What Next for America?
I write this the day before the midterm elections. It is not really about the midterms, though these elections will be extremely consequential for the future of the nation. These elections feel like the most important of my lifetime, and I have lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate, the Reagan years, The Cold War, the Fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, endless wars, and more. For the first time not only do we have a political party that is calling into question the electoral process, but calling into question the democratic process itself. Republican candidates have openly stated that if they attain political power they will ensure that future elections result in a Republican victory, regardless of the will of the people. We have political candidates for important offices—governor, Congress, etc.—advocating for the creation of a Christian Nation, a theocracy, with only certain Christian denominations eligible to hold political office. We have a variety of individuals, politicians, law enforcement, and religious leaders claiming they are above the law (when it suits them) while touting the sanctity of the constitution.
Some people write this off as hyperbole, as efforts to rile up the base, but with little real intent. I disagree with this viewpoint. Throughout my 30-year career with the CIA, I have been involved with authoritarian regimes, governments teetering on the verge of becoming authoritarian, with theocracies, and this all seems too real. This is how it starts.
If the Democrats win the midterm elections it will merely be a postponement. The idea and the effort to move the United States toward one-party rule will not end in 2022. Too many on the right now view democracy itself as a major roadblock to power. They believe they must circumvent the electoral process to gain power. Ignore the cries of election rigging, fraud, the defense of freedom, and protecting our rights, these are just sham arguments that the politicians who spout them don't even believe. These are convenient rallying cries to cloak their actions in a cape of nobility. Their real goals are power and money. Neutering democracy will help them attain those goals.
At this point, many will yell that America is a republic, not a democracy. Not only is that patently false—a republic is a democracy, a representative democracy instead of a direct democracy—but it is an argument used to justify the cancellation of your vote. We are not a democracy, therefore, state legislatures can ignore your vote, ignore your wishes as to who governs, and install whatever politician they want. This is a move toward authoritarian, one-party rule.
What will this look like? There are plenty of examples around the world that show us what would happen to the United States. First, the enemies of the state must be punished, and the one party defines who the enemy is. The followers demand this. You can see it now, how they don't care what happens to them as long as the "other" is punished, and made to suffer. Authoritarian regimes need enemies to blame failures and problems on. They need to feed the mob to keep the mob satisfied. At first, it will be the opposition party, it will be the public face of the party and the people the mob hates. When they run out of these enemies they will come for others.
The one-party state will use the existing security apparatus to carry this out. We saw a preview during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020. Law enforcement members, masked and unidentified, began seizing demonstrators and carting them off into unmarked vehicles. There was an outcry and the practice stopped, but that was the only repercussion. No real investigation was launched, and no one was punished for this third-world dictatorship behavior. Lesson learned. The Supreme Court has ruled that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can operate up to 100 miles within US borders with little to no legal restrictions. Despite the constitutional and legal protections we are supposed to have against illegal search and seizure, due process, etc. CBP does not have to abide by any of these protections within a 100-mile swath of the US. They make a great tool to support a one-party state.
The followers who believe they will be safe because they are loyal and those that expect to be rewarded will also be in peril. The backers of this authoritarian rule, the wealthy and large corporations, expect a return on their investment and whoever is in the way becomes the enemy. Does the company want to dump chemicals into your water supply? Get used to drinking chemicals every day. Does someone who backs the government want your land? You are an enemy. Over time the need for enemies grows as problems arise. The authoritarian regime needs to blame others for their own failures. Don't expect rewards, those go to the big-money backers and those in charge. The one-party state will insert itself into every business, and every money-making endeavor so they can enrich themselves. You can see it in Putin's Russia. You have to be on Putin's good side and provide him and other government officials with a cut of the profits if you intend to do business. The authoritarian regime no longer needs the vote of the supporters, so they go to the back of the line. The one party will keep them happy with TV, Social Media, and the punishment of the people they have been taught to hate.
National policy will focus on enriching the few rather than the many, and many of these policies will fail because senior leaders in the government are appointed based on loyalty to the party and its leader and less for competence and talent. Initially, elections will continue to be held in order to provide a facade of democracy and normalcy. The outcomes of these elections, however, will be predetermined. The ruling party will win, but they will allow a small number of opposition candidates to win their elections. Of course, these minority candidates will be pliable and support the ruling party. Over time elections will become more of a formality. Winning candidates will have close ties to whoever leads the ruling party, as will most senior government officials, chosen for their loyalty to the party rather than talent and competence. This will, over time, result in a growing number of policy failures and a somewhat incompetent government. The intent of the government will be first and foremost the enrichment of party elites.
Education will be limited, filled with propaganda, as will be the media, and any ideas that counter the official party line will be banned. They need to destroy the people's ability to think for themselves, and to reason, otherwise, they might rise up. I can go on, but you already know the outcome, just look at North Korea. Americans mostly don't believe this can happen here. It's just not possible, we are somehow special. That sort of thing happens in other countries, but not here. You are wrong. Look at the last few years. An assault on the Capitol, an effort to overturn an election, efforts to declare martial law and rule by Presidential decree. We came close to losing our democracy, but the institutions held—barely. Those wishing for a one-party state learned from their failure and are coming back better prepared. They have already sowed doubt about our democracy and political institutions. And in turn, those institutions have been made more fragile, and weaker.
I return to my own question, "What next for America?" At best we will hold off authoritarianism for another election cycle, but that won't be the end. They will, again, learn from their failures and return in 2024 to push the one-party, theocratic state. They will have an additional two years to develop the laws and mechanisms at the local and state level that will enable them to overturn election results, and this fight will continue. If they win in these midterm elections the crisis will escalate and the right will put in place those very same mechanisms that will propel them to authoritarian power in 2024 unless they are stopped. Stay tuned to see what happens in the coming days as votes are counted.