On the stage in a glowing, white and blue hotel ballroom, Ron DeSantis reminisced about his days in Congress and a book he had written about America’s problems. It was “read by a dozen people,” the Florida governor said with rare self-deprecation.
DeSantis then told a gathering of grassroots conservatives on Thursday, “I think back to that time, it almost seems a little strange to me because the threats we face to freedom, the threats we face to a just society, are much more prevalent than they were just 10 years ago.
Many Americans from all political backgrounds would agree that something has gone horribly wrong over the past decade. Liberals could point to deepening inequality, a rise in white nationalism and an existential threat to democracy from the authoritarian right.
But DeSantis and his traveling companions this week Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, see themselves not as dismantlers of democracy but as saviors of it. In their worldview, the real danger comes not from former President Donald Trump’s ‘big lie’ of a stolen election, but from a radical left-wing minority imposing socialism, undoing culture and ‘awakening’ the world. majority ideology.
Welcome to a parallel universe where it is common knowledge that Trump was spied on by his rival Hillary Clinton, the January 6 insurrection was a heroic stand by patriots, and names such as Anthony Fauci, Justin Trudeau and Black Lives Matter are guaranteed to elicit loud boos.
It’s a universe where Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, an organization accused of illegally embezzling tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal travel, and unsuccessfully trying to file for bankruptcy, can still be celebrated so that it boasts of a record 5.4 million first-time gun buyers last year.
And it’s the universe where Trump still reigns supreme, his face emblazoned with toy money and Superman imagery, his name stitched onto souvenir badges, hats, hammocks and T-shirts that proclaim “Trump 2024”. Auction for a 5x5in painting by Michael Shellis depicting the former president kissing the Stars and Stripes opened for $3,000.
The big lie lives on
Trump is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at CPAC on Saturday night. A familiar line at his recent campaign rallies has been, “I’m not the one trying to undermine American democracy. I’m the one trying to save him. This is an argument that many at CPAC seem to sincerely believe, based on three rationales.
First, they amplify Trump’s baseless claim of widespread election rigging. Interviews with CPAC attendees revealed that it is considered gospel. For example, Tom Freeman, 66, a trader from Jupiter, Florida, insisted: “The fraud in 2020 is real, it’s huge, it’s millions of fraudulent votes. Democracy in the United States is under attack due to illegal immigration and voter fraud and manipulation that occur on a systemic level.
The claim, rejected by election officials and the courts, is being used to justify sweeping voter suppression laws in Republican-run states.
Josh Mandel, an aggressively pro-Trump candidate for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, won applause when he told the CPAC audience: Our day is to stop the left’s cheating…I want to say this very clearly. and very directly. I believe this election was stolen from Donald J Trump.
Mandel described Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, Republican members of a House of Representatives select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, as “traitors,” adding, “We should abolish the January commission and replace it with a November 3 commission” – a reference to the date of the 2020 elections.
A parallel view of the attack on the Capitol
Rewriting the history of the insurrection is the second component of this inverted universe. In a CPAC session on Friday titled, “The Truth About January 6” Julie Kelly, author of a book on the subject, accused the government of persecuting innocent protesters and hiding 14,000 hours of surveillance video. “We deserve to know how many undercover agents and FBI informants were involved,” she said, spreading another false conspiracy theory.
Kelly added that if Republicans take control of the House, they should “turn the January 6 committee 180 degrees” to investigate how Democrats and the Justice Department “abused their power to punish the Trump supporters to criminalize political dissent because that’s not what this country is. on”.
The comments drew enthusiastic applause at CPAC, where few attendees share the conventional view of Jan. 6 as a riotous attack on democracy. They are more likely to say it was morally justified, or that a few protesters went too far, or that it was an FBI false flag operation intended to discredit Trump supporters.
Lisa Forsyth, 54, of Tampa, Fla., said she was in Washington that day but did not enter the Capitol building. “Seeing the amount of bad press for just being there is irrelevant. Some of us didn’t do anything wrong, but we regrouped with the infiltrators. There is video footage of these people transforming into Trump gear from their black stuff. There’s video footage there, but it’s total denial.
When asked if she felt democracy was under threat, Forsyth, a retiree from a family-owned pharmaceutical company, replied: “No, I wouldn’t use that phrase, I’m sorry, but it’s a line that I hear liberals use all the tenses and I’m obviously not one of them.Our freedom is definitely under threat.
But standing nearby, Rachel Sheley, a northern Kentucky information security officer, disagreed. “Democracy is under threat because they are trying to infiltrate us with communism,” the 53-year-old said. “First Amendment, Second Amendment – they want to take them all out. If they manage to do it one by one, undercover, they are stealing the rights of our democracy.
Defending “revival” America
Third, the movement goes on the offensive accusing the Democrats of being the real anti-democratic party. This narrative argues that an unelected leftist minority controls schools and universities, mainstream media and big tech giants in Silicon Valley, pushing for a politically correct “consciousness” about transgender, race and other cultural issues.
It follows, then, that the conservative base is fighting a just cause in defense of the “real America.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told CPAC: “We are taking this country back from the mad socialist left who are trying to destroy our freedom.”
Warning that large institutions have been infected with the “woke virus,” DeSantis urged courage. “We have the opportunity to make 2020 the year America fought back. We will lead the charge here in Florida, but we need people across the country to agree to put on this full armor of God, to stand firm against the stratagems of the left.
Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State, added: “There is no greater threat to the United States than that which emanates from within our republic, emanates from within our system school. If we don’t teach our children, the next generation, that we are not a racist nation, then surely the bad guys will be right about an America in decline.
Such speeches present the struggle in heroic terms, so that criticism only hardens the siege mentality and the determination of the foot soldiers. Those wandering the halls of CPAC seemed to share Joe Biden’s view that a struggle for America’s soul was underway – but were convinced the president was on the wrong side.
Lauren Lamp, 22, who works in corporate bankruptcies in New York, said: “Obviously we can see from last year that Biden is a bigger threat than Trump ever was. Trump was trying to restore the American dream. Biden: No one knows what he’s doing because he’s not addressing the American people. We don’t even know if he’s the one working behind the scenes.
Sam Leiter, 56, insisted that democracy is threatened by cancel culture. “You can’t say what you want. There is no freedom of expression. If you don’t agree with the radical left, you lose your job, you can be tarred and feathered, dirtied. They will pursue you and destroy you.
But what does Leiter think of the argument that Trump’s increasingly authoritarian Republican Party is a threat to democracy? “It’s a classic case in projection psychology,” said the Baltimore, Maryland speech pathologist. “Project onto your spouse or onto one or more other people what you are doing yourself.
“It’s always been in human relations, but in American political circles Bill Clinton was a master at it and it got worse. It’s now been proven to be a complete hoax and yet, for years, they accused Trump of collusion with Russia, and it was Hillary who colluded with the Russians, she literally was.
Trump’s 2016 election campaign had dozens of contacts with Russia. There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia – literally or otherwise.