Max Boot had a recent column in the Washington Post bemoaning poll numbers that seem to show most Americans brushing off the growing danger signals to our democracy. Boot was formerly a Republican; he now considers himself an Independent, and he is appalled by the extent to which the GOP has been co-opted by authoritarians of various varieties.
He is especially baffled by the widespread dismissal of the reality that is before our eyes.
A year after the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol, a CNN poll asked whether it’s likely “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election.” Fifty-one percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats said it’s not at all likely. Only 46 percent of Democrats and independents said that U.S. democracy is under attack, which helps to explain why Democratic candidates aren’t campaigning on defending democracy.
Boot finds this optimism difficult to understand, especially given the constant stream of damning details that emerge daily about Trump’s bizarre behaviors as President, and especially about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The former president “remains the dominant figure within the GOP, which means that most Republicans have tacitly accepted that inciting an insurrection is no big deal.”
Look at what just happened in Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary: J.D. Vance, who had been languishing in third place, won the nomination after Trump endorsed him. A fervent, born-again Trumpkin, Vance told a Vanity Fair reporter that Trump supporters “should seize the institutions of the left” and launch a “de-woke-ification program” modeled on de-Baathification in Iraq. (That worked so well, right?) He says that if Trump wins again in 2024, he should “fire … every civil servant” and “replace them with our people.” If the courts try to stand in the way, ignore them. As Vanity Fair noted, “This is a description, essentially, of a coup.”
Given Trump’s continued popularity within the GOP–some 70% of self-declared Republicans believe the “Big Lie”–and given Biden’s sagging popularity, Boots thinks Trump would easily win the nomination in 2024. He then sketches out a horrific–and all-too-plausible scenario:
His “trump card,” so to speak, is the House, which is likely to be under GOP control after the midterms. CNBC founder Tom Rogers and former Democratic senator Timothy E. Wirth point out in Newsweek that controlling the House would allow Trump to steal the presidency if the election is close.
Republican state legislatures in swing states that Biden (or another Democrat) narrowly wins can claim the results are fraudulent and send in competing slates of electors pledged to Trump. The House and Senate would then vote on which electors to accept. Even if the Senate remains Democratic, a GOP-controlled House could prevent Biden from getting the 270 electoral votes needed to win. It would then fall to the House to decide the presidency.
If that scenario sounds hyperbolic, Boots reminds us that a Russian invasion sounded hyperbolic to most Ukrainians before Feb. 24. He concludes that the only way to avert disaster is to vote Democratic in the fall. It no longer matters if you have policy differences with the Democratic Party, as he has–he says that a vote for the GOP is a vote to dismantle American democracy (or what remains of it).
The question Boots asks, but doesn’t answer, is why so many Americans who haven’t “drunk the Kool-Aid” are nevertheless sanguine about the ability of the nation’s institutions to withstand the fascism growing within. That question reminded me of the mindset of many Germans during Hitler’s rise. With a little Googling, I found a fascinating–albeit very disturbing– interview conducted shortly after the war with a German scholar who lived through that time. The interviewee explained how daily events distracted the population from recognizing the larger trajectory of political authority, and how the accumulating deviations from decency were normalized.
To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head….
You really need to click through and read the entire interview. it’s chilling–and it could happen here far more easily than most of us ever imagined.
Boots concerns are not hyperbolic.