When historians of the future write the story of how the once-great United States of America became a one-party state, they’ll look at the first part of May 2020 as a crucial pivot point. A republic doesn’t die spectacularly, all at once, in a big explosion that no one can miss. It dies cut by toxic cut, and those of us who care about democracy better pay attention as they happen.
Cut No. 1: Jared Kusher being noncommittal about holding an election in November: “It’s not my decision to make. I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other. But right now that’s the plan.” You’re goddamn right it’s not your decision to make, you little fascist putz. It’s law. Since 1845. No one has ever even tried to delay an election. If anybody ever had an excuse, it was Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Some advisers wanted him to, but as historian Eric Foner explains in this article, “Lincoln always felt that the Civil War was, number one, about democracy… if you suspend democracy in the middle of the war, you are basically undercutting the whole purpose of the war.”
When I said “no one” ever tried to delay an election, I meant no president—but guess which mayor did? Hint: He’s the guy Jimmy Breslin once called “a small man in search of a balcony,” and he talks to this president all the time, no doubt scheming with him on how Trump might get away today with what Rudy couldn’t then.
Cut No. 2: The firing of the State Department inspector general last Friday night at 10 p.m. He was the third inspector general fired in the last month. Most people don’t even know what inspectors general do, but it’s sick, and undemocratic, what Trump is doing here. It’s partly revenge and partly to move bothersome people out of his way so he can lie and grift some more without any auditors watching.
Cut No. 3: The Obamagate madness. You may laugh at this. Well, don’t. This is the plan to steal the election. John Durham is moving “full-throttle” with his investigation of the investigation of the Trump campaign. He’s going to issue a report that’s going to string together “facts” in such a way that Sean Hannity can make this sound like the Spanish Inquisition. The attempt will be to indict some honorable public servants and to destroy Joe Biden and, for good measure, Barack Obama, because way too many people still like him, and he’s honest and dignified and an actual patriot and was a very good president, and all that makes Trump’s tiny brain hurt so much that even a Lysol injection couldn’t ease the pain.
Lindsey Graham is in on this too of course. Yes, he disagreed when Trump said that Obama should be compelled to testify. He cited what sounded like a noble reason (it would set a bad precedent), but deep down he surely knows what Trump is too stupid and full of hate to figure out, which is that Obama would wipe the floor with his GOP interrogators and it would crush Trump’s re-election chances. But the more important thing Graham said is this: He’ll conduct a probe and issue a report by October. October! What a coincidence!
And all this is happening, let’s never forget, as if we could, in the larger context of Trump and his entire party’s colossal pandemic fail, which now includes sending people out into the world to die for Dear Leader, or preferably to infect and kill those of us who believe in the libtard plot that is science. How he can stand up in front of people and speak the words “we have prevailed” is just beyond comprehension. America’s biggest grifter, who’s conned practically everyone he’s ever done business with in his entire life, seems to have convinced himself that he can con a pandemic.
Or at least he thinks he can con us, and it’s an epic and historic tragedy that about this, he is right, because he has conned us, or at least 40-something percent of us. And they love being conned. These people aren’t that stupid. They know Trump’s a swindler, and they know the virus is deadly. But as long as Trump is mostly swindling people they hate, they’re ecstatic. And as for the virus, defying it and scientists, probably a bunch of Democrats anyway, is freedom. They’ll take their chances. Besides, it's disproportionately killing black and brown people, which some MAGAs undoubtedly regard as a feature not a bug.
The key thing to understand about Trump, the Republican Party, and the vast majority of their supporters is this. They aren’t small-d democrats. They don’t give two hanging chads about democracy. They want power. They want one-party rule. They know that given our Constitution and our history, they have to make it look like two-party rule, at the margins. But they crave one-party rule.
There’s a name for this in political science. It’s called “competitive authoritarianism,” a term coined by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. I wrote about it in The New York Times almost a year ago. They applied the term to developing-world and former Eastern bloc countries, which gave the superficial impression of being democracies but really weren’t if you looked under the hood.
Places like Mozambique and Belarus. Now, it applies to the United States. (And while you’re at it, read this Times column—from January 2019!—by Levitsky and Daniel Zimblatt explaining that autocrats love crises because crises allow them to chip away at the law and constitutional norms.)
Conservatives always have a bit of an authoritarian streak, just as liberals often have a bit of a anarchic streak. But in democratic societies, these tendencies toward extremism are checked.
This is no longer the case with today’s Republicans. The authoritarian personality has completely swallowed the host body; the mother half of Norman Bates has taken over. This death-cult stuff we’re witnessing, people with no masks congregating in bars and downing jello shots to troll the libs, is 100 percent authoritarian. It’s not a coincidence that “long live death!” is an old fascist slogan.
They’re against democracy. I’ll say that again: One of the two major parties in the world’s oldest democracy is against democracy. They’ll steal the election however they can, with the president of the United States and his “top law enforcement officer” leading the charge. And if they succeed, they’ll start angling for a third Trump term, or maybe he’ll hand it all off to Don Jr., in perfect Kim family style. Either way, it will be the end for this country as we knew it.
And yet—this is not inevitable. This is only the ghost of a Christmas future that might be. Science America can still rise up and stop this, and kick out Trump and Pence and Barr and Susan Collins (before she has time to express “shock” and “disappointment” when Brett Kavanaugh votes to overturn Roe) and Mitch McConnell and as many of these fascists and their useful idiots as possible.
So if you have any friends who are lukewarm on Biden and don’t like his position on X, smack them and tell them to quit being children. He’s for democracy, and right now, that’s the only position of his that really matters.