It’s not unusual in the current political era to hear the words authoritarianism or fascism or anti-democratic. In previous years, it would have been nearly unheard of for mainstream news network anchors to use these words to describe American politicians and entire political parties. But now, it’s becoming increasingly normalized in an era where Republicans continue to attack democracy at the state and federal levels.
Medhi Hasan, who hosts a show on MSNBC, stated during the summer of 2020:
It’s time in America that we have a proper conversation about the f-word: Fascism… I know, I know. It’s very controversial and people get very uncomfortable when you mention it. But to borrow a line – if not now, when? And if not us, the free press, then who? For far too long, we have shied away from saying the f-word. For a lot of people, calling Donald Trump a fascist was ad hominem, a lazy political insult. It was the liberal who cried wolf. And yet, look what happened the moment he took office.
Dean Obeidallah, a SiriusXM Progress radio show host and MSNBC Opinion Column tributor, noted in an article published one week after the attack on the Capitol:
Experts have documented that the Republican Party in recent years has increasingly rejected democratic norms and embraced autocratic tactics to wield power. An October study by V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden warned that the GOP had already been moving in that direction pre-Trump, but it said that under Trump, with “the disrespect of political opponents” and “the encouragement of violence,” the GOP now more closely resembles authoritarian ruling parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Turkey’s AKP.
In fact, a GOP member of Congress told Politico that days after the siege, the message he heard from his constituents was not shock about the attack but more along the lines of “Do you think that Congress got the message?” And some Republicans noted that constituents such as “preachers, school superintendents, churchgoing men and women,” as Politico reported, were actually cheering on the attack rather than condemning it.
If these polls are accurate, that means 1 in 5 Republicans approve of embracing violence to keep political power. That is the textbook definition of fascism. If this extremist wing of the GOP goes unchecked, it is likely to spread as Republicans become angrier with election losses and resort to attempting to acquire power by using force.
Jelani Cobb, writing for the New Yorker further details the anti-democratic slide of the Republican Party:
…the G.O.P.’s steady drift toward the right, from conservative to reactionary politics; its dependence on older, white voters; its reliance on right-wing media; its support for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; and its increasing disdain for democratic institutions and norms all portend increasing division and a diminishing pool of voters. Republicans, Patterson says, have been depending on a “rear-guard strategy” to “resist the ticking clock of a changing America.” Time may be running out for the Party, as its base ages and dwindles. “Its loyal voters are declining in number and yet have locked the party in place,” Patterson writes. “It cannot reinvent itself without risking their support and, in any event, it can’t reinvent itself in a convincing enough way for a quick turnaround. Republicans have traded the party’s future for yesterday’s America.”
Cobb continues with a rather stark warning from a former Republican official:
Jennifer Horn, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, told me that the G.O.P., in its current incarnation, is “the most open embrace of an anti-democracy movement that we have seen in our country in a very long time.”
We would argue that this is the most open embrace of anti-democracy that we’ve seen at any time in this country’s history.
Horn shows us that not every single Republican has turned against democracy. But Republicans who are desperately trying to salvage a party that crossed the Rubicon into authoritarianism long ago are declining in numbers and influence.
A recent poll commissioned by Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 53% of Republicans believe that Trump remains the “true president.” An additional 8% believe that the election was at least somewhat likely stolen from Trump. It’s not that these numbers for a losing party in a general election are unprecedented, although they are very high. The problem is the context surrounding these numbers where you now have a former president, who incited an insurrection against the US Capitol with members of Congress inside who were certifying the vote of a presidential election, spending months saying that the election was stolen, in addition to the longevity and endurance of Republican election lie intransigence.
Trump’s own officials at the Department of Homeland Security released a statement declaring that the 2020 Election was the most secure in American history. The only reason Republicans are against all of the evidence we have that points to the accuracy and security of last year’s election is that they are turning against democracy itself and embracing authoritarianism.
Republicans won’t necessarily disagree with this. There are some prominent Republicans in Congress who have hinted at democracy becoming a hindrance to their agenda.
Utah Senator Mike Lee stated in a tweet last October:
We’re not a democracy. Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.
The word ‘democracy’ appears nowhere in the Constitution, perhaps because our form of government is not a democracy. It’s a constitutional republic. To me, it matters. It should matter to anyone who worries about the excessive accumulation of power in the hands of the few.
The “we’re not a democracy; we’re a republic” line is often parroted by conservatives. This has always been misleading because they use this to create a false dichotomy between republics and democracies to justify their unpopular political positions. The US is a representative democracy, a democratic republic, and a constitutional republic. It’s all synonymous. It is true that we are not a direct (Athenian) democracy, but we’re not arguing for such a thing.
Conservatives have used this line historically to downplay democracy when it runs against their political ambitions. Senator Lee’s statement came at a time when democracy was already under severe attack from Trump before the 2020 election. So in this context, we can only view Senator Lee’s statement as denouncing democracy itself.
Vox published an article in March with 13 charts showing the depth of the anti-democracy movement in the Republican Party.
At every level, from the elite down to rank-and-file voters, the party is permeated with anti-democratic political attitudes and agendas. And the prospects for rescuing the Republican Party, at least in the short term, look grim indeed.
The first chart is a panel commissioned in late 2020 and early 2021 by the University of Washington. The study found that anti-democratic attitudes run deep throughout the Republican Party.
By 70% to nearly 100%, the Trump voters interviewed embraced highly anti-democratic ideas such as support for Trump’s Big Lie and believing that voting should be made more difficult. Over two-thirds believed that Trump deserved 3 terms in office – not unlike notorious dictators around the world who spend decades in office and claim to have 99% support in elections.
An American Perspectives Survey completed in January 2021 showed that some 39% of Republicans interviewed supported violence if leaders didn’t “act to protect America.” Violence, of course, being the ultimate authoritarian expression. It represents an ominous turn against democracy.
The Global Party Survey in 2019 found that the Republican Party was one of the most anti-democratic political parties in the world.
While Republicans have increased their attacks on democracy on the federal level, for instance, through the abuse of the filibuster, the largest and most enduring attacks remain at the state level where bills are being created, debated, and even passed to roll back voting rights to an unprecedented level not seen since before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Republicans understand that the only way they win going forward is to seriously curtail democracy. Not only is their embrace of Trump a huge turn-off to a strong majority of the US population, but their policies are also trending more unpopular as time goes on amid technological and demographic changes and younger generations who are coming of age under conditions far different than their more conservative parents.
The conservative policies of previous decades have created an increasing imbalance and tension in US society that they’re now having to fight against. The minimum wage is criminally low while the cost of living continues to rise. The so-called American dream remains out of reach for an increasing number of people. Technology continues to have a huge impact on our society in terms of the information available which is causing many to question what they had been taught by their more conservative parents and teachers during their younger years. The youngest generations only know of life with the internet and information at our fingertips. The suppression and oppression of people of color is also becoming more untenable in our changing society. The unprecedented protests following the police murder of George Floyd and the unprecedented support of Black Lives Matter from whites in 2020 create a major problem for conservative and right-wing politics.
Instead of moderating and modifying their politics to match the changing dynamics of our society, a large portion of Republicans have chosen the authoritarian route. They’ve chosen a literal scorched earth strategy. If they can’t hold on to the dying old society, they will burn both this democracy and this country to the ground. For them, democracy is the enemy.
Image Credit: Shay Horse of Getty Images