But that does not mean that the Trumpist threat is behind us. In fact, what was the top-down nature of the danger has morphed into a bottom-up menace that may be more dangerous. As has become the norm, defenders of American democracy are slow to realize the peril and take the necessary steps to counteract it.
This is not unprecedented. Once again, history tells a similar story.
Following Adolf Hitler’s release from prison, to which he had been confined after his failed “Beer Hall Putsch,” his National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party changed tactics. Instead of beating its head against the wall in futile, top-down efforts to seize power, it switched to a bottom-up strategy. It intimidated thousands of local government officials to resign or take the equivalent of early retirement due to a barrage of death threats and violent assaults. Death threats were often aimed not only at these officials, but also at their families, children included. These officials quite properly concluded that their personal and family safety was paramount. In many cases, the vacancies created by their departures were filled by Nazis.
This “bottom-up” strategy proved hugely successful. By the time Adolf Hitler got himself appointed German Chancellor, the ability to control both the electoral environment and local populations made it easy for him and the Nazis to rapidly and seamlessly take control of all of the levers and levels of power. We all know what happened next.
Disturbingly, something similar is now happening in America. Trump true-believers, enraged and enflamed by vaccine mandates, mask requirements, and the non-issue of Critical Race Theory, even though it isn’t being taught in K-12 schools anywhere, are (1) threatening school board members, school administrators and educators, and (2) moving into the vacancies created when school board members resign their positions or opt not to run for re-election due to fear.
A growing number of the 90,000+ school board members in the U.S. are leaving their positions, opening the door to MAGA zealots as replacements. No job or volunteer position (a number of school boards are comprised of volunteers) is worth a life.
The new MAGAverse strategy designed to subvert the country and transform it into an authoritarian state bereft of the rule of law does not stop at the schoolhouse door. It also extends to state and local election administration. A similar attrition is going on among county and city election officials. Fourteen states, all controlled by Republicans, have recently enacted laws empowering state legislatures to overturn election results, i.e., the will of the voters, if they don’t like the results. Moreover, just like school board member attrition, local election administrators are quitting in droves due to death threats aimed at them and their families. They too are being replaced by Trump partisans.
Little is being done to counter this bottom-up subversion. The Justice Department has directed the FBI to work with local school boards to try to figure out ways to protect board members. Although no action has yet been taken to implement any protective measures, Republicans are screaming “foul,” turning this too into a culture war battleground. Unfortunately, Attorney General Merrick Garland is emulating the kumbaya, “play nice” inclinations of his boss, President Biden, instead of coming down hard on those who threaten local officials.
November 12, 2021