Meet John McGraw, This Year’s Joe the Plumber

“You bet I liked it,” he told “Inside Edition” when asked about the rally. “Clocking the hell out of that big mouth.” Of the victim, he said: “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me … and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.” He added: “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

That was 78 year old John McGraw justifying his assault on Rakeem Jones during a Trump rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayeville, NC on March 9.

There is so much wrong with this that it is difficult to know where to start.

But let’s start with the dangerous confluence of Authoritarianism and Populism that has become the Trump campaign.

Trump didn’t invent this particular type of appeal, nor is he even the first. This particular philosophy has been growing over the past 25 years in western Democracies.

Le Pen in France dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail of history”. Fortuyn was assassinated in the Netherlands in 2002, but his anti-immigrant anti-Muslim party has grown to become the second largest in the Dutch parliament. The Swiss People’s Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Swedish Democrats, and the Danish People’s Party have all been gaining support. Hungary is now building a wall to keep out immigrants because of the success of the Jobbik neo-fascist party in that country.

These parties are attracting radical right wingers because of their Authoritarian stands. But they are also drawing center-left less educated men and the economically marginalized because of their populism.

What’s happening?

Long-term dramatic demographic, economic, and social change going on in western democracies. The Great Recession is still being felt in much of the industrialized world. Gender and sexual roles are also changing as the LGBT community gains rights and legal protection. Globalization, immigration, and the aging baby boom left less educated elderly citizens older citizens fearful of being marginalized and left behind in countries that they felt they helped build.

In the 2011 World Values Survey, almost half of those in the US who didn’t graduate from college approved of having a strong leader unchecked by elections and Congress. Normally we would only expect to see these sorts of results in countries like Russia who don’t have our strong democratic tradition.

The Republican Party didn’t create this gap between the emotionally disenfranchised and the “elites”, but they did give voice to those who objected to social and political change. They become the “party of no” the day after Barack Obama was elected. That immediately legitimized a whole set of conspiracy theorists who previously were forced to live on the loony fringe. Fox News jumped at the opportunity to pander to this audience with a daily concoction of tabloid fiction that they claimed the liberal media was too biased to air. Finally the Tea Party first gave structure to what has become a political movement. Now this same revolution has turned upon those who used anger and fear for political gain. The new authoritarian populists are blaming the Republican Party leaders that they helped elect for the failure to stem the tide of social, demographic, and financial change.

The result is clear in the words of John McGraw.

Those who are outspoken and disagree with us deserve the beating that they receive from us.

Tolerance for gay marriage, sexual equality, and social diversity is condemned as “political correctness”. We denounce political correctness.

Anyone of color may be a terrorist. Those who are terrorists deserve to be killed. We will do our duty to protect this country from terrorists.

Whether or not Trump is elected, he and his followers have articulated a new brutalism and intolerance, altering what’s speakable in American politics.

The chilling difference between the US and Europe is that parliamentary democracies have many methods to limit the power of populist authoritarian parties. In our representative two party democracy, the authoritarian populists may be able to take over the Republican Party. Then that party will have to decide whether they are willing to trade all of their past principles for the opportunity to remain in power. Those principles of sound government and fiscal responsibility have already been severely damaged by the actions of the last eight years.

More concerning, however, is how this angry violent bigoted xenophobic subset of the voting public is going to handle defeat. I don’t believe that they are going to accept it graciously.

It is fascinating to consider that those who most fear the “enemy within” may in fact become the very instrument of destruction of the democracy that they claim they are protecting.

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