American authoritarianism is a unique American future


Assuming democracy remains intact in the coming years, Levitsky thinks the GOP will eventually have to adjust its position to changing demographics. If the party hopes to win enough elections to seize power in the future, its current extremism will not last. However, Levitsky thinks that any adjustments can take longer than one expects.

“The problem is that our incentives — the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, the fact that less-populous states are disproportionately represented in our electoral system — allow Republicans to hold a lot of power without winning national majorities,” Levitsky says. “If the Republican Party has to win more than 50 percent of the national vote to control the Senate, to control the president, to control the Supreme Court, you’re not going to see them behaving the way they are. They’re never going to win,” he said.

Whether or not Trump becomes the Republican Party nominee in the 2024 presidential election remains to be seen, but if he is not dominating the party, there is clear evidence that the effects of his actions will not simply disappear. Many Americans have been radicalized since he took office, and rolling that back isn’t easy.

“I think the consensus is that democracy is not clear, and the GOP’s rhetoric and actions have encouraged their supporters to accept certain behaviors that we don’t think are compatible with democracy,” Erica says. Franz, associate professor of political science at Michigan State University. “Suddenly it’s okay to question whether our elections are free and fair. It’s okay to be impulsive and suggest violence if the election doesn’t go your way.

Franz said that large segments of the US population are receptive to Trump’s authoritarian message, and that this could have lasting effects. Despite attempts to overturn the election in 2020, Trump’s successful removal from office is a big deal, but she says there is more work to be done to protect American democracy.

“I don’t think we will go back to dictatorship. The odds are higher than they were before Trump, but still low compared to many other countries,” says Franz. “In this situation, we can fight it for some time in a situation where undemocratic rules are being reflected and implemented by one of our main parties.

There’s no silver bullet in terms of what pro-democracy activists can do when they’re power-based — but there are ways to push back. For Levitsky, it is necessary to form a grand coalition to “isolate and defeat” dictators, which means uniting pro-democracy supporters on both the left and the right.

A. James McAdams, a professor of international affairs at the University of Notre Dame, says people who oppose authoritarianism need a strong message that appeals to people who might be attracted to authoritarian leaders.

“If you look back historically, one of the biggest problems in democracy is that the powers of reason have always been unable to know what they stood for,” McAdams says. Today we are at a point in history where moderate parties in America and Europe are not sure what to say.

You should also support and strengthen democratic institutions like the courts, says McAdams. This is particularly important, he said, as dictators were able to suppress power and usurp democracy as part of weak courts, as was the case in Latin America in the 1970s.

“If you have stable democratic institutions—especially if you have viable courts—there are a lot of hurdles you can beat,” McAdams said. “Perhaps the greatest victory for American institutions in the Trump era is that the courts have not lost.”



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