There’s an interesting article over on the Foreign Affairs website, After Democracy: What Happens When Freedom Erodes? By Dan Slater (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-11-06/after-democracy). In it, Slater argues that there are two probable outcomes when a democratic government withers. The first is illiberal democracy, which is when a populist tyrant comes to power with the support of “the people” (or some subset of them), usually on a platform of xenophobia and extreme nationalism. The second is electoral authoritarianism, which, he says, “is typically the collective enterprise of a ruling party.”
Examples of the first sort of government, illiberal democracy, include Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and our own Donald Trump. Examples of the second sort include the various Fascist parties of 1930s Europe, Singapore’s People’s Action Party, and particularly, he says, Malaysia’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which ruled the country until very recently. Electoral authoritarians rule, he notes, by rigging the system against any possible rival. They “cheat,” with “gerrymandering, malapportionment, and the targeted disqualification and even imprisonment of especially threatening electoral opponents.”
The American situation, he says, is unusual in that it has both forms of government at once. Trump is our illiberal democrat. And the GOP is our electoral authoritarian, “Through widespread voter identification laws and related forms of voter suppression—most blatantly in Wisconsin in 2016 and in Georgia today—the GOP appears to focus more on winning elections than on winning majorities. This antimajoritarian strategic focus fits beautifully with the Electoral College system, which has delivered the last two Republican presidents to the White House without winning the popular vote: a Malaysia-like pattern of loser takes all that cannot be allowed to continue in any electoral democracy worthy of the name.”
Which brings us to a distressing conclusion. Even if Trump falls…even if we vote him out of office…the GOP will remain, and it will remain committed to taking over the country and making sure that a genuinely representative government does not again appear in Washington. Which means, in turn, that we will only be able to rest when the whole Republican Party is either utterly reformed or utterly removed from American politics.
That’s going to be hard. But, this country has done a great dear more in the past. After all, we fought a Revolution against a distant tyrant, and a Civil War over slavery…
So there’s a good chance we’ll manage this one, too.