Trump’s threat to democracy is now systemic

Trump’s threat to democracy is now systemic

Ronald Brownstein writes:

The long-awaited federal indictment of Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election may be necessary to contain the threat to American democracy that he has unleashed. But it’s unlikely to be sufficient.

The germ of election denialism that Trump injected into the American political system has spread so far throughout the Republican Party that it is virtually certain to survive whatever legal accountability the former president faces.

With polls showing that most Republican voters still believe the election was stolen from Trump, that the January 6 riot was legitimate protest, and that Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 results did not violate the law or threaten the constitutional system, the United States faces a stark and unprecedented situation. For the first time in the nation’s modern history, the dominant faction in one of our two major parties has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to accept antidemocratic means to advance its interests.

The most telling measure of that dynamic inside the GOP is that Trump remains the party’s central figure. Each time GOP voters and leaders have had the opportunity to move away from him—whether in the shock immediately after January 6, or the widespread disappointment over the poor performance of his handpicked candidates during the 2022 election—the party has sped past the off-ramp.

Polls now show Trump leading in the 2024 GOP presidential race by one of the biggest margins ever recorded for a primary candidate in either party. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has been exploring ways to expunge his two impeachments and/or block the investigations he faces. Even the other candidates ostensibly running against him for the 2024 GOP nomination have almost uniformly condemned the indictments against him, rather than his underlying behavior. Prominent conservatives have argued that Trump cannot receive a fair trial in any Democratic-leaning jurisdiction.

All of these actions measure how much of the GOP is now willing to accept Trump’s repeated assaults on the basic structures of American democracy. While the key state-level Republicans rejected Trump’s direct demands to invalidate the results in their own states, most House Republicans voted to reject the election results and most Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit to decertify the outcome in the key swing states won by President Joe Biden. In the election’s aftermath, the majority of Republican-controlled states, inspired by Trump’s baseless claims of endemic voter fraud, passed laws on a party-line basis making it more difficult to vote, or increasing partisan control over election administration.

Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian who specializes in American politics, told me that U.S. history has no exact precedent for a party embracing a leader so openly hostile to the core pillars of democracy. Presidents have often been accused of violating the Constitution through their policy actions, he said, but there is not another example of a president moving as systematically to “manipulate the apparatus of government or elections in order to subvert the will of the people.” [Continue reading…]

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