A short while ago, Senate Minority Leader McConnell, America’s foremost political insurgent currently holding elected office, was able to call in enough personal favors to block the the bill that would have created the negotiated with the Republicans bipartisan, independent 6 January Commission from proceeding. As expected, rather than actually forcing more debate on the issue and bipartisan compromise, the silent filibuster that McConnell has been using for over a decade to stifle all Senate business other than confirming Trump judicial nominations actually prevented the bill from proceeding to the debate stage. So it will not even be discussed as potential legislation, let alone debated by various members or amended, on the Senate floor.
What happened earlier today is simply one battle in the ongoing revolutionary war that the Republican Party and the conservative movement that both sustains and comprises it have been, are, and will continue to wage against the United States, the constitutional order, and small “l” small “d” self governing liberal democracy. This was not unexpected and anyone surprised by this outcome is a fool. I would also like a really good explanation as to why Senators Sinema and Murray missed this vote! I understand the nine Republican senators who couldn’t be bothered, they knew it would fail and could care less, so flew home early for the recess, but Sinema and Murray have some explaining to do!
Last week, as part of a 12 tweet thread, Rick Wilson nailed the central dynamic here in tweets 3 through 7 (I’m copying and pasting the text of the tweets because WordPress is still behaving funky with embedded tweets):
3/ More important in their minds is something darker. They see the majority in their grasp, and just as they did in the states this year, they’ll strike quickly, mercilessly, and without a moment of hesitation of a scintilla of shame to make the next election the last.
4/ For them, the problem wasn’t an attack on our republic and a democratic election. For Kevin and Co, the problem was that it didn’t work the first time. They need the shock and awe, the spectacle, the Trumphadi terror threat out there.
5/ This zero-sum game of power/not-power is what the Democrats never, ever, ever grasp. This year in the states, the GOP — directed and assisted by Heritage Action — has passed sweeping voter restrictions. Democrats couldn’t mount a response. They played defense.
6/ Even now, too many think policy will save them. “But our climate plan” or “but our control gun plan” or “but our daycare plan” isn’t politics. It’s masturbation. The bad guys are willing to send people to kill you and you respond with a white paper? GTFO.
7/ This is why the Democrats should stop negotiation over a January 6th commission and just freaking DO it. Do you think some kind of bipartisan comity and goodwill will be lost somehow? THEY SENT PEOPLE TO KILL YOU. Get a goddamned grip. Play offense. Drag them.
Wilson, in these five tweets, zeroed straight in on the dynamic in America right now What he described above is revolutionary warfare being waged by the Republicans and the conservative movement against the US, the constitutional order, and every single American that is outside of what they consider the acceptable in terms of which is and is not an American. Specifically, we are in the midst of a domestic low intensity revolutionary war being waged to determine what America is, who it is for, and who gets to be an American with all the rights that come along with that and who will be, at best, a second class citizen with granted privileges that can be revoked at any time for any reason. This is exactly the dynamic that has played out since late 2003 in the sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs in Iraq. A sectarian war that our stupid, useless, and self defeating invasion of Iraq in 2003 precipitated.
What Wilson is describing, both the Republican Party’s overriding strategic objectives and the seeming inability by the Democrats to grasp the actual reality of that objective, which I think is an accurate and correct assessment, reminded me of something from the literature on low intensity warfare and conflict. Specifically one of Bernard Fall’s less well known, but in my professional opinion as one of his professional descendants, most important works on the subject. And this is what I wanted to bring to your attention for consideration.
In Fall’s The Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency he delineates two equations that explain his theory of what he calls Revolutionary Warfare. The first is for Revolutionary Warfare the second for countering it. From page 2 of his essay, which was adapted from a lecture (emphasis mine):
Let me state this definition: RW=GW+P, or revolutionary warfare equals guerrilla warfare plus political action. This formula for revolutionary warfare is the result of the application of guerrilla methods to the furtherance of an ideology or a political system. This is the real difference between partisan warfare, guerrilla warfare, and everything else. Guerrilla simply means ‘small war’ to which the correct Army answer is (and that applies to all Western armies) that everybody knows how to fight small wars; no second lieutenant of the infantry ever learns anything else but how to fight small wars. Political action, however, is the difference. The Communists, or shall we say, any sound revolutionary warfare operator (the French underground, the Norwegian underground, or any other European anti-NAZI underground) most of the time used small-war tactics, not to destroy the German Army, of which they were thoroughly incapable, but to establish a competitive system of control over the population. Of course, in order to do this, here and there they had to kill some of the occupying forces and attack some military targets. But above all they had to kill their own people who collaborated with the enemy.
