Democrats’ all-purpose message for 2024: Defeat MAGA chaos

By Washington Post Columnist, October 30, 2023.

Trump supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

President Biden has diligently and accurately identified four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump as a threat to democracy. Trump, Biden has noted, headed a plot to overturn the results of an election, repeatedly stoked violencetargeted individuals and companies for retribution and bolstered Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden’s timely and appropriate argument should remind many Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters of the necessity of voting.

However, the pro-democracy message has practical limitations. For starters, many people don’t know what “democracy” means and how it affects them; Trump’s own supporters claim to be on the side of democracy. Moreover, those willing to go along with Trump in exchange for tax cuts do not instinctively see how our democratic system is essential to their financial well-being.

Biden might need to supplement his democracy message with a broader argument: namely, that MAGA Republicans bring violence, disorder, chaos and gridlock. The MAGA wing of the Republican Party, after all, broke the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. It actively rooted for a default and then a government shutdown. It brooks violence against law enforcementpeddles conspiracy theories and refuses to accept the legitimacy of court cases against Trump.

The pandemonium surrounding the selection of a House speaker points to the party’s inability to govern itself, let alone the country. We can expect plenty of other MAGA outbursts and mayhem with this faction’s nihilistic approach to politics — including, for example, the baseless impeachment effort against Biden — between now and the 2024 elections. Biden would have no trouble making the case against agents of anarchy, destruction and dysfunction.

It should not surprise us that a party that embraces conspiracy theories, spews propaganda and seeks to empower a candidate with authoritarian impulses is incapable of governance. Contrary to what critics of democracy claim, democracies are far more stable, nimbler and more functional than governments dominated by extreme ideologues or those in the thrall of a narcissistic cult leader.

Strongmen who promise order often are disruptive once in power. “They each have their own quirks and [are] not exactly the same, but they all have paranoia, narcissism, they all are very aggressive, and they like to humiliate others,” said fascism scholar Ruth Ben-Ghiat. “This leads to certain styles of governance that are very dysfunctional and full of turmoil.” These characters usually hire cronies, only to fire them when they suspect disloyalty or need a scapegoat. This produces constant changes in personnel.

“Their governments are not stable at all. Their personalities are impulsive and they think they are God sometimes and that they’re infallible,” Ben-Ghiat argued. “They make snap decisions which are not good for policymaking. Ultimately, their governments are very destructive and unstable, even though the myth of authoritarians is that these are take-charge men who will bring peace and stability.”

In contrast, Biden can project himself as stable, experienced and steady, just as he has done during the Israel crisis. His presidency provides a vivid contrast to the massive disarray, incompetence, legislative failures (infrastructure week!) and turmoil that characterized the Trump administration. Trump cozied up to foreign enemiesexcused neo-Nazisdownplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and engaged in economic self-dealing.

Trump unraveled alliances; Biden repaired them. Trump seeks to upend the professional civil service and remake it into an army of toadies; Biden studiously keeps his distance from the Justice Department. Trump cannot be trusted with national security information; Biden gives allies confidence the United States will secure their secrets.

Voters who care about the investment climate need to be reminded that no matter what tax rates Trump promises, the economic uncertainty, instability and erratic behavior he inevitably brings pose a threat to their personal and financial security. Trump, after all, left the country and economy in shambles because of his inability to recognize and respond swiftly to the pandemic. Biden quickly took control of the pandemic, backed the independence of the Federal Reserve and now presides over a jobs boom and a period of remarkable growth.

It’s easy to forget how exhausting our politics became under the Trump presidency. Imagine a second Trump term without responsible advisers. Trump has already vowed to be his supporters’ “retribution.” What could be more disruptive and dangerous than an indicted president trying to pardon himself and his cronies and seeking revenge against prosecutors and judges? This amounts to a formula for destroying the rule of law and roiling the country for another four years.

Do Americans really want to bring on a period of unparalleled conflict and chaos? Biden should be asking voters that every day between now and the 2024 election.