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Months later, are we now in the eye of the storm?

Months have now passed since the inauguration of Joe Biden, and I would assume that even the most committed Republicans grudgingly admit that quietude has returned to our political landscape. But perhaps “landscape” is too broad a word considering that our newly found sanity emanates only from the White House.

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Meanwhile, the Republicans edge ever closer to a precipice of anti-democratic madness. What the GOP has become is a cohort of ignorance and unreality, led by their chosen Mar-a-Lago wizard (in a recent CPAC straw poll for president, Trump won by

70 percent), a party that offers shelter to fantasists such as QAnon, which alleges that Democrats are child traffickers; a party that finds truth in a labyrinth of viral conspiracies and The Steal; that remains silent regarding COVID-19 anti-vaxxers; that blatantly abandoned all democratic principles and voted for a coup; and, in state after state, has passed voter-suppression laws (e.g., Texas), predicated on the chimera of voter fraud; and, when speaking of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, denies, dissembles and distorts, while referring to the attacking mob as “patriots”; a party that shamelessly admits that there is no method to their madness other than power, certainly not policy.

Any culture war issues proffered are delivered to them by the Dems, examples being “defund the police”, “wokeism,” or the du jour Critical Race Theory (CRT), an academic abstraction now distorted and weaponized by conservative pundits. Mike Pence recently stated, “Our children (white) are being taught to be ashamed of their skin color.” In other words, he is making the assertion that CRT (in our schools) alleges that all whites are complicit in the creation of slavery. A recent Republican Tennessee House bill bans any teaching (i.e. the origins of slavery) that could lead an individual “to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.”

Given the above, it’s tempting to assume that come the 2022 election, voters will view the Republicans through the same lens as I do. But then I remind myself that the House Dems lost 11 seats in 2020, and their majority now hangs by a thread; ditto the Senate. I also remind myself that 74 million Americans inexplicably voted for Trump, and the MAGAs were fully prepared to re-elect the Donald, demagogue extraordinaire, for a second term.

And I am also reminded of the words of Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker:

“The default condition of humankind is not to thrive in broadly egalitarian and democratic arrangements … The default condition of humankind, traced across thousands of years of history, is some sort of autocracy.

“The interesting question is not what causes autocracy (not to mention the conspiratorial thinking that feeds it) but what has ever suspended it. We constantly create post-hoc explanations for the ascent of the irrational.”

Indeed, “explanations” of the “irrational” are what have consumed the past four years of Trump’s presidency, and still absorbs all attempts to understand his titular presence in the Republican Party and its stunning autocratic transformation.

Of course, there is a context for what is occurring in plain sight, recalling when America nurtured the likes of Goldwater and McCarthy, now followed by Trump, a man who worships at the shrine of dictators. A man who exchanged “love letters” with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and refused to ever utter a critical word about Putin.

All of this brings me back to the elections of 2022 and ’24, and I wonder/worry, all things considered, whether what we are experiencing now is but a brief respite, the eye of the storm. Does autocracy await us on the other side? And is that now America’s default condition?

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.