But the ‘kill’ aspect, the military aspect, definitely always remained the minor aspect. The political, administrative, ideological aspect is the primary aspect. Everybody, of course, by definition, will seek a military solution to the insurgency problem, whereas, by its very nature, the insurgency problem is military only in a secondary sense, and politically, ideologically, and administratively in a primary sense. Once we understand this, we will understand more of what is actually going on in Viet-nam or in some other places affected by RW.
What Wilson wrote, as a diagnosis of the strategic problem facing the US as a small “l” small “d” liberal democratic self governing constitutional republic speaks loudly in paraphrase of Fall’s point above. The Republican Party and the conservative movement that sustains it have become a revolutionary party and movement in support of reactionary goals. And while the Democrats and the liberals, progressives, and centrists that comprise the Democratic Party are all waiting for Speaker Pelosi to do something administrative to bring McCarthy and his caucus to heel, or for Senator Schumer and President Biden to finally convince Senators Manchin and Sinema to give up the idea that the filibuster forces bipartisanship (all the data shows it does not), or for AG Garland to bring the insurrectionists to justice, or for Director Wray to cut the FBI loose to round up white domestic extremists – the latter two actions can neither be done nor will be done on the scale necessary to resolve the problem – the Republicans and the conservative movement are engaging in political action to further their reactionary revolutionary goals to turn the US into a populist minority party managed/illiberal democracy similar to what Orban has done in Hungary. Almost all of this political action is non to less than lethal, even when it includes implicit or explicit threats of violence, with use of actual violence (guerrilla warfare), such as the attack on the Capitol on 6 January, the plot against Governor Whitmer, GOP state legislatures and governors changing state laws allowing drivers to run over protestors if they subjectively feel threatened, whatever it is Ammon Bundy is really up to in southern Oregon right now, women doing high speed hit and run attempts through vaccination clinics, the domestic terrorism by mass shooting in El Paso, the domestic terrorism by mass shooting at the synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, and the dozens and dozens more low intensity acts of political violence targeting Jewish Americans, Asian Americans and Americans of Pacific Islander descent, attacks on Muslim Americans and those who “look” Muslim, etc will continue to be denied and denounced as lone wolf acts, but whose violence can be leveraged for effect.
And this leads to the second of Fall’s equations, which he does not make explicit, but does describe on pages 15 and 16 of the essay. Counter-Revolutionary War=Counter-Guerilla Warfare+Counter-Political Action+Civic Action (CRW=CGW+CPW+CA). Fall defines Civic Action as:
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says “Land reform,” and the other side says “better culverts.” One side says “we’re going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says “Yes, but we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
The reality we face right now is that we are in an ongoing low intensity domestic revolutionary political war with occasional spikes of lethality. And that political war is really about just who gets to define what America is and determine who is a real American and who is, at best, a second class citizen to be tolerated. This is akin to what the fight between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs and the Kurds is about in Iraq. Their sectarian fight is about who gets to be an Iraqi and, as a result, who gets to control Iraq and benefit politically, socially, economically, and religiously from doing so. This domestic political war we are in, but which almost no one wants to explicitly state is ongoing, isn’t going to be won, to paraphrase Fall, by having better policies. Not because they aren’t better policies, but because no amount of tactical success is going to magically transmute itself into strategic success if you don’t actually understand the theater strategic problem. We failed to achieve theater strategic success in Iraq and Afghanistan despite significant tactical successes in both theaters because senior leadership, including three different national command authorities, failed to properly understand the theater strategic reality because our concepts and doctrine for doing so are historically contextually inaccurate (a discussion for another day). We are on the brink of loosing the domestic low intensity revolutionary political war we are in here at home for similar reasons: far too much of the Democratic Party is unable to or unwilling to recognize the strategic reality we are facing in the domestic American theater that this revolutionary political war is taking place in and, as a result, are proposing solutions that are and will be ineffectual.
Right now the few institutional restraints and constraints on the GOP have been completed blown off, demolished, and/or are in the process of being demolished wherever possible by the GOP. They’re at the point where they are so close to achieving their goal and they see it so clearly that they don’t care that they are sloppily telegraphing all of it in broad daylight. From sending NRCC and NSCC and GOP party officials to meet with corporate execs to explain why they don’t need to continue boycotting GOP officials and organizations for donations because of the insurrection on 6 January to keeping a “bipartisan” commission from happening to rewriting state laws on elections and who gets to determine election outcomes to everything in between. They don’t care who knows what they are doing because they have made the decision they can pull the whole thing off in broad daylight. And, in fact, doing so makes it even more legal and constitutional because no one can accuse them of hiding or concealing or obscuring what they were doing. Even as they claim it is not what they are doing.
