Oh By The Way, About That Legitimacy Thing…
Another stray thought about the impending purge of Liz Cheney from House Republican leadership:
It’s getting to be time to acknowledge that the battle to preserve the popular legitimacy of the American state has been lost. As I noted in my previous post, the none-too-subtle meaning of the purge is that the Republican Party has fully consolidated as a fascist party. In popular discourse this is often framed around the “Big Lie,” Trump’s claim that Biden stole the election, and while this isn’t wrong exactly I think it misses the forest for the trees a little bit. The truth of the lie isn’t really the point. Rather the point is that Trump and the Trumpists do not believe that whichever party or candidate is supported by a majority of the voters is entitled to govern, not when that might result in Democrats — which is to say, the party supported by a rainbow coalition of voters — in government.
There isn’t really any lying involved: the device by which Biden stole the election is the Fifteenth Amendment, which they deem illegitimate. That’s not a lie because it’s not a claim of fact. Insofar as there are specific false claims of fact attached to the whole thing, about Hugo Chavez rigging voting machines from beyond the grave or whatever, those are mostly epiphenomenal, a way for the fascists to claim that the election was stolen without saying out loud that they want to disenfranchise black people.
Anyway. The point is that this whole process means that the business of maintaining the popular legitimacy of the government is just doomed. Legitimacy in this sense means that people all agree who holds political power as a matter of positive fact, even when they do not agree who should hold power. It’s the thing that the vaunted “peaceful transfer of power” tradition is meant to maintain. And it’s just really really clear that it’s done. The Republican Party, meaning both its elected leadership and its voter base, will never acknowledge even the bare factual legitimacy of any Democratic election wins. And it will take action wherever possible to prevent future such victories, as it has done in Georgia after Ossoff and Warnock triumphed in January. There is not, and will not be for the foreseeable future, broad consensus about who the lawfully chosen leadership of the country is.
This is, y’know, bad. It’s one of the baleful consequences of the whole rising fascism thing that there isn’t really any way for the non-fascist side to prevent: when it comes to legitimacy, it really does take two to tango. But recognizing that this has happened doesn’t have to be bad. What it should be is liberating. One of the reasons, perhaps one of the best reasons to hold back from doing major structural reforms of our democratic institutions is that those reforms would damage the popular legitimacy of those institutions. Even if current institutions are flawed, they are, well, ours. They are the institutions as to which there has been near-universal consensus that they are the legitimate government of our country for over two centuries. And monkeying with those institutions is playing with fire.
But we’re already on fire! The people who would object to those kinds of bold reforms are already part of a fascist slow-burn insurrection hellbent on destroying our democracy! There’s nothing more to lose there! So let’s just fix our system of government already. If we can’t have popular legitimacy, let’s have actual, meaningful democratic legitimacy for the first time in our history.