Donald Trump exited the White House many months ago. Yet, in 2022, Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats talked about him endlessly. The House of Representatives’ “January 6” committee provided a year-long infomercial condemning Trump for conspiratorial and alleged criminal behavior. The Democrats’ Midterms campaign was also focussed on opposing Trump, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. The most striking and bizarre image of the year came in September, when a ”Dark Biden” stood in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia to denounce Trump and his fellow “MAGA Republicans.” He was illuminated in blood-red lighting that drew comparisons with the aesthetics of Nuremberg rallies.
Not only did Biden and the Democrats obsess over Trump in 2022, but they also escalated their rhetoric about him to new extremes. The “January 6” committee and its media mouthpieces constantly referred to that rally / riot on the Capitol as an ‘armed insurrection’. Biden smeared Trump and his supporters as ‘‘semi-fascist.”
Such exaggerated rhetoric has one simple goal: to demonise Trump, to make him out to be much more of a threat than he really is. Yes, some say the former president exhibits authoritarian tendencies. But what is striking is how lousy he is at putting them into action! His “Stop the Steal” process after the 2020 election was offensive to some, ridiculous to others, but he never came close to overturning the election result. His recent call to “terminate” the US Constitution, was taken out of context. There was zero chance that anything would come from it, even if doing so was actually planned.
Over the past year, Trump’s sway over American politics has declined – and yet the Democrats became more obsessed with him than ever. Trump spent most of the year quietly tucked away in Mar-a-Lago. Many of his handpicked Republican candidates for the Midterms were defeated. His announcement that he would be running for president again in 2024 was expected by most. This “foundational threat to the republic” ended the year hawking digital trading cards of himself photoshopped as a superhero and a cowboy, for $99 apiece.
The Democrats claim to hate Trump, and many of them hope to see him thrown in jail. But the reality is they desperately need him. Biden continually resurrects the Trump boogeyman as a foil to define himself against. You could say that this is a ploy of political expediency. In the Midterms, Biden’s warnings about Trumpism were a useful distraction from inflation, urban crime and the other failings of his administration. You could say it worked, as the Democrats hung on to Senate seats and avoided a “red wave.”
But there is more to the Democrats’ anti-Trumpism than partisan politics. It provides a moral basis to their rule: “We’re saving democracy, we’re fighting fascists.” It also offers a rationale for exerting greater state control over political life and society. Biden and the Democrats use the specter of Trump to assert their own brand of authoritarianism.
The debate over “election denialism” reveals how the Democrats’ criticisms of Trump do not mean they are principled defenders of democracy. In a speech at Union Station in Washington, DC in November, Biden warned that “extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections, but elections being held now and into the future.” If casting doubt on elections damages democracy, Democrats are just as guilty of this as “MAGA Republicans.” Democrats claimed Trump’s election in 2016 was illegitimate due to Russian influence (and many still believe that). Leading party figures backed Stacey Abrams’ claims that the Georgia governor race was stolen from her in 2018. And Biden himself showed doubts about democracy when he described Georgia’s changes to its election laws as “Jim Crow 2.0,”adding that those laws could make the Midterm elections in Georgia “illegitimate.”
When it comes to elections, Democrats are just as conspiratorial and anti-democratic as the wackiest Trumpists. In October, Hillary Clinton popped up to pre-emptively question the legitimacy of the 2024 election. “Right-wing extremists already have a plan,” she says in a video, “to literally steal the next presidential election. And they’re not making a secret of it.” Hillary and her friends call their campaign “Crush the Coup,” which sounds awfully similar to Trump’s “Stop the Steal.” But not to worry – the Democrats’ election denialism is the good kind!
If Biden and the Democrats simply criticized Trump for his attacks on democracy, it would be hard to disagree. But they don’t stop there. The Democrats’ denunciations of Trump and his followers are always a prelude to the censorship or repression of those who disagree with them. It’s a classic authoritarian move – “my enemies are so evil and dangerous that every illiberal action we take is justified and moral.”
The Democrats’ authoritarianism is more pervasive and censorious than anything Trump ever tried. In the Biden era, it is the Democrats who increasingly favor government and corporate control of political discourse, especially on social media. A Pew poll in 2021 found that 65 per cent of Democrats agreed that the U.S. government should take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limits freedom of information. Only 28 per cent of Republicans shared that view.