The real problem we have is that if in November 2024 the Democratic presidential candidate clearly wins a majority of the popular vote in enough states to win the electoral college and therefore become president and either 1) enough GOP controlled states have changed their laws allowing the state legislature to appoint the electors they want regardless of the outcome of the vote in their states and/or 2) as Ian Milhiser asks: the Republicans hold a majority in the new Congress sworn in at the beginning of January 2025 and decide that they refuse to certify the Democrats win and instead select the Republican nominee, there is no actual constitutional or statutory remedy to what will have been a naked theft of the presidency. And it won’t matter if the Republican nominee is Trump, DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson, or someone even worse. That’s the real problem we are staring at.
The conditions are being set, and in some places have already been set, to do this. And there is absolutely no constitutional remedy anyone knows of for these types of actions. They are not illegal, they are not unconstitutional. And because it was they are all being done openly and under cover of law, the military will be given an out because whichever Republican would be installed as president would have been so in a legal and constitutional manner, therefore he or she would, indeed, be the president in terms of also being commander in chief. This will also apply to the rest of the civil service. This completely renders the second half of Milhiser’s question about whether the union comes apart at that point moot. If the military leadership decides that a Republican president installed in this way is legal and constitutional because no laws were violated and there’s nothing in the Constitution to stop what a lot of people are worried about and that I have described as happening and NY, CA, IL, WA, and a few other very large blue states revolt, they will take orders to put down that rebellion. Because the person giving the orders will be the lawful, constitutional president and orders to put down a rebellion against the US would also be lawful.
I cannot express just how dangerous a place we are in right now. No matter how much work Stacey Abrams does, no matter how many other places Democrats or liberals and/or progressives seek to emulate her work, as David Schor correctly states: “the idea that you can organize your way out of a 3% bias in the median seat is pretty wild.” Translated into non election jargon, if the gerrymanders that are going to be put in place during the next round of redistricting are audaciously large enough, combined with the inherent disparities that already exist in how the Senate is comprised and, as a result, how the Electoral College functions are large enough, no amount of political work at election time to turn out the vote is going to be enough to overcome artificially created electoral roadblocks of that size! And no amount of Marc Elias’s yeoman’s legal work will be enough to prevent it!
So what is to be done? Democrats, especially elected officials at the state and Federal levels, need to actually clearly recognize what is going on and actually call it out and describe it in plain terms. It needs to be hammered until the media is unable to both sides the coverage of it even as Republican elected officials and conservative movement leaders and commenters squeal like stuck pigs. And those same Democratic elected officials, where they have any leverage and power have to use it and fast to either stop what is happening or prevent it from happening. They have to engage in counter-political warfare and civic action! Because the bottom line of this lesson is if they do not use the power they have right now, if they do not develop an effective counter-political warfare and civic action strategy and execute it, it will not matter if the policies they are proposing are better for Americans because the Republicans opposing them DO NOT CARE ABOUT POLICY! They care about obtaining power and doing so in order to never have to relinquish it again!
The liberal and progressive organizations that support and comprise the Democratic Party need to acting as if their heads are on fire over this. Many of your reading this, or commenting on it, are already doing excellent work being engaged, but right now that engagement has to shift to pounding the message home to Democratic elected officials and Democratic Party leaders at the Federal, state, and county levels that we are in the midst of a revolutionary war and the fate of our self governing liberal democratic Republic hangs in the balance!
If action is not taking by this Autumn, especially at the Federal level, it will be too late. Once Congress goes into its Autumn recess, which is when the 2022 midterm campaigns will begin in earnest, Congress’s work for this term will effectively be over. It is all well and good that Senate Majority Leader Schumer has scheduled Senate Bill 1, the Senate equivalent to House Resolution 1: The For the People Act, for a vote during the June work period. That is a great start. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader does not have the votes to even bring the bill to the floor for debate as long as the silent filibuster remains in place.
We find ourselves in the midst of a revolutionary war. Our leaders need to recognize that fact and begin to act like it. This is not business as usual. The next seventeen months, but especially the next six months, will determine if we remain a small “l” small “d” liberal democratic self governing republic or if we become a managed, illiberal democracy. It can not only happen here, it is happening as I type this!
Simple, but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later…