Opinion | Trump Poses a Test Democracy Is Failing

In an earlier article in the September 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Fragile Republic: American Democracy Has Never Faced So Many Threats at Once,” Lieberman and Mettler argue that

For the first time in its history, the United States is facing all four threats at the same time. It is this unprecedented confluence, rather than the rise to power of any particular leader, that underlies the contemporary crisis of American democracy. The threats have become deeply entrenched and are likely to linger and wreak havoc for some time.

Trump, the authors argue,

he has ruthlessly exploited these growing divisions to divert attention from his administration’s poor response to the pandemic and to attack those he perceives as his personal or political enemies. The chaotic elections that have occurred during the pandemic, in Wisconsin and Georgia, for example, have underscored the heightened risk to American democracy posed by threats today. The situation is serious.

What danger do Trump and his allies still pose? I asked Pepinsky how likely it is that undemocratic politicians will use democratic elections to achieve their ends. He replied by email:

It’s very possible, I’m not sure how likely, but it’s entirely possible. The GOP’s rhetoric is clear about what it believes a GOP-led government should be able to implement, and the party has repeatedly shown that it is unwilling to sanction its most visible political figure for clearly illegal and undemocratic behavior. And the Republican machinery at the state level is mobilizing to fill election bureaucracies with curious conspiracy lickers who would like nothing more than to refuse to certify elections won by Democrats. The threat is real.

Lieberman, in turn, emphasized in an email the key role of white discontent as a factor in the crisis facing American democracy:

The perception among many white Americans that their status at the top of the political hierarchy is eroding is undoubtedly a critical factor fueling the crisis in American democracy today. This is a recurring pattern in American history: When advocates of an expanded and more diverse democracy gain power, those with stakes in old hierarchies and patterns of exclusion are often willing to defy democratic norms and practices to remain in power. the power.

But, Lieberman continued,

it is not necessarily inevitable that the defenders of the old hierarchies will find refuge in the mainstream of a major political party, which lends credibility and political strength to their goals. When that has happened, as it did with the Democrats in the 1880s and 1890s, the result has been disastrous democratic backsliding. But in the 1960s, by contrast, a coalition of Northern Democrats and Republicans was able to defeat these anti-democratic forces, at least for a short time.

Republican efforts to take control of elections through state laws that give local legislatures the power to override election results, as well as field candidates for secretary of state who espouse the view that 2020 were stolen, they are worrying, to say the least.

Donald Moynihan, professor of public policy at Georgetown University, and author of “Delegitimization, Deconstruction, and Control: Undermining the Administrative State” in the current edition of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, wrote by email that he is “more concerned about the decline of democracy spurred by formal changes in the law than by events like January 6.”

Moynihan noted that at 3:32 a.m. on January 7, hours after Trump-spurred protesters invaded the U.S. Capitol, most House Republicans

voted not to accept the results of the last elections. This represents a startling signal from a group of elected officials of their willingness to play hardball in the proceedings to change democratic outcomes. State legislatures are passing laws that restrict individual rights through democratic means and are also changing powers in a way that can ensure Republican victories. It is quite possible to imagine how newly elected state and local election officials who believe Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election would make decisions refusing to certify free and fair elections.

Now it is possible, continued Moynihan,

provide for some state legislatures to use fraudulent fraud claims as an excuse to select a list of voters according to their partisan interests rather than the actual outcome of their election. This is not the most likely outcome, but it is significantly more likely than it was a couple of years ago. The confluence of events – a close election in swing states, allegations of fraud, state legislatures stepping in to pick the winner, and a Republican majority in Congress backing this up – is an entirely plausible democratic process for undoing democracy.

Partisan polarization has pushed Americans not only into mutually exclusive political parties, but also into two clashing civic cultures.

In a March 2022 article, “’Good Citizens’ in Democracy’s Difficult Times,” Sara Wallace Goodman of the University of California, Irvine, examined the growing disagreement among voters about what the duties of a good citizen are.

Goodman compared voter attitudes about what constitutes “good citizen” standards in 2004 and 2019. A surprisingly high level of agreement between Republicans and Democrats in 2004 had all but disappeared by 2019, according to his research:

Where 15 years earlier the only difference between supporters was helping others (and the difference was slight), we see in this second snapshot (2019) several elements of disagreement. In the United States, Democrats are more likely to value associative life and respect for the opinions of others as values ​​of good citizenship. Additionally, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on “helping others” has widened significantly. For Republicans, respondents are significantly more likely to value obeying the law. This represents a clear erosion of the overlapping norms, in almost all elements.

In his March 2022 article “Moderation, Realignment, or Transformation? Evaluating Three Approaches to America’s Crisis of Democracy,” Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and author of “Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop,” argues that neither moderation nor realignment is adequate to address the current problems of American democracy. :

Only reforms that fundamentally shake political coalitions and electoral incentives can break the growing vicious cycle of bipartisan hyperpartisanship that is destroying the foundations of American democracy.

Drutman argues that moderation is useless because

In politics today, with national identity, racial calculus, and democracy itself front and center in partisan conflict, it is difficult to understand moderation as a middle ground when there is no clear compromise on what are increasingly issues of zero sum. This is where the principle of moderation falls especially short. If one party or both parties have no interest in moderation or interparty compromise, would-be “moderates” cannot cross an impassable chasm.

How about a realignment in which the Democratic Party more firmly regains its majority status?

Drutman writes in his essay:

Any future scenario in which the Democrats achieve a decisive and sustainable national majority is a future in which the Republican Party will almost certainly be led by the illiberal radicals who have been gaining power within the party for years as the liberal Republicans as a child they have fled the country. party. In short, “realignment” in the form of a prolonged period of Democratic majority rule offers no clear solution. It collides with important structural obstacles. And the more likely it seems, the more likely it is to push the GOP into even more radical insurrectionism.

Indeed, Drutman’s basic argument is that “there is no viable solution to the current crisis within the two-party system itself, given the growing polarization and extremist trajectory of the Republican Party.”

According to Drutman, “this type of polarization, which implies not only (or not) a political agreement, but a deep mistrust of fellow citizens, is a very typical precursor to democratic decline.” On the contrary, “in more proportional systems, hatred towards external parties is rarer and tends to be directed only towards extreme parties.”

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