Murray State University historian Brian Clardy says it’s past time for the Democrats to start reminding voters — loudly, clearly and unceasingly — precisely where Donald Trump and the Trumpian Republicans are steering the country:
Straight toward white supremacy and authoritarianism.
“This is not bean-bagging,” he said. “This is not cocktail party conversation. This is real. This is serious, and it is frightening.”
Clardy said he could sense a white backlash building on the very day Barack Obama was sworn in as president. A Kentucky delegate to the 2016 Democratic national convention, he was in the crowd on Jan. 20, 2017.
“While we’re celebrating here in Washington, folks back home are seething,” he said to a woman standing near him.
“[Trumpism] started with the rise of the Tea Party,” he said. “That was a precursor to what we saw with Trump, saw on Jan. 6, and are seeing in these violent right-wing militias who feel emboldened by the last president and who are organizing and growing.”
Meanwhile, the GOP relentlessly demagogues against the Democrats, falsely portraying them as “radical socialists” and even “communists.” Yet the Democrats, in the main, hold back from calling out Trumpism what it is – a racist, anti-democratic movement that embraces violence and vigilantism and borders on neo-fascism.
Democrats must fight back
Clardy is hardly alone in begging the Democrats to fight back harder against Trump and Trumpian Republicans, who dominate the party.
“The country is sleepwalking its way into an authoritarian overthrow of democracy,” warned Slate’s Amanda Marcotte. “ ... But it doesn’t have to be this way. ... Democrats have real power, and even if a couple of no-good centrist Democrats are standing in the way of electoral reform, there are surely other actions that could be taken to stop Trump.”
She didn’t hold back: “A lack of imagination and political cowardice, however, is inducing this attitude of helplessness in Democrats. And it’s one that Trump will all too easily exploit to get his way.”
Clardy said Democrats seem to think that successfully enacting their economic program to benefit workaday Americans will be enough to hold the House and Senate in 2022 and keep Biden in the White House in 2024.
“Yes, we need to create jobs,” he said. “Yes, we need to stabilize the economy. Yes, we need to bring inflation down. Yes, we need to bring down gas prices and food prices. That’s par for the larger course.
“But the Democrats have to remind folks in 2022 and 2024 that democracy itself is on trial. The Republicans looked the other way on Jan. 6, and they looked the other way with [Arizona Republican Rep. Paul] Gosar. If they’re willing to do that, what else are they capable of doing to undermine this democratic republic?”
Vox’s Zack Beauchamp echoes Clardy and Marcotte: “Blocking an inquiry into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, embracing Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ that the election was stolen, making it easier for partisans to tamper with the process of counting votes: These are not the actions of a party committed to the basic idea of open, representative government.”
Don't mince words – call it what it is
Labeling Republican actions “anti-democratic ... can only go so far” because “it tells us what they’re moving America away from, but not where they want to take it,” he argued. “The term ‘minority rule‘ is closer, but euphemistic; it puts the Republican actions in the same category as a Supreme Court ruling, counter-majoritarian moves inside a democratic framework rather than something fundamentally opposed to it.”
More Americans are falling for the “authoritarian temptation”
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post wrote that it’s not just GOP bigwigs and bankrollers driving the Trump Train. “Alas, the authoritarian temptation is luring millions of Americans away from the democratic experiment.”
The U.S. has always been the most conservative and most capitalist industrial democracy. Rubin, a former Republican, pointed to a Morning Consult poll that showed Americans are far more amenable to right-wing authoritarianism than Australians, Canadians or the British.
“26% of the U.S. population qualified as highly right-wing authoritarian, Morning Consult research found, twice the share of the No. 2 countries, Canada and Australia,” she wrote. “This means that a large percentage of Republicans — that is, tens of millions of Americans — embrace an authoritarianism defined ‘as the desire to submit to some authority, aggression that is directed against whomever the authority says should be targeted, and a desire to have everybody follow the norms and social conventions that the authority says should be followed.’”
Rubin added that the poll showed “this inclination to follow a demagogue and to reject democratic values is more pronounced [here] than in other Western democracies.”
What’s at stake in 2024
“What’s at stake if Trump wins in 2024? Single-party authoritarian rule” warned a grabber headline over a Hill story about that Senate Judiciary Report titled “Subverting Justice: How the Former President and His Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election.”
Opinion contributor Kimberly Wehle called it a “bombshell report” that “painted a disturbing picture of what the United States could become if something drastic isn’t done to halt the slide into single-party rule — and soon.”
Maybe I missed it. But it seems the Democrats haven’t made all that much of the report.
“No words can overstate the threat to U.S. democracy right now,” Wehle continued. “With gerrymandering, anti-voting laws, unprecedented laws that change who counts the votes, and the Big Lie messaging that sets Republicans up to cancel validly-cast votes come November 2024, it may be too late to save it.”
Warned Wehle: “At the very least, Democrats need to wake up from their frightening state of denial and take whatever measures they can in the scant remaining months of their congressional majority to try to salvage democracy from single-party authoritarian rule.”
Wehle cited comedian and HBO host Bill Maher‘s “chilling, must-watch preview of the U.S. 2024 presidential election” which ended with his warning, “I hope I scared the shit out of you. Yes, we should all be scared.”
Wehle found the Senate report particularly worrisome because it foreshadowed “how former President Trump will undoubtedly again abuse the Justice Department if he or one of his allies becomes president in 2025. ... What America is facing with a possible second Trump presidency is the potential for widespread spying, bullying, and retaliation of U.S. citizens based on their perceived loyalty or disloyalty to the Oval Office occupant.”
Marcotte also wrote about the report, explaining that “Senate Republicans are defending Trump on the grounds that this effort [to subvert the election] failed, which ... is the equivalent of saying attempted murder isn’t a real crime.”
Marcotte said Senate Republicans are also taking up for Trump because they figure he’ll “run again in 2024 — and will try to steal the election again, as well — and he does so with the full support of the GOP establishment, which is manipulating state election laws to make it easier for Trump next time.”
The Trump Republicans are following the classic authoritarian playbook
Trump’s rise “is, in many ways, a classic of the autocratic genre,” Brian Klaas wrote in the Washington Post. ”A populist leader rose to power, attacked the press, politicized the rule of law, threatened to jail his opponents, demonized minorities, praised dictators abroad, spread conspiracy theories and lies, and then sought to seize power despite losing an election. When such despotic figures emerge in democracies, their political party has two options: push back against the would-be despot while reasserting democratic principles, or remake the party in his image. Republicans have quite clearly chosen the latter path. The big question now is: Can this be reversed?”
He doubts that it can. “The conclusion is depressing, but we must face reality: The battle for the Republican Party is over. The Trumpian authoritarians have won – and they’re not going to be defeated by pro-democracy Republicans anytime soon.”
Meanwhile, the world is watching.
How much further will U.S. democracy deteriorate?
For the first time, the U.S. has made the Swedish-based International IDEA think tank’s annual list of “backsliding” democracies, The Guardian reported on Monday.
The group said America’s “backsliding episode began at least in 2019.” It explained that “a historic turning point came in 2020-21 when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States.”
The Guardian quoted IDEA Secretary Gen. Kevin Casas-Zamora: “the visible deterioration of democracy in the United States, as seen in the increasing tendency to contest credible election results, the efforts to suppress participation (in elections). and the runaway polarization ... is one of the most concerning developments.”
Clardy is worried that the U.S will continue to backslide. “I am fearful of where Trump is taking the republic. I’ve been especially upset since Jan. 6. I’m afraid if [Trumpism] continues to unfold, our liberal democracy will be on life support, and this country will be in deeper trouble than we can imagine.”
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