Discover more from Letters from an American
April 1, 2023
Although no one has seen the charges, MAGA Republican lawmakers reacted to the decision of a grand jury of ordinary citizens to charge a former president by preemptively accusing Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg of abusing the power of the government against MAGA Republicans.
“[C]orrupt Socialist District Attorney Alvin Bragg [and] the radical Far Left” (New York representative Elise Stefanik) “irreparably damaged our country” (House speaker Kevin McCarthy) “for pure political gain” (Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin). It is “a direct assault on the tens of millions of Americans who support [Trump]” (Ohio senator J. D. Vance), and “[the House Republicans] will hold Alvin Bragg accountable” (Stefanik, again).
The lawmakers have reached their position after extensive coordination with Trump, with whom Stefanik, Jordan, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speak regularly to keep him abreast of what they know about investigations and to plan policy. As Stephen Collinson pointed out on CNN, they are taking to a new level what they have been doing since Trump took office: weaponizing the government to put Trump back into power.
As the Manhattan grand jury’s investigation got close to a decision, McCarthy backed an investigation of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Promptly, committee chairs Jim Jordan (R-OH, Judiciary), James Comer (R-KY, Oversight and Accountability), and Bryan Steil (R-WI, House Administration) demanded that Bragg turn over all documents and testimony related to the investigation and appear before them to answer questions. As the counsel for the district attorney’s office, Leslie B. Dubeck, pointed out in response, these demands are “an unprecedented and illegitimate incursion on New York’s sovereign interests” and amount to “unlawful political interference.”
Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, told Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent: “This is an extreme move to use the resources of Congress to interfere with a criminal investigation at the state and local level and block an indictment.” It is, he said, “the kind of political culture you find in authoritarian dictatorships.”
At Axios today, Sophia Cai and Juliegrace Brufke ran the numbers of Trump backers in Congress. Thirty-seven Republicans have already endorsed him, and in the House, McCarthy has put them into key positions. Trump supporters make up more than a third of the Republicans members on the Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees the legal system, and the Committee on Oversight, which oversees government accountability. Nine of the 25 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee support him; 11 of the 26 Republicans on House Oversight do, too.
What is actually in the indictment remains unknown, but the language Republicans are using to attack it reveals that what it says doesn’t particularly matter. Their claim that “the Left” is “weaponizing government” against the right echoes “post-liberal” ideology. This worldview explains why the right wing continues to lose ground in society despite Republican victories at the polls. The problem is not that right-wing positions are unpopular, post-liberal thinkers insist, it’s that the “left” has captured the nation’s institutions.
They argue that the ideas that underpin democracy—equality before the law, separation of church and state, academic freedom, a market-driven economy, free speech—have undermined virtue. These values are “liberal” values because they are based on the idea of the importance of individual freedom from an oppressive government, and they are at the heart of American democracy.
But post-liberal thinkers say that liberalism’s defense of individual rights has destroyed the family, communities, and even the fundamental differences between men and women, throwing society into chaos. They propose to restore the values of traditional Christianity, which would, they believe, restore traditional family structures and supportive communities, and promote the virtue of self-sacrifice as people give up their individualism for their children (their worldview utterly rejects abortion).
The position of those embracing a post-liberal order is a far cry from the Reagan Republicans’ claim to want small government and free markets. The new ideologues want a strong government to enforce their religious values on American society, and they reject those of both parties who support democratic norms—for it is those very norms they see as destructive. They urge their leaders to “dare to rule.”
Those who call for a new post-liberal order want to “reconquer public institutions all over the United States,” as Christopher Rufo put it after Florida governor Ron DeSantis appointed him to the board of New College as part of a mission to turn the progressive school into a right-wing bastion. “If we can take this high-risk, high-reward gambit and turn it into a victory,” Rufo told Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times, “we’re going to see conservative state legislators starting to reconquer public institutions all over the United States.”
To spur that process, Republicans have turned to so-called culture wars, but as David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo notes, issues are becoming heated not in some vague way, but because Republicans are deliberately making normal processes partisan to destroy consensus about them. So, for example, Rufo pushed the idea that the legal framework “critical race theory” was being pushed in public agencies and public schools in order, he told Benjamin Wallace-Wells of the New Yorker, “to politicize the bureaucracy.” He hoped to “take some of these essentially corrupted state agencies and then contest them, and then create rival power centers within them.”
The Republican attacks on Bragg reflect this process. They are quite deliberately destroying public faith in the justice system, declaring Trump’s looming indictment a political attack even before we know what’s in it, and attributing the indictment to a single man—a Black man— rather than to a jury of ordinary citizens. That attack, as Raskin pointed out, is their own attempt to politicize the Department of Justice and then take it over.
It is important to understand the pattern behind these attacks on American institutions. They are not piecemeal; they are a larger attack on democracy itself.
Republicans are wrong, not only in their attacks on Bragg, but also in their premise that liberal democracy is immoral. It has not destroyed families or communities, or ended self-sacrifice: just the opposite.
The principles of liberal democracy made nineteenth-century writer Harriet Beecher Stowe turn her grief for her dead eighteen-month-old son into the best-selling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which showed why no mother’s child should be sold away from her. It made Rose Herera sue her former enslaver for custody of her own children after the Civil War. It made Julia Ward Howe demand the right to vote so her abusive husband could not control her life any longer.
It made Black mathematician and naturalist Benjamin Banneker call out Thomas Jefferson for praising liberty while denying it to Black Americans; Sitting Bull defend the right of the Lakota to practice their own new religion, even though he did not believe in it; Saum Song Bo tell The New York Sun he was insulted by their request for money to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty when, three years before, the country had excluded people like him; Dr. Héctor García realize that Mexican Americans needed to be able to vote in order to protect themselves; Edward Roberts claim the right to get an education despite his physical paralysis; drag king Stormé DeLarverie throw the first punch at the Stonewall riot that jump-started the gay rights movement.
And self-sacrifice? Americans trying to push the United States to live up to its principles have always put themselves on the line for freedom rather than permitting democracy to fall to white supremacists or theocrats. As James Meredith recalled of his long struggle to desegregate the University of Mississippi in the 1960s: “My entire crusade at Ole Miss, you see, was a love story. It is a story about my love for America….”
Gladden Pappin, “Mirror of Princes,” Postliberal Order.
Edward Feser, “Perfect World Disorder,” Postliberal Order.
George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters (Richmond, VA: A. Morris, 1857), 353–354.
James Meredith with William Doyle, A Mission from God: A Memoir and a Challenge for America (New York: Atria Books, 2012), pp. 185.
“To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Banneker, 19 August 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives.