drift between the parties, one cannot attribute Democrats’ losses in certain areas of the country to “poor messaging” or even a specific policy failure. None of that would make any difference. It’s fantasy to think there is a segment of White male working-class voters eager to vote Democratic if only Democrats had not passed the American Rescue Plan or avoided dealing with bias in policing.

Sure, Republican politicians, big donors, right-wing pundits and GOP consultants would love us to believe that the misguided policies of Democrats have created the MAGA movement. Balderdash. There are some who see the disaffected MAGA mob as a means to their own ends of low taxes and right-wing judges, but let’s not pretend that sophisticated policy differences explain the movement.

That leaves us with an ongoing crisis in democracy in which each election puts us on the brink of chaos and democratic collapse. The solution if one wants to retain reality-based, democratic pluralism and the rule of law is threefold.

First, regardless of the MAGA camp’s irrational political beliefs, there are real problems in stretches of America. If one wants to have both widespread affluence and political sanity, it pays to draw down the venom in communities that feel left behind. Spreading chip manufacturing to the heartland and spending billions of dollars on infrastructure make both economic and political sense. The less aggrieved certain voters are, the less vulnerable to demagogues they will be.

Second, everyone else has to vote. There is no substitute for high engagement, high turnout and an educated electorate. If 90 percent of the money spent on ads that viewers literally tune out were devoted to organizing on college campuses and other low-turnout environs , the results would be quite different for the pro-democracy, pro-pluralism forces.

Third, one has to be at least in a position to win those reachable non-progressives. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is running neck and neck in the Ohio Senate race because he’s an economic moderate rooted in the sensibility of the industrial Midwest. But what works for uber-progressive Democrats in Vermont or Massachusetts probably will not work in swing states such as Wisconsin. Left-leaning Democrats cannot lead with their chin where they don’t enjoy big demographic advantages.

No, we’re not heading for a real civil war (although let’s not mince words about the right’s Jim Crow election agenda as a means to boost White voting power). However, the MAGA movement’s deep-seated, irrational pugnaciousness threatens functional democracy. Smart economic policy, well-selected candidates and supercharged organizing could provide some hope of returning to the politics of reason and inclusion. But do not underestimate the difficulty of the undertaking.


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Jorge Oliveira

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