December 3, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Republican greed brought us violence
Gabriel Sterling doesn't seem to know why he's right.
It’s not that Gabriel Sterling is wrong. It’s that he, and by extension other lifelong conservative Republicans, especially in the South, don’t seem to understand why he’s right. When you spend four decades inflaming white hatred of pretty much anything that does not fit into the dream of “a suburban utopia” of the 1950s, you can’t expect the people boiling over with rage to all of a sudden stop when it’s convenient to.
“It has to stop,” said the deputy to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday. “Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.”
The dark side to patricians who can’t stop, won’t stop being greedy is plebeians who can’t stop, won’t stop being violent.
Sterling, of course, was referring to the fact that Joe Biden won Georgia and that Donald Trump has thus far refused to accept defeat. Instead of deescalating, Trump and his minions are escalating. Some called for a former administration official to be “taken out at dawn and shot.” Some called for execution by firing squad of Trump’s enemies. Some called on him to suspend the US Constitution and impose martial law. Sterling, Raffensperger and a young voting machine technician received death threats. (The tech is presumably Black given he was threatened with a noose; Raffensperger’s wife, meanwhile, was evidently threatened with rape on her personal cell phone.)
“It has to stop,” Sterling said with barely concealed fury. “This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much. Yes. Fight for every legal vote. Go through your due process. We encourage you. Use your First Amendment. That’s fine. Death threats, physical threats, intimidation, it’s too much. It’s not right. They’ve lost the moral high ground.”
I’ll get back to the moral high ground, and why Gabriel Sterling isn’t on it, in a moment. Meanwhile, nothing’s going to stop. Trump is raking in tens of millions from gullible supporters who believe everything coming out his mouth and the talking mouths on Fox. (The president posted to Facebook on Wednesday a 46-minute video that was so densely packed with lies that CNN would not air even a clip of it.) Death threats, physical threats, and intimidation have never been too much for Trump, and will never be, given that he’s said to be preparing for a rematch four years from now.
David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler aren’t going to say anything either. Both Republican senators face touch runoffs next month. They need as many of the president’s seething supporters as they can in light of Stacey Abrams’ jaw-dropping success in Georgia. They have no incentive to turn the heat down, every incentive to keep it fired. If fellow Republicans are subjected to death threats, well, so be it. “This is elections,” Sterling said. For conservative Republicans, that means war. And all’s fair, they are wont to say.
But also potentially deadly. That’s what conservative Republicans don’t seem to understand. Party elites are comfortable doing whatever it takes to win, even if that means standing by while a Republican president commits treason before committing “homicidal neglect.” (That’s how CNN’s Carl Bernstein describes Trump’s handling of the covid plague.) Republican elites don’t mind inciting violence if that’s what it takes to bend popular will toward unpopular objectives like tax cuts for the very, very rich.
That might not be so bad if the rich knew when to quit. They don’t, though. They’re too greedy. As Franklin Foer said in July: “Never content with the last tax cut or the last burst of deregulation, American plutocrats keep pushing for more. With each success, their economic agenda becomes more radical and less salable. To compensate for its unpopularity, the Republicans must resort to ever greater doses of toxic emotionalism.” The natural dark side to Republican patricians who can’t stop, won’t stop being greedy is Republican plebeians who can’t stop, won’t stop being violent.
The bigger problem for party elites, tactically speaking, is that their traditional play isn’t working. In the past, they could gin up white hatred, drive out the vote, secure victory, and then put out “toxic emotionalism” with doses of sobriety. That, however, required the patricians to be united. These days, they can’t speak with one voice, because the incentives are at cross purposes. On the one hand are elites asking for calm. On the other are elites arousing anti-elite hatred of the elites who are asking for calm. Sterling is right, but doesn’t seem to know why: “Someone’s going to get killed.”
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.