Over the past 6 years, the Republican Party has been successful in convincing the American people that they are the true defenders of democracy. The political party has increasingly played off of the “us versus them” phenomenon to the point where undermining democracy from within is no longer a potential threat but an ongoing issue. We are now over a year past the Trump-led insurrection that saw his supporters violently enter the Capitol building with hopes of rounding up lawmakers who were viewed as the enemy. On January 6, 2021, the joint Congressional session to certify electoral votes and declare Joe Biden as president was interrupted by far-right extremists and Trump supporters; this event is viewed as a failure because the certification of electoral votes resumed later, but the aftermath is arguably the true success.
Following the attack against our democracy, the Republican Party coordinated a disinformation campaign to downplay the significance of January 6, 2021. Led by Donald Trump, elected representatives like Andrew Clyde of Georgia and many of his colleagues blatantly denied the insurrection even occurred. Clyde is quoted saying “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit”, going on to say “to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie.”
The insurrection had the potential to rekindle a foundation of mutual toleration like 9/11 did 20 years before, instead, it was strategically reframed by the Republican party to downplay the significance of the attack against our democracy. But if an insurrection was not enough to wake up constituents and political leaders, what could be? The reality is, we are observing ongoing erosion of our democratic institutions and those in positions of power are failing to stop it.
The strategy of the Republican Party is a form of stealth authoritarianism, in which a political regime relies on currently legal mechanisms to secure its future power undemocratically. This current strategy of stealth authoritarianism, however, is not limited to secret actions but instead has been marketed in a way that has only helped bolster more support. During his 4 years of office as president, Trump appointed 226 Appeals and District court judges compared to the 320 that president Obama appointed over 8 years; Trump-appointed judges now make up 28% of all active federal judges. After packing the courts in their favor and creating a conservative bias from the federal to the local level in the judiciary, Republicans are after previously ignored state-level positions that preside over the electoral process.
With Trump out of office, the Republicans’ next step is to fix where they failed in their efforts to prevent the certification of electoral votes. Trump endorsed candidates are now running for Secretary of State positions across the country. 27 states are currently holding elections for the position to be elected in 2022. On the surface, these positions seem easy to ignore, but they will be vital in the 2024 presidential election when Republicans once again attempt to take the executive branch. The Secretary of State position exists in 47 states and the responsibilities are administrative tasks like managing state records. However, the key power is their position as the chief election official for their state which includes presiding over state elections, voter registration, determining political party eligibility, and ballot measures.
The most at-risk states are those where Trump was unable to convince officials to overturn results in his favor: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada. These states had slim margins of victory in favor of Joe Biden and are where Republicans hope to prevent another loss. The Republican party’s strategy is succeeding and this latest effort is only one of many that aim to erode our democratic institutions from the inside out. In 2021 there were 425 bills introduced in 49 states to restrict voting access, and of those 49, nineteen have already enacted some into law. Republicans have spent the past 6 years strategizing a way to use legal methods to rig the future of the United States in their favor, and as they do our democracy dies.
I thought this article presented a fascinating look at how the direction of the current Republican Party is contributing to a decline in democratic norms in the United States. I certainly agree with the article’s take that this is a troubling time for the country’s institutions, and that the means that the Republican Party is currently seeking to weaken these institutions, i.e. getting affiliates into courts and elected office, could be quite effective in the long-term. An interesting and difficult topic to think about.
In one of the classes, we discussed how authoritarian incumbents have managed to thwart and dismantle institutions of accountability and regulation on their power by stacking the courts with loyalists, and I believe this article depicts an accurate representation of how Republicans are using the same strategy in order to create strongholds of power within the American government. The Supreme Court looks extremely different from when it did a decade ago and this is by no means a coincidence, I believe that the issues we long believed to be set in stone (Abortion Rights, Voting Rights) may soon be overturned.