Whose Democracy Is This, Anyway?
Democrats have been insisting that “our democracy is under attack” ever since Donald Trump’s upset election in 2016. According to First Things editor R.R. Reno in his lengthy commentary in this month’s issue, this “urgent warning has been underlined and put in bold” since the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol. And the phrasing, “our democracy,” never varies. Yet, the more Reno thinks about it, “the more I’m puzzled. It’s an odd formulation. Our democracy: Why append the possessive?”
He finally concludes that, “The answer is evident: Those responsible for our governing consensus are exasperated by an increasingly indocile and intractable public that will not accept their authority.”
Reno’s commentary addresses a New York Times column by extremism “expert” Cynthia Miller-Idriss, published to mark the anniversary of January 6. She warns readers that the Capitol riot proves “the most urgent threat to Americans’ safety and security” isn’t coming from foreign terrorists, “but from the country’s own citizens.”
Specifically, she’s alarmed by a study showing “a majority of the arrested Jan. 6 attackers were employed, some of them teachers, chief executives, veterans, doctors and lawyers. They had an average age of around 40.” In other words, largely average to above-average Americans more or less representative of the American middle class. This makes the threat “especially pernicious” because “government’s traditional counterterrorism infrastructure [is] built to focus on fringe extremists,” and thus wholly unequipped to counter a danger that comes “not from the fringe but from the mainstream.”
For Reno, these assertions invite bewilderment: “On its face, this notion of ‘mainstream’ threats to democracy perplexes. One presumes that a democratic system reflects mainstream views. Isn’t the first principle of democracy that the majority rules?”
You’d think, but as Reno points out, “Miller-Idriss is not one to ponder paradoxes.” Whatever democracy means for her (she never says) it’s clearly not the rule (kratos) of the people (demos). It becomes clear her idea of democracy is a compliant demos answerable to a well-funded and dynamic kratos.
Because Miller-Idriss views our current, misguided mainstream thinking as “a societal problem more akin to a public health threat,” she urges the U.S. to adopt the ambitious “holistic” approach other nations (“far ahead of the United States”) have used to tamp down mainstream extremism. In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, she proposes a complex social-control apparatus comprising not only “security and intelligence services but ministries of education, labor, health and human services, youth and families, social services, and culture and the arts.” It also includes “decision-making authority granted to experts in education, social work, and mental health.” The object is to build “democratic resilience in the mainstream,” by which she means “citizens… more likely to recognize and resist propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories.”
These ideas are chilling. Not only is she proposing policing Americans’ thoughts, but who can forget how, already in 2020, government officials were using threats to public health as their excuse for seizing authoritarian control of society in response to the pandemic, and to justify a see-no-evil approach to BLM and Antifa’s months-long orgy of arson, looting, and murder on the pretext of a crusade for racial justice. We already have education “experts” who think “parental rights ended when… children were enrolled in public school,” authorizing them to indoctrinate grade-schoolers with critical race theory and gender ideology in defiance of parents’ wishes -- or without their knowledge. “Experts” on school boards conspired with the DoJ to target outspoken parents as “domestic terrorists.” Reliably leftist members of the helping professions enthusiastically assist in taking children away from parents who refuse to consent to their child’s gender-transition treatments or agree their daughter is a boy.
Miller-Idriss’s proposals appeared just as the Department of Homeland Security released its National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin that, as Kyle Shideler explains at American Greatness, reiterates the sea-change in DHS’s mission from tracking “actual terror threats” inspired by “enemy lies spread abroad” to tracking “information spread by ‘domestic threat actors’ (read: American citizens).”
DHS’s new bottom line is “[s]topping the flow of MDM… the latest government acronym from which you must be protected.” MDM stands for “mis- dis- and mal-information,” that last neologism defined by DHS as “information which is true but the government considers harmful anyway.” The true-but-harmful examples listed include “misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19.” In effect, mal-information means facts harmful to the regime.
The consensus among Ministry of Truth advocates is that the proximate cause for the January 6 Capitol riot was a vast undercurrent of wrongthink flooding the internet. Miller-Idriss sees the riot as the “real-world consequence,” of “Americans click[ing] their way through an online flood of disinformation, including the widely distributed falsehood that rampant voter fraud had allowed Joe Biden to steal what was rightfully Donald Trump’s victory.”
It’s the official position of the Biden administration that January 6 conclusively proves questioning the election outcome or any other talk that “sow[s] discord or undermine[s] public trust in U.S. government institutions” guarantees more right-wing “[m]ass casualty attacks.” This is their pretext to justify police-state tactics against any political opponent they choose. Now they want what Ben Weingarten describes as a counterterrorism policy “[l]inking speech that does not comport with regime orthodoxy to terror, and using that pretext to police thought -- with an armed Ministry of Truth operating out of our national security and law enforcement apparatus…”
Casting critics as terrorists and threatening to sic the most powerful, pervasive and sophisticated security state in the history of the world on them is of course not about defending democracy or protecting the truth, but intimidating democratic opposition into silence and submission to an official narrative.
Neither the Left nor their lapdog media can endure hoi polloi challenging their official narratives. This is why so many Joe Biden speeches feature scripted outbursts of faux rage that he’s “sick of this stuff” and his “patience is wearing thin.” But the Left has worn the people’s patience even thinner -- by unleashing a hundred official narratives that have, virtually every one, been exposed as cynical hoaxes. They’ve picked the wrong time to break ground for their dreamed-of Ministry of Truth.
T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.