Michael Podhorzer is a keen political analyst who the assistant to the president for strategic research for the AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 labor unions representing 12.5 million members. His observations in this post are well worth reading.

His insightful article begins:

When, in the Dobbs decision, Samuel Alito declared that Roe v. Wade had been “wrongly decided,” he succinctly stated the credo of a resurgent revanchist coalition that believes the Twentieth Century was wrongly decided. Over the last two decades, the Supreme Court has been instrumental in advancing this coalition’s agenda, which is to dismantle the New Deal order and reverse the civil and social rights gains made since the postwar period.

The execution of this agenda has been nothing short of a slow-motion coup against our freedoms. The Supreme Court has not only transformed itself into a democratically unaccountable lawmaking body; it has used this illegitimate power to create a one-way ratchet that makes the rest of our system less democratically accountable. Yet no matter how many times the Court tightens this ratchet, our political and opinion leaders keep asking whether the Court risks losing its legitimacy if it keeps this up – not what we should do now that legitimacy is a distant memory at best.

We hear of “conservative” judges, yet not one of the six Republican-appointed justices demonstrate fealty to any consistent set of principles beyond giving more power to the gatekeepers who put them on the Court. Instead, we must call them the Federalist Society justices. All six are current or former members of the Federalist Society, an enterprise sponsored by right wing billionaires and corporations whose intention was capture of the legal system – and capture it they did. They knew this capture would be necessary in order to implement their agenda, since they couldn’t count on the majority of Americans to vote against their own rights and freedoms.

The campaign to repeal and replace the 20th century is an extremely well-funded enterprise, organized by people who have never made any secret of their plans. None of this is happening by accident.

Yet for the most part, media coverage of SCOTUS continues to focus on the details of the individual cases on the docket: the arguments each side is putting forth, the likelihood that certain justices will find those arguments persuasive, and what a “win” for either side could look like. In the context of our current crisis, however, doing this is like narrating each segment of a bullet’s trajectory without naming the assassin or his target.

In this post, we’ll take a few steps back from that “what did the bullet do today” perspective.

  1. The Coalition Against the Twentieth Century – This section identifies the antagonists, outlines how they came together through the Southern Strategy, and shows how two historical accidents – the 2000 presidential elections and the 2010 midterms – enabled the massive power grabs that have brought us to our current crisis.
  2. The Originalist Con – This section reveals just how blatant and unprincipled the Federalist Society Majority has been in its execution of the coalition’s agenda.
  3. The Federalist Society Majority Juggernaut – This section lays out the enormous progress the Federalist Society Majority has already made to overturn the “wrongly decided” 20th century. This has included giving MAGA state legislatures new license to curtail voting rights and gerrymander themselves impregnable majorities that closely resemble the region’s one-party authoritarian rule during the Jim Crow era.
  4. No Longer Legitimate? We conclude with a look at how the Court’s “crisis of legitimacy” is actually a crisis for American democracy as a whole.

The Coalition Against the Twentieth Century

This revanchist coalition has two factions, which have come together through the Federalist Society to capture the nation’s legal system. One faction, which I call the MAGA industrial complex, is a symbiotic combination of white grievance media (e.g. Fox, Breitbart), white Evangelical churches and their political expressions dedicated to white Christian nationalism, as well as supremacist militias and the NRA.

When most of us hear “Make America Great Again,” we think of voters in their MAGA caps being stoked on by white grievance entrepreneurs like Trump and Tucker Carlson. We should instead be thinking of the elites and institutions that helped make MAGA one of America’s most successful political movementsto date. We know, for instance, that the white Christian nationalist movement was built not around a moral concern for fetal life, but around panic over the court-ordered revocation of tax-exempt status for religious schools—particularly Bob Jones University, as well as the private religious “segregation academies” that were founded in response to Brown v. Board of Education.¹

The other faction in the coalition against the 20th century consists of the plutocrats and rapacious capitalists whose efforts long predate Trump and MAGA. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful until the 1960’s. Until then, the Republican Party, which was the party of business, nonetheless acquiesced to the New Deal order. This sentiment was famously expressed by President Eisenhower:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

The Southern Strategy

And then … in 1964 that “splinter” of “Texas oil millionaires” and “conservative” activists wrested the Republican presidential nomination for Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was trounced by 23 points. But rather than dispatching the Goldwater forces to the dustbin of history, this defeat simply convinced many that they would have to give ground on their ambition of electing anyone as “pure” as Goldwater. They were ready when, in 1968, Nixon reversed his position on civil rights, becoming the candidate that fused segregationists’ racist agenda with the traditional Republican business agenda. Nixon’s narrow victory in 1968 was deceptive. George Wallace siphoned off 14 percent of the most extremist voters, and combining Wallace’s and Nixon’s vote share reveals that there was a substantial majority consisting of Democrats (the backlash to the Civil and Voting Rights Acts) and traditional Republican voters. Kevin Phillips best laid out this blueprint in his book The Emerging Republican Majority.

We generally think of the success of the Southern Strategy depending on the direct appeals of national Republicans to southern segregationist Democrats, with those voters changing their party affiliation without changing any of their values. The following map makes vivid something that has gone remarkably unnoticed. As Robert Jones and others have documented, from even before the Civil War, Christian churches played a critical role providing the “moral” basis for white supremacy. In this period, southern Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches continued to provide essential organizational scaffolding for preserving those attitudes and the salience of “social” issues in the region.

Map of U.S. showing regions shaded by religious denomination

Source: American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips

The Tea Party & the Takeover of the Republican Party

Until the election of Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders placated the reactionary, nativist, white Christian faction of the party by nominating right-wing judges and embracing the dog whistles and symbolism of white Christian identity, while making little or no progress reversing the civil rights gains of the 1960’s. Indeed, as late as 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized with nearly unanimous congressional support, with Bush claiming credit. This White House press releaseannouncing Bush’s signing would be unimaginable coming from any MAGA Republican now.

We very much remember the 2000 election for its razor thin margin and the Supreme Court brazenly intervening to stop the count and select Bush. But we have all but forgotten that the reason the race was as close as it was can be attributed to Bush’s consolidation of the white Evangelical establishment, and with it, Bible Belt voters that made the race that close in the first place.² While Clinton won the Bible Belt by a hair in 1996, Gore lost it by 12 points – and more consequentially, he lost the electoral votes in 7 Bible Belt states Clinton had won.³ And Kerry would lose the region by an even larger margin, 16 points. Bush stressed his own born again experience and did much for the white Christian establishment, including his “faith based” initiatives.

In response to Obama’s victory – and McCain and the Republican establishment’s immediate acceptance of his legitimacy – the nativist faction formed the Tea Party and focused on developing a political strategy to purge the Republican Party of “RINOs.” The last straw for this faction was Romney’s nomination and defeat. They revolted against the business wing’s “Autopsy” report, which in 2013 urged the GOP to moderate on immigration policies and dampen its racial rhetoric to stay competitive in an increasingly diverse electorate. Trump rushed into that political vacuum, smearing Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. Crucially, unlike Goldwater, who faced a uniformly hostile and demeaning national media, Trump now had the advantage of the extensive right-wing media system that had since been established, which proved essential to his nomination and victory.

Please continue reading this deeply informed post about the underlying trends that have shaped the present moment in American politics.