Last night, livetweeting his thoughts on the 2020 vice-presidential debate, Republican senator Mike Lee decided it was an opportune moment to share one of his edgier political beliefs: Democracy is bad.
Lee is articulating a view that has long been in vogue on the American right but which Republican politicians were generally hesitant to express openly. 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.
Lee, indeed, unpacked his views in a follow-up:
Four years ago, I wrote a long essay describing this view and its ascent within the Republican party over decades. Its thesis, that the GOP is slowly evolving into an authoritarian party, has been amply borne out by the Trump era.
From the perspective of the right, Trump’s assault on democracy has advanced the cause of freedom and liberty, on net. His regressive tax cuts and deregulation have returned property to their rightful owners. Republicans believe that the political system must retain, and ideally expand, its counter-majoritarian features: restrictive ballot-access rules that restrict the franchise to the most “worthy” citizens, gerrymandered maps that allow the white rural minority to exercise control, a Senate that disproportionately represents white and Republican voters, and a Supreme Court that believes the Republican economic program is written into the Constitution.
Lee drew some attention by attacking Trump in 2016 and urging him to quit the race after the Access Hollywood tape emerged. But Lee, like most conservatives, has grown to appreciate the values he and Trump share. The most important of these shared values is Trump’s hatred for democracy. And this is why the struggle for American democracy will continue after Trump is gone.