Well, that was a dud. Not the abortive “red wave,” but the Democratic expectation (read: ill-disguised hope) that “election deniers” would disrupt polling places on Tuesday with violence and intimidation. In October, a national security bulletin had warned that poll workers were at physical risk from homegrown election terrorists. The Justice Department let it be known that it was monitoring threats against election employees. Illinois officials installed panic buttons and security locks in election offices. People using ballot drop-off boxes were said to be at risk of violent intimidation from crazed MAGA supporters. Michigan anticipated that right-wing poll watchers would disrupt ballot tabulation in Detroit. Election-deniers who had run for office and lost would allegedly refuse to concede defeat, putting “democracy,” in establishment parlance, at further risk. “We could be six days away from losing our rule of law,” warned historian Michael Beschloss, who wondered “whether our children will be arrested and conceivably killed.”
None of these predictions panned out. There was no electoral violence or intimidation. No one mobbed ballot boxes or election offices. As of this writing, political election-deniers who lost their races have accepted defeat.
We have been through this hysteria before. Predictions of right-wing violence are now a standard feature of Democratic rhetoric. In the lead-up to January 6, 2022 (the one-year anniversary of the 2021 Capitol riot), the media, politicians, and the Biden national-security apparatus warned that “domestic violent extremists” were likely to strike again. Washington, D.C., was reportedly on edge in anticipation of the MAGA rebels. As it turned out, January 6, 2022, was notable only for the maudlin theatrics of newly patriotic Democrats, who softly sang “God Bless America” in a candlelight vigil on the Capitol steps, as calm engulfed them.
During the previous year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security had issued regular warnings about election-denying terrorism. The summer of 2021, August 2021, September 2021—all provoked a satisfying increase in alerts and in precautionary barricades and bollards. And still, the right-wing terrorists did not strike. However loathsome and despicable the mob violence of January 6, 2021, it has proved to be a one-off perpetrated by ill-informed hotheads who got lamentably carried away during one very particular historical moment. (The Paul Pelosi attack is one possible exception to this no-repetition rule.)
The “violent election-deniers” narrative is a subset of the larger white supremacist conceit so beloved of President Joe Biden. Biden has regularly speechified about the enduring strain of white supremacy in the American character and about its salience for contemporary street violence. In September 2022, for example, the president convened a White House summit against racism and right-wing hate. His portrayal of U.S. history consisted of one dispiriting atrocity after another:
There is a through-line of hate from massacres of Indigenous people, to the original sin of slavery, the terror of the Klan, to anti-immigration violence against the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Mexicans, and so many others laced throughout our history.
There is a through-line of violence against religious groups: antisemitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh.
Look, folks, and that through-line of hate never fully goes away. It only hides. . . . And when given any oxygen, it comes out from under the rocks.
(A signal feature of a Biden anti-hate speech is the implication that without the president to reprimand us, Americans would be just fine with a return of the Ku Klux Klan. “White supremacists will not have the last word,” he announced righteously in September. “And this venom and violence cannot be the story of our time.”)
The enduring mystery is why any non-white person would ever voluntarily enter this hotbed of hatred and violence. Yet not only do Third World “people of color” choose to come to the U.S., they do so by the millions, legally and illegally. There is no comparable exodus out on the part of migrants, belatedly schooled in American bigotry. Perhaps they know something about hate elsewhere that Biden and other proponents of the “endemic white supremacy” narrative are ignorant of.
Maintaining that narrative requires distorting the truth. In this latest “I will defeat white hate” speech, Biden predictably slotted in a reference to anti-Asian hate crimes and to the 2021 massage-parlor massacre in Atlanta. Yet anti-Asian hate crimes are overwhelmingly committed by blacks. And the massage-parlor massacre had nothing to do with race but was driven by religiously driven sexual guilt.
No matter. The fiction of a white-supremacist, election-denying terror threat has allowed an expansion of government power and a wide-ranging assault on merit and speech. Biden boasts that on his first day in office, he directed national security officials to develop a strategy for countering domestic terrorism, focused exclusively on white supremacists. His since-discontinued Disinformation Governance Board would have surveilled and censored social media users who challenged the validity of elections—something that remains the prerogative of every American, even if those challenges are baseless. The right to free expression is not contingent on the truth of one’s speech. Private companies, whether in media, finance, or tech, routinely censor speakers they deem bigoted. The idea that white Americans can’t stop discriminating against people of color, even to the point of violence, has unleashed an avalanche of merit-destroying race and sex preferences throughout science, medicine, law, business, government, and education. Voting procedures are being recklessly loosened on the false theory that voter-identification requirements represent a ploy to disenfranchise minority voters. The focus on fictional white-supremacist, election-doubting violence allows Democrats to deny the real source of street violence in the U.S.: inner-city criminals, further emboldened by post-George Floyd depolicing, decriminalization, and decarceration.
The lack of electoral violence this week will have no effect on the dominant Democratic narrative. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced on Thursday that “there is still work to be done” with regards to “rejecting . . . those who would use violence to overthrow democracy.” The Democrats’ unexpected wins will only embolden their commitment to a racialist discourse directed against half the country and against its founding institutions. If Republicans don’t fight back harder against that narrative, they may find themselves with fewer and fewer means of doing so. That is a threat to democracy that is worth worrying about.
Photo by Nick Wagner/Xinhua via Getty Images