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Tue 20 October 2020
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The President of the United States has legitimised radical, deeply-conservative groups that believe their values are being attacked, contends CJ Werleman

During a 1969 speech, Richard Nixon sough to cast popular and nationwide protests against the Vietnam War as the disruptive and anti-American actions of a radical leftist minority. The Republican President called on the “great silent majority” to reject calls for a withdrawal from Vietnam and the advancement of civil rights at home.

“Nixon’s basic view of American politics was that the country was divided between a disruptive, counter-cultural left (enabled by feckless, liberal elites) and a broad middle of Americans who craved order and stability,” reminisces Jamelle Bouie, a columnist at The New York Times.

Fast forward to current times, and we find President Donald Trump screaming the phrase “SILENT MAJORITY” frequently in all caps from his social media accounts, in an attempt to frame white rural and suburban voters – specifically those who fear racial integration and cultural diversity – as representative of “real America”.

The phrase “silent majority” has not only become one of the most pernicious myths in American politics, but also one of the predominate sources of right-wing conspiracy theories, misplaced right-wing victimhood, and violent right-wing extremism.


The Myth

The silent majority myth gives validation to Trump’s false assertions that an un-democratic, radical minority seeks to overthrow majoritarian rule by conspiring with a secret cabal of “Deep State” Government officials, liberal elites and billionaires, most of whom tend to be Jewish because – well – no conspiracy is complete without a subtle thread of anti-Semitism.

Trump weaponises the silent majority myth to both boost his Nixon-esque “law and order” re-election campaign, and to explain the fact he’s trailing by double-digits in the polls. Indeed it gives fuel to bogus claims of widespread voter fraud; a telegraphed ploy to delegitimise the anticipated electoral victory of his Democratic Party rival – former Vice President Joe Biden.

The thing is, there most certainly is a silent majority in the US, but it neither sides with Trump nor the Republican Party. This is evident in the way Democratic presidential candidates have won the popular vote in six out of the past seven elections, with both George W. Bush and Trump securing the White House after receiving fewer votes than their respective Democratic rivals in 2000 and 2016.

The US Supreme Court is supposed to reflect the cultural preferences of the majority, as expressed by its choice for President, but there hasn’t been a liberal court since 1971, and we are just days away from the Republican-controlled Senate confirming a third Trump nominee, which would give conservatives a six to three majority on the bench.

Think about this: a President who received three million fewer votes than his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, and who has never once reached 50% public approval, is sending his third Supreme Court pick to the Senate – the upper chamber of Congress – to be confirmed by members of a party that received 20 million fewer votes than Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

Election after election, Democrats receive millions more votes than Republicans in the Senate, yet Democrats have held the legislative chamber for only two of the past 20 years. This is a toxic by-product of the Constitution’s antiquated mechanisms, which grant disproportionate electoral power to the few over the many, with smaller rural states like Wyoming (population 580,000) and Alaska (730,000) having equal representation as large, diverse, liberal states like California (40 million) and New York (20 million).

“Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50% of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told The New York Times in a 2018 interview. “Roughly half the country gets 80% of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20%”.

On almost every single hot-button political issue, from religion to gun control to healthcare to climate change to voting rights to marriage rights to reproductive rights, an overwhelming majority of Americans hold liberal or progressive views, but it’s a hyper-conservative White House, Senate, and Supreme Court that controls the country.

Yet, Trump and the right-wing media ecosystem has somehow convinced roughly 40% of the country that not only are they in the majority, but that liberals are out to rob them of their rightful and deserved place at the top of the political heap.

This myth is radicalising Trump supporters, often consumers of Fox News and conspiracy-theory-fuelled conservative radio, to take up arms against those imagined to be enemies of the “silent majority,” including Antifa, a leaderless anti-fascist group not responsible for a single murder on US soil, Black Lives Matter protesters, racial and cultural minorities, and journalists.

Dr. David Kilcullen, a former soldier and diplomat who is widely considered the world’s leading expert on counter-insurgency strategy, says the US now stands on the precipice of dealing with what he coins a violent right-wing “incipient insurgency,” warning: “Current conditions feel disturbingly similar to things I have seen in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Cambodia”.

On Thursday, the FBI announced it had foiled what would’ve constituted the most egregious terrorist attack on US soil in years, arresting and charging 13 members of a right-wing terrorist group – the Wolverine Watchmen – for plotting to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Ms. Gretchen Whitmer, before Election Day, while setting off a series of bombs under bridges to aid their getaway. This conspiracy was seemingly inspired by Trump, who has urged his supporters to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and praised armed protesters who held the state house hostage for several hours during recent anti-lockdown protests.


Civil War

Prior to the Trump presidency, right wing extremists were driven largely by fears of an expansive federal government, but they were fairly marginal in American politics. However, with a sympathiser in the Oval Office – one who boasts of being a “nationalist,” describes neo-Nazis as “fine people” and encourages them to “stand-by” – these groups now see themselves as protectors of the “silent majority”.

Russ Travers, who served as acting director for the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) until earlier this year, has expressed concern that Trump’s silent majority myth, coupled with his warning that the election promises to be the “most rigged in history” could result in a wave of attacks by supporting militias and extremist groups, if he loses the election.

“I fear there are a lot of people out there with very warped views of reality and a lot of guns who could willingly take up their weapons in defence of what they believe is the President and the constitution,” Travers told ABC News.

Clearly, the news media must do more to challenge this silent majority myth wherever and whenever it is told. It is not only undermining the country’s democratic institutions; it is fomenting civil war.


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