Does a Trumpist Republican Party Belong in a Democracy?
Can today's GOP meet the minimum threshold to participate in America's democracy? Also: Saudi Arabia and Israel, Sweden and the pandemic, Putin’s attacks -- and Trump.
This Week in INSIGHT:
1. Cover Story: Republicans, Trumpists, and U.S. Democracy
2. Saudi Arabia and Israel, Waiting for Biden
3. Sweden’s Pandemic Disaster
4. Putin Attacks at Home and Abroad; Trump Defends Him
The Future of the Republican Party in a Democratic United States
What should happen when one party in a two-party democracy suddenly turns against democracy?
The foundation of the American state, the very identity of the country — its DNA — is democracy. And yet, the sitting president and some of his Republican backers are still trying to overturn what is the most thoroughly scrutinized election in the country’s history. After demanding the Supreme Court throw out legal votes and asking governors to ignore their states’ votes and send Trump backers to the Electoral College, a new idea, as they relentlessly promote Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen, is to pressure members of Congress to ignore the Electoral College vote and re-elect Trump anyway, precisely as a dictatorship’s rubber-stamp legislature would.
Even more shockingly, Trump is now discussing the possibility of imposing martial law as a path to staying in power.
The efforts will fail, of course, and already many Republican leaders have acknowledged Trump’s victory. But many have not, and what has occurred until now shows the party was prepared to trample on the country’s fundamental norms for the sake of pleasing its leader.
The Republican Party has tainted itself, demonstrating a thin commitment to the most fundamental aspect of America’s political system. What now?
Does a party that doesn’t believe in democracy belong in a democratic country?
Many democratic countries set minimum thresholds for participation. Countries like Germany, Italy and France ban extremist parties. In Israel, for example, parties and individuals can be disqualified if they reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Both Jewish and Arab parties and politicians have been disqualified for doing so. Disqualifying a party is no simple matter. It shouldn’t be.
The GOP will not be disqualified any time soon. For now, there’s no clear mechanism in the United States for doing that. But too many Republicans have walked uncomfortably close to the precipice of democratic legitimacy. The party has tried to maintain the veneer, pretending it believes in democracy even as so many of its members fight against it. But some former insiders are already floating ideas about reforming or replacing the GOP.
The options are becoming more pressing as Trump’s behavior since the election becomes ever more mind-boggling.
During a wild meeting in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump brought up a proposal by his former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn that he impose martial law and deploy the military to force a “re-run” of the election. This comes perilously close to a proposal for dictatorship, and it was seriously considered by a sitting president, protected by the Republican Party.
There’s no surprise in Trump rejecting his loss in a democratic election. What is more disturbing is the failure of powerful Republicans to declare this is wrong. Instead, they have promoted his lies that the election was stolen. Instead, 126 Republican members of Congress and 18 state attorneys general backed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to throw out election results and some in the party want Congress to ignore this week’s official Electoral College vote naming President-elect Biden the winner. Already Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville of Alabama — who didn’t know what the three branches of the U.S. government are — has said he might reject the Electoral College’s verdict.
For now, Trump has the GOP in a tight grip. It’s a vicious cycle: Republicans are reluctant to criticize him because they fear Trump’s loyal base will turn against them. But if they don’t criticize him, his base never hears arguments countering Trump from people they trust.
What happens after Trump leaves the White House, however that occurs?
Moises Naim says that regardless of what Trump does, Trumpism will live on, much as Leninism, Peronism, and Chavism have.
“The movements they founded share important traits: an eagerness to transgress political norms, unbridled opportunism, a marked authoritarian streak, anti-intellectualism, nationalism, a hostility toward rules and institutions that check executive power, and a fierce enmity against rivals, who are not treated as compatriots but as enemies who pose an existential threat.”
The coming years will bring evidence of just how much damage Trump has inflicted not just on his party but on the country. The disturbing signs became visible over the past four years, but they have been flashing red since the election.
While most Republicans support him, the Never-Trump movement is debating its own path forward.
The prominent Lincoln Project, for now, is still working on the 2020 election, currently attacking pro-Trump Sen. Kelly Loeffler with a new scathing ad ahead of the Georgia runoff.
