I’m on vacation this week, so my irregular posting is even more irregular than usual. But apparently, instead of light holiday fare or scary Halloween movies, my family wanted to watch the Vice Presidential debate, of all things, so I tagged along, despite having no real interest. The Vice Presidency, as John “Cactus Jack” Garner once remarked, isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit. But hey, come to think of it, maybe this will be sufficiently frightening Halloween scare-fare.
So it was with a mixture of low expectations and interest that I joined my wife and son on the couch. And mostly, I was right: the most interesting thing that happened over the course of the debate was the fly that took up residence on Mike Pence’s hair for exactly two minutes, leading to all sorts of jokes about flies loving either excrement or decomposing things.
There were also some jokes about the fly at least being able to recognize when its time was up (two minutes). That was the only other thing I really noticed while watching – how much this debate resembled the recent Presidential debate in one crucial way: respect for their opponents from the GOP. No, Mike Pence wasn’t a squawkingly, flappingly-absurd volcano of interruptions and bluster like Trump was, but that is likely down to merely differences in personality. Pence definitely did completely ignore moderator Susan Page’s instructions not to interrupt and to keep within time limits. And that’s what made me both see the similarity with the previous Presidential debate and also realize something: the GOP just doesn’t care what you think. Literally. If you agree but you’re not a major donor, you’re just a prop. And if you don’t agree with them? Well, you deserve to get shut up, shut down, talked over, disrespected and ignored. That was Pence’s entire demeanor last night: that of a haughty CEO, irritated that he has to sit through a useless meeting with inferiors whose opinions he has no interest in.
Pence repeatedly went over his time limit and kept talking right through Page’s repeated calls for him to finish, and seemed patronizing and dismissive throughout. I guarantee every woman watching that – even the ones in GOP households that are not actually Stepford Wives – noticed it. A rarity in national politics, Pence was the only man on the stage last night — and he still tried to dominate and controlled the proceedings. People noticed.
So this morning, I wake up to something I’d missed last night, which was that one of the GOP COVID crew from the White House super-spreader event, Mike Lee of Utah, tweeted during the debate that
We’re not a democracy.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) October 8, 2020
If you’ve never spent time arguing with energetic 19-year old libertarians on the internet (and, if you haven’t, you’re wiser than me), you may not be familiar with the longstanding soft shoe on the right that goes “we’re not a democracy, we’re a constitutional republic” (or a “representative republic”). Said 19-year old will then smugly attempt to condescendingly inform you of the difference, as an exercise in both peacocking and pedantry. It’s true enough as far as it goes, but the reason people don’t really care or in some cases even know the difference, is because the principle of democracy underlies both, through and through.
That’s not what Lee was talking about.
No, US Senator Mike Lee was referring to something quite different, and it dovetails rather neatly with what I observed in the debate itself. Lee followed up at nearly 3am with this explanation:
Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) October 8, 2020
I don’t know how I missed that last night, but Jonathan Chait caught it and pointed out.what it means, when taken through to its unspoken conclusion:
The premise is that liberty is a higher value than democracy, and they define liberty to mean a right to property that precludes redistribution. That is to say, the far right does not merely view progressive taxation, regulation and the welfare state as impediments to growth, but as fundamentally oppressive. A political system that truly secured freedom would not allow the majority to gang up on the minority and redistribute their income for themselves.
Just so. Only, as Chait also notes, in the past, Republicans had been hesitant to state this openly. No longer. In both Trump and Pence’s mannerisms and the way they deal with everything from the media (“fake news!”) to their political opponents, to any sort of rules which night constrain them and their idea of what is proper, well, screw that. It is our right to rule, you peasants, and to do it in the way we please, because we answer to a higher truth (whether that’s Jesus or “the market” or some twisted combination of the two, or simply greed and loathing of those not like them). Time limits on speaking? For thee, not for me, for I have things of truth and import to say, and you shall not get in my way of saying it. Taxes? For thee, not for me. Regulations designed to keep people safe? Pffft, not if it prevents me from making money. We’ll be the judge of that.
It is a view that is patriarchal in the sense that of course men rule in such a system, but the patriarchy is secondary to the real driving force, which is the underlying authoritarianism. Call this GOP view patriarchal (it is), call it crypto-fascist (it is), call it racist (it is)…but under all of these things is the fundamental belief, now expressed openly by the likes of United States Senators and Vice Presidents, that it is the right of these men (and the women compliant enough to play second fiddle to them) to rule and not be challenged. Democracy, to them, is an annoying bug, not a feature, of our system — one designed in long enough ago that it cannot be easily removed now. Never forget that, if people like Mike Lee and Mike Pence could remove it, they would. If they can, they will.
And now just this morning, comes news that the Trump camp has flat-out said they will not participate in a virtual debate. Can’t interrupt or bully? Don’t want to participate, regardless of whether the public wants it. It’s whatever WE say, peons, not what you want.