After Hurricane Ian devastated Florida in late September, the U.S. state’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis used some unusual language to criticize American press coverage of the storm. He said the “national regime media” had wanted to see Ian hit the city of Tampa, which ended up largely spared, because that outcome would have been “worse for Florida” and helped the media to “pursue their political agenda.” DeSantis’ claims were strange and baseless—there’s no evidence that journalists were rooting for harm to Tampa or anyplace else—but they were also part of a trend among politicians and others on the right in America to speak of ominous “regime” that’s both opposed to their party and subverting their country. Far-right members of the U.S. House of Representatives—such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Paul Gosar—have been railing against the “Biden regime,” but many more across the American right argue that an oppressive regime extends far beyond government to the press, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and “woke” corporations. Ohio’s Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance claimed that the far-right media personality and conspiracy theories Alex Jones was “censored by the regime.” The former Trump national security official Michael Anton has described a “regime” composing “the people who really run the United States of America.” What are they talking about?
Laura K. Field is a scholar-in-residence at American University and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center in Washington. Field says the adoption of the language of “the regime” has quickly become a kind of catch-all term among people in quarters of the American right for any number of political and cultural power centers that they perceive to be working against them and wielding power illegitimacy. As Field sees it, the rising popularity of the term is an indicator of how radical ideas are migrating from the far-right fringe of politics into the mainstream—often popularized by niche intellectuals and other ideological entrepreneurs and then embraced by politicians, media commentators, and other influencers. Field notes that many of these figures have tried to articulate intellectual frameworks to support Donald Trump’s politics since 2016 and are now working to develop a form of right-wing populism that can outlast Trump. It’s a populism that’s centered on their understanding of America’s distinctive history and strengths but that also now targets some of America’s core institutions—and shows signs of potentially even rejecting the country’s liberal-democratic system itself.
Graham Vyse: What’s “the regime”?
Laura K. Field: Social scientists commonly use the term regime to refer to a system of government, but we haven’t much heard this term in mainstream U.S. political conversation until quite recently. It’s now being taken up by a constellation of politicians, public commentators, and intellectuals aligned with Donald Trump—a broad group often labeled “the new right”—who’ve started giving the term a specific, negative, even cynical, new meaning in the American context.
They mean it to portray the Biden administration as an effectively authoritarian government colluding with progressives who control the media, the universities, and a “woke” elite that dominates the corporations. There’s a clearly sinister edge to the rhetoric, tying in with the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen and Biden’s government is fraudulent—while also conveying a broader sense that the left is exerting despotic power over Americans, and against Republicans in particular, in all kinds of illegitimate ways. It’s very all-encompassing and, notably, very threatening.
Vyse: Where did the rhetoric come from?