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 - Seth Abramson

Seth Abramson

Journalist | Attorney | Author

The State We Are In

There is an active insurrection inside the United States.

I believe a time will come when the primary and most imminently consequential division between Americans will be between those who understand this and those who do not.

A large percentage of Americans—perhaps as many as 30%—no longer wish for this country to be a democracy.

They do not believe in elections, or rule of law, or the peaceful transfer of power.

They would welcome martial law, an authoritarian strongman, statutes that create distinct classes of citizens and prohibit public service by—for instance—Jews or Muslims or trans people or atheists or non-native-born citizens or anyone the strongman and his agents have identified as a “communist.”

And that latter term means, to these 30%, exactly what you think and perhaps fear it does: nothing.

In other words, it is anyone who disagrees with them.

Their plans for those who disagree with them are not pretty.

Their plan for this country is not pretty.

Nothing will happen overnight. The insurrection will simply persist, creating cultural disruptions that become harder and harder to miss. Every once in awhile a few people will die or there will be a violent public clash or an entire House GOP majority whose primary agenda is weakening the federal government and our democracy.

I will not say that one day dangerous domestic extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene will one day be in positions of power in Washington because that has already happened.

We crossed that bridge.

Some of you may have noticed that cultural disruptions of the sort I describe above are already happening on Twitter.

Certain antisocial, antidemocratic, and borderline violent ideas are being not just openly discussed on Twitter but promulgated and accreted there in ways that would have been unimaginable just two months ago.

So while nothing is moving fast, it is moving fast enough.

The CEO of Twitter is tweeting out buzzwords associated with the same QAnonist forces that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The line between freedom of speech and organizing an insurrection in public is not a line at all; one can be exercising one’s freedom of speech and simultaneously organizing an insurrection in public.

Sometimes the line gets fuzzy or even gets crossed—see Donald Trump on the morning of January 6, as he tried to ride the line between expressing his frustration with the continuation of our democracy and his desire that tens of thousands of people standing in front of him who he knew were armed immediately remove themselves to the Capitol, surround it, and then foreclose the possibility of the peaceful transfer of power.

With Elon Musk, the line is fuzzy in a different way. Every day he publicly plots ways to destroy institutional media, journalistic ethics, and the allergy a healthy democracy is supposed to have for disinformation. Elon Musk is an insurrectionist and Twitter is a tool of insurrection. Not the best tool, mind you—these are early days yet—but the “progress” he has made in just two months is astounding. Now he is publicly discussing purchasing Substack and publicly confessing that the reason for doing so would be to control the “narrative” layer of the internet.

You do not have to understand narrative theory to be scared by that.

January 6 was the beginning of an insurrection that has now entered its second stage. It may or may not require Donald Trump anymore; that is unclear.

What is perfectly clear is that the Republican Party has neither the ability nor the inclination to turn off the spigot of insurrection that has flooded its electorate and even the House and Senate cloakrooms. It does not appear that their recent election losses have cooled their ardor for authoritarianism; in fact, they have merely decided to double down and hone their methods.

There is a lot of evil in the country right now, and that evil has nothing to do with the fact that some Americans prefer one policy position over another. That is how things should be in America; policy disputes were never a danger to our democracy, but rather a celebration of it. When I use the word evil now I’m simply referring to those who do not believe this country should exist as a democracy any longer. I am referring to fascists, and unlike the opponents of democracy I am not using a term in political philosophy mindlessly or merely rhetorically: I’m referring to people who want our system of government to be a fascist one going forward.

I think many of them believe Ron DeSantis will be a better steward of their antidemocratic ambitions than Donald Trump ever was.

We can accept all of this right now and proceed accordingly, or we can put our fingers in our ears and simply drop our jaws in horror when what’s clear to some of us becomes clear to all of us.

Every person in the United States is being called upon to pick a side: democracy or authoritarianism.

I do not mean internationally. I mean domestically. And I do not mean figuratively but literally.

Those who have not already elected their position on this question—and again, I do not mean implicitly or passively but self-consciously and with commitment—will be disadvantaged in understanding what is happening in this country or reacting to what happens going forward.

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