Much of what the media addresses surrounding the Trump administration is over possible misconduct that is neither actually proven, nor serious enough to force any true backlash against them. This diverts the conversation away from the discussion that really matters; how the Republican Party, or GOP, has been effectively destroying the common ideals of Democracy that the United States once highly practiced. Both democratic institutions and norms of American politics have been progressively weakened through direct, and indirect, methods practiced by President Trump and the GOP. Being able to concretely establish how one-sided the cause for America’s descent and current transition into a hybrid, or perhaps full-on authoritarian, regime is, might be the only way to halt the anti-democratic process.
Assuming that American democracy is not that of a “Frankenstate” or a “hybrid regime”, that attempts to perceive itself as a democracy, actions such as the ones presently occurring in the United States should not happen. It is understood that in any democratic society there is more than one legitimate opposing political opponent, and that the current party in power is likely to see itself out of the majority power at times. It is respectively also understood that elected government officials can always be held accountable.
These are basic norms of democracy, practiced through democratic institutions such as universal franchise, constitutional amendments, and separate government branches possessing a system of checks and balances. However, because the Republican Party holds the majority of both the House of Representatives and the White House, opportunities for checks on over-exertions of political power become less fluently practiced. The Republican controlled Congress is aligned with the same goals as President Trump, making them less likely to combat him. Adding that to the President’s constant claims that any opposing individuals or media are illegitimate, such as questioning Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s integrity, or dubbing major news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and The New York Times as “fake news”, there is an increasing lack in accountability.
Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsberg have long been proponents of the idea that American democracy is by no means executed as properly as it should be. However even they agree that the obvious increase of “constitutional retrogression” occurring through President Trump’s unchecked administration is especially a cause for concern for Americans. When Trump held close to the possibility of voter fraud with a complete lack of evidence, even going as far as to say that he would refuse to accept an outcome where he was not the winner, it challenged Huq and Ginsberg’s first margin of constitutional retrogression of “competitive elections”. The subsequent actions of calling out both media outlets and political opponents that negatively viewed him as illegitimate challenged the other two principles of rights of “political speech and association, and adjudicative rule of law”.
Levitsky and Ziblatt agree with the notion that democratic institutions are weakened by Republican leadership. They do so by highlighting the development of a “litmus test”, developed by political scientist Juan J. Linz, which identifies anti-democratic politicians with close resemblances to authoritarianism. President Trump fit the test’s criteria.
Levitsky and Ziblatt then connect the use of Trump’s authoritarian practices to the idea of democratic institutions needing more “informal norms”: how unwritten rules had allowed for partisan self-restraint and subsequent balance when discussing bipartisan issues. As they pointed out, however, it was the Republican Party’s increasing lack of partisan self-restraint, such as their 2011 refusal to raise the debt ceiling and 2016 refusal to consider former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee that led to the destruction of these informal and unwritten norms. A breakdown in mutually accepted practices, and an increase in the obstructionist strategies initialized by the GOP, has worked against the foundation of the efficiency of democratic institutions.
Some may argue that the Democratic Party engages in similar obstructionist strategies, therefore sharing the blame of eroding democratic institutions. These arguments, however, fail to comprehend the reactive and proactive differences between the two parties. The GOP created this new tactic of establishing constant political barricades for opposing parties, while the Democratic Party only does so in reaction to this hindrance. This forced argument would thus unnecessarily be placing blame on those instances where self-defense is taking place, rather than calling out the aggressive, and proactive, assault practiced by the GOP.
While there are many who agree that Trump’s methods of furthering Republican political agendas are weakening political institutions, there are some that still fail to realize it, or argue otherwise. Pippa Norris wrote an essay relaying 3 major findings surrounding a study on “Democratic Transition and Consolidation”. One of the findings suggested that Western Democracies had not experienced institutional erosion from 1972 to 2016. This was evidenced by quantitative data gathered by Freedom House as well as comparisons to destabilizing “hybrid regimes”. However the data from Freedom House, as Norris herself points out, is likely conservative. The study also fails to offer data from the most recent years, which would certainly be the most relevant, since the Republican Party only recently regained majority control again back in 2014.
The daunting trends of the Trump Administration and Republican Congress, despite the negative results, are not without their positives. By witnessing one of the most extreme cases of attempted disruption of democratic institutions in the United States to date, the political conversation on whether or not a Republican majority is considerate of their anti- democratic actions and decisions has been sparked. With conversation, comes logical arguments. And with logical arguments comes a failure for the Republican Party to win them. Inevitably, every executive and legislative term ends, thus initializing another chance for America to return to its traditional and purely democratic roots. American democracy is dying, but it’s not dead. Not yet.
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