Trump’s Role In Creating Anti-Democratic Norms
US democracy is in jeopardy due to the Republican party’s appeasement and pandering to far right-wing populism. As a ‘right-wing populist,’ Former President Donald J Trump has acted as a demagogue instilling many anti-democratic beliefs and ideas within his electorate through his refusal to accept election results. Responding to these new electorate sentiments, the Republican party finds itself both navigating and harnessing Trump’s instilled populism to ensure their retention of power. This process has led to the cultivation of counter-democratic norms within a democratic system, a clear indication of democratic backsliding.
Role of Trump’s Populism
Trump actively advocates for forms of ‘cultural’ and ‘economic’ populism. One of Trump’s 2016 campaign promises was to drain the political ‘swamp’ within Washington. The idea was that as an outsider, he would be the change needed to expose and remove malpractice. He was seen as untouched by corruption as he was new to the political playing field, and because he was rich, he was seen as unable to be bought off. These factors coincide with the growing sentiment of institutional inefficacy (due to outsourcing of jobs, growing wealth gap, etc.), making Trump a clear answer to rectify these issues. The problem was Trump stood for none of those things. For example, the highly controversial move of the US embassy to Jerusalem was motivated by a 20$ million donation by a long-time republican donor showing he could be bought. Trump’s 2017 tax cut heavily favored the 1% while creating loopholes to make outsourcing easier. From his cabinet to suspicious uses of his property Trump created over 2000 instances where there was a clear conflict of interest, showing he’s disingenuous. Through his actions, Trump showed his economic populism was a facade, but this was masked through his electorate agitation via cultural populism. Through cultural wars, he’s been able to deceive his voters while directing their built anger elsewhere in a way that benefits him. He’s able to galvanize the republican voter base in a way that even other republicans can become the ‘enemy’ with a snap of his finger.
Enclaves of the Bilateral System
Trump has exploited the systemic issues within the US bilateral system. Throughout time within the US, the tenured republican party members have attempted to maintain a passionate electorate without falling into the pitfalls of extreme right-wing populism. After the emergence of Trump, and especially after the attempted January 6th insurrection, these pitfalls came to fruition. This caused the Republican party to become split between the old vanguard and the Trump-era members, creating a scenario that needs to be remedied. This fix is needed because the nature of a two-party system calls for an ‘us vs. them’ approach to elections, creating trends of party-line voting, and compromising values. This dynamic is indicative of the idea that victory in this system is more important than representation. The fact that it cultivates these sentiments shows that inherent anti-democratic qualities are built into the political infrastructure. Now, because of Trump’s role as a demagogue, his anti-democratic means to consolidate power are seen as legitimate by his electorate. So to prevent a split that would lead to a Democrat political dominance, Republican legislatures refuse to confront these sentiments.
Consequences of Opposing Trump (Exacerbation of enclaves)
Trump has become so revered by his supporters that he has become larger than his party. Polling shows that only 21% of republicans see Joe Biden’s 2020 win as legitimate, another 25% believe it’s probably not legitimate, with the other 46% adamant that it wasn’t (the remaining 6% unsure). These stats are indicative of Trump’s immense presence even post-presidency. His words hold tremendous power, and he flaunted their power when he ousted the Republicans who voted to impeach him for the January 6th insurrection. Out of the 10 who voted against him, four have been harassed into stepping down, while Trump has replaced another four with his backed candidates. Now only two remain. Of the four replaced, the most notable was Rep. Liz Cheney, showing even well-established party members are given little leeway. The only two that remain are Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romeny of Utah. As Alaska is isolated from the mainland US, populism doesn’t have as much appeal, explaining Murkowski’s security. Romney has better weathered his severe criticism (at one point almost ⅔ Utah republican disapproval) because he won his six-year term in 2018, giving him until 2024 to run again (Cheney’s was in 2020, and rep. Seats are more volatile). Also, Romeny and Trump agree on most policy issues (tax cuts, immigration, deregulation), with Romney framing his criticism of Trump as a distaste for his antics rather than what he’s done policy-wise. This common ground further validates Trump as the ‘no-nonsense’ politician who has taken a Machiavellian approach for a just end. Meaningful criticism derives power from substance and value, and it has become clear that etiquette isn’t as valued as it used to be (they’d rather have a bully who gets things done rather than a useless nice guy). These repercussions show that opposing Trump is damning; however, those who align themselves with Trump can easily boost their campaign hopes. Regardless of whether it is good faith support for Trump, very few Republicans will be willing to call him out moving forward.
Fallacies and contradictions (Consequences of new norms)
Blinded loyalty leading to political opportunity creates a dangerous incentive. Large fragments of the republican party (the Trump wing) have based their upcoming campaigns on claims of a stolen election along with other ‘Trumpified’ cultural wars (basically blindly defending him). This new rhetoric is so dangerous. Not only is the success of Trump’s populist rhetoric a quality of democratic backsliding, but his inability to accept his shortcomings has led to the delegitimization of US institutions in the eyes of Trump’s large electorate. The lies have created a unique dynamic where Trump-wing Republicans campaign on the idea that the very elections they hope to win through our delegitimate. Now republicans, begrudgingly or not, must navigate different tactics and approaches that account for their evolved electorate’s seemingly un-negotiable skepticism of institutions. All in all, this detrimental dynamic puts the integrity of US democracy at risk as denial and violence are deemed just responses to electoral defeat. With the upcoming 2022 elections, we will be given a better insight into how republican legislatures will react to losses.