Do 'MAGA Republicans' really pose an extremist threat?

Last week, during a primetime address, President Biden warned that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” Friday morning, Biden reversed course and said to reporters, “I don’t consider any Trump supporter a threat to the country.” But then later that day, Biden’s Twitter account sent out the message: “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

So, Biden is confused — again. But ask yourself, what do “MAGA Republicans” control? Right now, very little. Yes, they have candidates who want to be secretaries of state, lieutenant governors, senators, and so on. No doubt, some of them are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and see their primary mission as ensuring that Trump was declared the winner of the 2024 presidential race, regardless of the voting results. But we have nutty candidates every cycle. Not too long ago, allegedly serious voices in American politics believed that the country could abolish its police forces.

Certainly some members of the current congressional GOP minorities qualify as “MAGA Republicans.” They can go on cable news and demand investigations or indictments or resignations, but they can’t make those things happen. They can’t get bills passed or amendments adopted. If they win a majority in a chamber, maybe they will be able to do more, but their actions will still be subject to the filibuster rule, a presidential veto, judicial review, speedy injunctions handed down from skeptical judges, and the familiar problems of cobbling together 218 House votes on any particular piece of legislation.

And as for the man himself, Donald Trump is the odd kind of authoritarian menace who can’t even get himself back on Twitter.

The message from President Biden and his Democratic allies, from now until Election Day, will be that you, American citizen, dare not vote for Republicans because of what they could do — the threat they could represent to your rights in the future. In the process of focusing on that, you will not focus on what has actually been done to you over the past two years. Inflation bedeviled Americans for about a year, and a major factor was that the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress agreed to spend an additional $1.9 trillion on “Covid relief” in March 2021, just as the vaccines were arriving and the economy was already recovering. Former treasury secretary Larry Summers warned that, “There is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation.” 

All 220 House Democrats voted to pass the massive spending package; all 210 Republicans voted against it. Every Senate Democrat voted to pass it; every Senate Republican voted against it. A CNN poll from March 2021 found that 94 percent of self-identified Democrats favored it.

And then we experienced “inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation.”

At least on this one consequential issue, Democrats were wrong, and Republicans were right.

Contrast the potential threat that “MAGA Republicans” represent to you with what the U.S. and state governments do to private citizens on a regular basis.

The Internal Revenue Service recently admitted that it had accidentally published the confidential information of about 120,000 individuals. The New York State attorney general’s office leaked IRS documents naming donors to Nikki Haley’s nonprofit political-advocacy group, Stand For America, Inc. Last year, someone within the IRS leaked a vast trove of private information about the country’s wealthiest taxpayers. Because of its power over taxation and the authority to prosecute others for failure to pay or for fraud, the IRS and similar state tax-enforcement agencies have enormous power over your life.

According to Meta/Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, during the 2020 election, “The FBI, I think, basically came to us- some folks on our team and was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, like, you should be on high alert. . . . We thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election. We have it on notice that, basically, there’s about to be some kind of dump of that’s similar to that. So just be vigilant.’” As a result, Facebook limited, but did not completely erase, the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop on its newsfeed. The Biden administration apparently tried to create a Disinformation Governance Board — that even the DHS didn’t think it needed — to formalize this arrangement of pressuring social-media companies to remove information that the government deems dangerous foreign propaganda.

Notice how frequently you are told that the biggest menace that Americans face are those who criticize the government, even though they themselves have little power over your day-to-day life. Notice how rarely you are told that the biggest menaces America faces are those who operate in the ranks in government in secrecy or obscurity, with great access to or great influence over your life, and with little accountability.

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