Reed Galen, a prominent Never-Trump Republican in the leadership of the Lincoln Project, thinks the group’s ammunition should be trained on members of Congress and attorneys general who backed Trump’s most egregious lawsuits. He told Politico:
“They don't get to run themselves through the car wash on Jan. 21 and say, 'Just kidding, we didn't mean it.’”
The group could help primary challengers against Trumpists or even Democrats running against them.
Others are considering starting a new conservative party. Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent in 2016, knows the obstacles.
“I wouldn’t advocate for starting a new party without the support of some sitting officials in Congress or elsewhere.…We’re inching closer to a point in which that might be possible.”
Americans will have to decide whether a party that backed a president who considered imposing martial law to stay in power belongs in a democracy, or whether they want to live in a system where one of the two major parties is not sure it believes in the country’s most basic founding principle.
Why Saudi Arabia Won’t Give Trump Another Victory
One of the few areas where Trump has succeeded is in helping secure landmark diplomatic agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors. But the biggest prize, Saudi Arabia, has eluded him. Trump has assiduously courted the Saudis since the day he took office, and he would like nothing more than to secure that final achievement before he leaves office. After all, the Saudis owe him.
And yet, it seems highly unlikely that an Israel-Saudi Arabia deal will happen during Trump’s watch, even though both countries want it.
I explained in my Washington Post column why even though both Israel and Saudi Arabia want to make the deal, it will likely be Biden — who approves of Trump’s efforts to improve ties between Israel and its neighbors — who will end up walking the two countries across the threshold. But negotiations under Biden will look very different from what they have under Trump.
Sweden’s Pandemic Catastrophe Is Now Undeniable
One of the most unexpected failures of the 2020 pandemic was the response of Sweden to the crisis. Swedish authorities promoted a controversial “herd immunity” strategy, becoming the darlings of those who opposed lockdowns and masks across the world. Among them was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who declared “Sweden got it right,” and reopened the state, leading to a surge in deaths, which he allegedly try to hide by tampering with coronavirus statistics.
Now Sweden’s hospitals are full, its ICUs beyond 100 percent of capacity. Neighboring Finland and Norway, with about a tenth the number of deaths, are offering to take in the overflow.
Much lies ahead for Sweden, as I wrote:
“Whenever the public health crisis is over, one question remains. How long will it take Swedes to demand a reckoning from their leaders and a fearless examination of a misguided policy that cost thousands of lives, the country’s deadliest disaster since the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago?”
I strongly recommend my article this week in World Politics Review and the one I wrote in May, predicting this would happen.
Putin’s People on the Attack
A couple of blockbuster stories this week showed just how pernicious the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin is to the Russian people, to the United States, and to the rest of the world. And as experts say the U.S. was under cyber attack from Russia, Trump, spoke in Russia’s defense.
As you read this, U.S. authorities are desperately trying to stop a massive hacking attack that has all the fingerprints of Russian hackers. The attack is continuing, and it has breached the defenses of scores of U.S. agencies, including the National Nuclear Security Administration, which overseas America’s nuclear weapons stockpiles; the Treasury Department, and just about every major U.S. agency. In addition, Microsoft says the hack has reached victims in seven other countries: Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Russia for the attack, saying, “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians.” Just hours later, Trump contradicted his secretary of state and U.S. intelligence experts , saying everything was under control and it might be China behind the attack. It was another perplexing instance of Trump appearing to side with Putin against the United States government.
Separately, investigative journalists uncovered chilling evidence of how Putin’s agents stalked, hunted down, and tried to kill Putin’s top domestic critic, Alexey Navalny. They nearly succeeded.
The report is worth your time.
That’s it for this week – and for this year.
The hardworking staff at INSIGHT is lightening its load for a few days.
Enjoy the holidays, however you celebrate, but please do it safely. Hospitals are running out of beds everywhere. The U.S. is setting new daily records of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. It would be tragic to become deathly ill now that a vaccine that can defeat is on its way.
I hope you and your families will have a happy and healthy New Year, in preparation for a better 2021.
Until then –
Stay safe; stay informed; stay engaged.