In the US, 2022 was a year of right-wing attacks. What lies ahead?
OPINION: It’s a rocky road to a functional democratic future for the US, but fighting injustice is a long-term task
In the United States, 2022 was a tense election year, characterised by surging right-wing backlashes.
There was the backlash against the public health protections implemented in the pandemic, such as mask and vaccination requirements. Against women’s rights. Against the teaching of ‘critical race theory’. Against the visibility of LGBTIQ people in schools, as well as LGBTIQ rights more broadly – particularly those of transgender people and their supportive family members.
Yet most Americans are opposed to this agenda of hate and fear pushed by some of the Republican Party and its activist base. And this year, despite a political system designed to keep us down, we pro-democracy Americans made ourselves heard in some powerful ways – including in both special and general elections, not least in protecting abortion rights in Kansas, even as the federal right to abortion was revoked by an increasingly distrusted Supreme Court.
Mass shootings and trans rights
The year was marred by many noteworthy incidents of political intimidation and violence, including a physical attack on Paul Pelosi in October. The attack, which left Pelosi with a fractured skull, was allegedly carried out by a misogynistic conspiracy theorist, whose target was Pelosi’s wife, Nancy, the longtime Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.
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There have also been more than 600 mass shootings, including the senseless school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May, in which the police shamefully failed to intervene in a timely or effective manner.
In November, five people were killed and 17 injured at Club Q, one of the few queer havens in the largely conservative city of Colorado Springs, Colorado, which is known for its large population of evangelical Christians. The devastating death toll was much lower than it could have been, thanks to brave club patrons who did what the police in Uvalde couldn’t – namely, disarming and restraining the shooter.
The mass shooting at Club Q is not a surprising turn of events in the current climate, as reporter Will Carless points out in USA Today. The attack took place the night before the Transgender Day of Remembrance, for which the club had lined up a variety of drag and gender identity-focused programming.
Such events have been regularly attacked by Fox News and the rest of the American right-wing media this year. Drag performances have been conflated with being transgender and there have been efforts to spark a moral panic around the notion that these performances – as well as queer people – represent a danger to children.
2022 has been a record year for state bills seeking to restrict LGBTIQ rights, most of which have focused on trans rights. Right-wing Americans have also been vocally spreading the falsehood that queer people are likely to be paedophiles – labelling members of the LGBTQ community ‘groomers’ – at a level of intensity not seen since the 1980s.
Abortion bans and the midterms
This was also the year in which the Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling in Roe v Wade, and with it the constitutional right to abortion in the US.
This set off a flurry of state-level abortion bans, gutting not just reproductive rights but also the broader right to privacy on which many subsequent decisions regarding women’s and LGBTQ rights rested, at least in part.
Indeed, Justice Samuel Alito’s infamous decision hinted at the eagerness of the Supreme Court’s radical conservative majority to revoke other civil rights, such as the right of same-sex couples to marry. The rights of all marginalised groups remain severely threatened so long as the balance of the illegitimately stacked right-wing Supreme Court stays the same.
Any opportunity the Democrats might have had to restore fairness via legislation adding justices to the court is gone for the foreseeable future, given that Republicans will control the House of Representatives (one of the two houses of Congress) in the coming year.
Some observers will be tempted to look back at 2022 and see the US’s crisis of democracy as being averted by the results of the midterm elections.
The party that controls the presidency usually loses Congress in the midterms, but this year the Democrats did surprisingly well, managing to hold on to the Senate and defeat many Trump-backed Republican candidates who promoted the so-called ‘big lie’ about the supposedly ‘stolen’ 2020 presidential election.
This is a good thing – and a reason for hope – but it would be supremely naive to assume that it means America’s crisis of democracy is over.
The return of Trump?
Ever since Trump came on the political scene in 2011 as a ‘birther’ (making false, conspiratorial claims that Barack Obama was born outside the US and was therefore ineligible to be president), he has always embodied the deep sickness on the US right.
This sickness does so much harm to our country via the disproportionate power white conservative Christians are given by the electoral college, gerrymandering and voter suppression – all decidedly anti-democratic aspects of the US political system.
Racism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ hostility continue to animate the political right in the US
While it’s important to remember that Trump is a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself, it is symbolically significant that a recent poll shows him easily defeating his main rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, in the Republican primaries. The virulently anti-trans DeSantis is no less authoritarian than Trump, but he lacks the latter’s charisma with the hate-filled Republican base.
If the Republicans were to choose their 2024 presidential candidate today, they would once again opt for Trump – the man largely responsible for the 6 January 2021 insurrection, who has been illegally holding sensitive government documents at his private residence in Mar-a-Lago. Last month he dined there with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West – who was seen wearing a ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirt in October – and Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust denier and white supremacist.
Looking forward from 2022, it is difficult to see a clear path to a functional democratic American future.
Racism, misogyny and anti-LGBTIQ hostility continue to animate a political right characterised by a willingness to hold on to power by any means available. There remains an acute danger of more hate-fuelled violence against members of marginalised groups and high-profile political targets.
That said, surviving – itself a powerful act of defiance – and resisting injustice are long-term endeavours. There are more decent Americans than there are hateful ones, and at some point the latter’s dominance of so many of our institutions must become unsustainable.
One way or another, as the late great singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen put it, “Democracy is coming to the USA.”
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