Right-wing leaders often appropriate progressive themes by calling for rule by “the people,” equal opportunity, and “equality” feminism. Their rhetoric has convinced many voters that the Right offers a more fair and direct form of democratic representation than that offered by liberals and progressives.1 But an accurate analysis of the Right’s agenda reveals that, while it embraces the rhetoric of democracy, it promotes a constricted, shrunken version of democracy. It’s a version that resembles the United States political landscape before the New Deal reforms of the 1930s and 1940s. By defining democracy in its narrowest sense, the contemporary Right claims the mantle of democracy, even though, since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, its campaigns, policies, and initiatives have attacked democratic principles and undermined democratic practices.
Progressives have a gut-level understanding that the Right is anti-democratic, so when we fight the Right’s agenda, we often say we are “defending democracy.” But what exactly do we mean by that? How do progressives define the “democracy” that we are defending? What definition of democracy does the Right use? What change does the Right intend to bring to society as a whole? What is its overarching vision, and how does that vision alter democracy as progressives define it?