A tense election year in the United States, 2022 was characterized by surging right-wing backlashes.
There was a backlash against the public health protections implemented during the pandemic, such as mask and vaccination requirements. Against women’s rights. Against the teaching of ‘critical race theory’. Against the visibility of LGBT+ people in schools, as well as gay rights more broadly – particularly those of transgender people and their supportive family members.
Yet most Americans are opposed to the MAGA conservative’s agenda of hate and fear that was pushed by some Republican Party leaders and its activist base. As long as it served its purpose, the GOP has been willing to distort reality, fuel irrational fears, and incite violence that motivates conservatives, who are generally more sensitive to threats.
And despite a rigged political system largely designed to keep them down, pro-democracy Americans made themselves heard in some powerful ways – defying expectations in both special and general elections, not least of which involved protecting abortion rights in Kansas, even as the federal right to choose was revoked by an increasingly distrusted Supreme Court.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 left the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a fractured skull.
The brutal assault was allegedly carried out by a misogynistic conspiracy theorist, whose intended target was the longtime Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.
There were also more than 600 mass shootings, including the senseless May 24, 2022, AR-15-style rifle assault at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where police shamefully failed to intervene before a former student at the school fatally shot 19 students and two teachers, as well as wounding 17 other victims.
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 wouldn’t – disarm and restrain the shooter.
The mass shooting at Club Q is not a surprising turn of events in the current climate, as reporter Will Carless pointed 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 maligned by Fox News and other American right-wing media this year, plying insular Americans with more fantasy threats to fear, since support for conservative politicians tends to stem from cowardice.
Drag performances have been falsely conflated with being transgender and there have been intentional efforts to spark a moral panic around the lie that such performances – as well as the mere existence of queer people – represent a danger to children.
With attempts to change state legislation in ways that target children and schools, 2022 has been a record year for state legislation seeking to restrict LGBT+ rights, most of which have encouraged the persecution of transgender people.
Right-wing Americans have been vocally spreading the falsehood that homosexuals are likely to be pedophiles – labeling members of the LGBT+ community ‘groomers’ – at a level of intensity not seen since the 1980s.
These tactics have been so effective in a large number of local school board races, where ridiculous fantasies were kindled into such a mass hysteria that some truly dangerous puritanical politicians have been enabled to disrupt education and damage public schools.
Abortion bans and the midterms
This was also the year in which the Supreme Court overturned its landmark Roe v Wade ruling and with it the constitutional right to privacy that prohibited undue interference with a woman’s right to choose abortion if she wanted to terminate a pregnancy in the early stages.
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 LGBT+ rights rested, at least in part. These laws threaten to force women to give birth to unwanted children, even in cases of rape, incest or dangerous health risks.
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 marginalized 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 by means of 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’ by making false, conspiratorial claims that Barack Obama was born outside the US and therefore ineligible to be president, he has always embodied the deep sickness on America’s extreme right wing of politics.
This sickness does so much harm to our country because of 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 that Republicans have engineered to expand.