On “Defector”

A few days ago it came out that the 2020 Trump campaign had been grifting its own supporters. Surprise, surprise! The basic scheme here was that when people donated money to the campaign through WinRed (the supposed answer to the Democrats’ ActBlue), there was a box toward the bottom that was automatically checked to make the donation a monthly recurring one. And that box had a whole bunch of bold-faced text on it about how we need your support against the “Radical Left” blah blah blah before the one, non-bold line saying “make this a recurring donation.” Apparently this whole business amounted to something like 1–3% of the credit card fraud in the whole country at one point! And I think I remember hearing similar stuff back in 2016.

Anyway, today it turns out that Trump isn’t the only one doing this! The donation page for the National Republican Congressional Committee has one too. It looks like this:

Plenty to say about this, including the usual “no one has more contempt for Republican voters than Republican politicians.”

The part I want to talk about/overthink is that word “defector.”

Because it’s, y’know, kind of a striking word, right? We talk about people defecting from like, Cuba or the Soviet Union, or sometimes defecting from the United States or Great Britain to somewhere like that. It’s a word that’s all about national loyalty, in which regard it’s kind of akin to “traitor.” It means someone who deliberately rejects loyalty to their own nation, and pledges themselves instead to a rival nation.

Which is weird, right? Or at least, weird under the kind of general assumptions about public values that we used to make pretty much unthinkingly. Because of course nobody’s talking about actual factual national loyalty here! We’re talking about loyalty to a particular political party, or really to a particular politician. Hence the sinister “we’ll have to tell Trump that you’re a defector.” There’s no conception here of Republican voters as citizens of a free republic whose sovereign prerogative it is to determine whom to support for elected office. No, they owe their loyalty to Trump, and this requires not only that they vote for him and his fellow Republicans but that they line up and get ready to fork it over. Every month, apparently.

There was a whole thing a few months ago, possibly around the occasion of the attack on the Capitol, when a bunch of leading scholars of fascism piped up to say that we really shouldn’t call Trump and his supporters a fascist. (I believe some of them had been making that point for the past several years.) There were a bunch of details to why they thought this, but the one that seemed to me the gravamen was the observation that Trump, and other modern far-right politicians like him, are not overtly opposed to the entire concept of democracy. The original-generation fascists from 1930s Europe actually said in so many words that democracy was bad, and should be scrapped in its entirety! What today’s far-right leaders support is a bit different: it’s what we might call “herrenvolk democracy,” the premise being that the forms of democracy, elections and all that, are good, but that only the true volk should be able to participate in that democratic system. (Interestingly, that aptly describes the prevailing ideology of the antebellum American South.)

Now there are a lot of reasons why I do not think this is persuasive, though the difference is undoubtedly interesting. First and foremost: all this proves to my mind is that the fascists have learned that this is something they should lie about! Saying out loud that you think the business of choosing leaders through popular election is a bad thing turns out to be unpopular, and so they don’t say that out loud! Fascists being y’know not generally known for their honesty. Moreover (and this point both reinforces the first one and stands separate from it), I do not believe there is any meaningful difference between outright “the Fuhrer is the state there are no elections anymore” fascism and herrenvolk democracy. The latter isn’t any more democratic than the former; the essence of democracy does not lie in the forms of government that the modern fascists might retain but in the equality and free self-determination of all citizens. Once you abandon that principle, the remaining “republican form of government” is nothing more than the by-laws of a ruling class. Having that oppressor class choose its leaders by the ballot does not at all change the fact that the society as a whole is tyrannical.

But! Never mind all that. Let’s just return to our friends at the NRCC, and their use of the word “defector.” Because as I explained above, one thing that word makes clear is that they do not really believe in democracy for the “right” people! The Republican Party, as it conceives of itself, is not the representation of the interests and beliefs of the voters who support it, constructed from nothing other than their support freely given. It is their overlord, the thing to which they owe their allegiance — specifically in lieu of the actual country called the United States, although really the point is probably that they deny there’s any daylight between the two.

Is not all of this clearly fascist, specifically as opposed to the “herrenvolk democracy” ideology the fascism scholars want us to distinguish?

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