The traditional horse race politics of Democrat versus Republican are being supplanted by a more fundamental confrontation between defenders of our democracy, flawed as it is, and those who call themselves patriots while pursuing authoritarianism. The Republican Party, in thrall to the cult of Donald Trump, is openly professing subversion of elections. Allied with armed militias, the GOP and its backers are working to bend or break the institutions of government.
“We are in a crisis of democracy. We are not approaching a constitutional crisis; the crisis is upon us. And the question is: What do we do about it,” Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation, asked on the Democracy Now! news hour.
President Joe Biden gave a primetime speech last week on the threats to democracy, calling out Donald Trump by name and repeatedly referencing “MAGA Republicans,” the now-dominant “Make America Great Again” GOP faction entirely servile to Trump that embraces his lie that he won the 2020 election. Biden’s backdrop was Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where two foundational documents of the United States were debated and signed: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said. “They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th, brutally attacking law enforcement, not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but…as patriots. They see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections. They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.”
Traditionally, Republicans leaned on voter suppression as one of their key tactics. In 1980, conservative Republican activist Paul Weyrich said in a speech: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now … our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Now, Trump allies are seeking to more directly intervene in elections. The Brennan Center for Justice recently wrote a letter to state Associations of Election Officials, saying, “Insider threats are not a new phenomenon, nor are they unique to election security, but the current participation of election deniers in the election process, and active recruitment of more, has sparked an increase in breaches of the physical security of election equipment…those who manufacture distrust in elections use false claims that security has been breached or chain of custody broken as part of their efforts.”
CNN obtained a video of a Michigan GOP training session for poll workers, with party officials instructing people to break election laws by infiltrating polling places to challenge voters, take video recordings illegally, and other actions to disrupt voting.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis created the nation’s first “election police force,” with armed officers tasked with ferreting out election fraud that even DeSantis admits is almost non-existent. In August, this new police force arrested 20 people, mostly Black men, for voting after believing their right to vote as former felons had been restored. Many of them now face up to five years in prison. The chilling message is clear: voting while Black can be dangerous.
Trump-allied election deniers are also seeking higher office, winning Republican primaries with pledges to “decertify the 2020 election,” a key Trump demand. Kari Lake, a former newscaster who is Arizona’s Republican candidate for governor, has taken the pledge despite the fact that no such legal decertification process exists. Three Republican candidates for Secretary of State and Pennsylvania’s Republican candidate for governor, along with scores of county clerk candidates have all embraced Trump’s 2020 election lies. These elected offices actually run the elections.
“The Trump wing of the party and the MAGA Republicans have jumped the rails of constitutional democracy, of the factual universe and of representative democracy,” Nancy MacLean, a historian of the right at Duke University, said on Democracy Now! “You cannot have a democracy in which one party does not accept the legitimacy of the other party’s candidates, elected officials and the outcomes of elections. But that is where we have come with Donald Trump and the MAGA faction.”
The growing, rightwing militia movement adds the prospect of violence to the electoral process. Trump recently said that if reelected he would consider “full pardons with an apology to many” of the January 6th, 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrectionists.
The 2022 midterms and the 2024 general elections will profoundly impact the trajectory of our political system. Elie Mystal’s question is one we all must seriously consider: What are we going to do about it?
This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!