Jim Nelson

I am an outspoken critic of what Liz Cheney, correctly, describes as America’s “sleepwalk” into fascism.

Indeed, Donald Trump has defiantly laid out his plans to become our Country’s first dictator. He copied his blueprints from the authoritarian playbook of corruption and venality which has informed and driven tyrants from Mussolini to the present.

To save our democracy voters must halt this inexorable slide toward Trump’s fascist abyss. But, how? Who is responsible? How do we not to become one of cult- Trump’s zombies shuffling, arms outstretched, into the void?

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide some answers in their new book Tyranny of the Minority. The authors state that politicians who are committed to democracy must do three things: First, they must respect the outcome of free and fair elections, win or lose. Second, they must reject violence or its threat, as a means of achieving political goals. And, third, those who support, protect and defend democracy (loyalists) must always break with the semi-loyalist sleepwalkers.

At the outset, it is clear the Trump has failed: First, he has never accepted that Joe Biden won the 2020 election (by margins which Trump, himself, had deemed a landslide), and second, Trump incited the January 6, 2021, violent, albeit unsuccessful, coup on our government, its Capitol, and the public officials gathered there.

Trump aside, the third requisite mentioned above is perhaps the most troubling. As the authors point out, loyalists clearly and consistently reject authoritarian behavior, while semi-loyalists act in a more ambiguous manner. The latter claim to support democracy while at the same time turning a blind eye to violence, extremism, and authoritarian conduct.

For example, as reported by Jill Colvin, Associated Press, 2 at the time of the insurrection many Republicans joined Democrats in denouncing the violence and Trump’s roll in it. A year later, Republicans were much more muted, even blaming Democrats and the media for “politicizing” the attack, so as to demean Trump. On the anniversary of the insurrection, most Republicans skipped observances.

Since then, most Republicans have stayed conspicuously silent about Trump’s role in the insurrection (excepting those who actively supported or who aided Trump’s effort: Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Scott Perry (R-PA), and Mike Johnson (R-LA), for example).

Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that semi-loyalists are dangerous because their ambiguity lends legitimacy to the conduct of the authoritarians. “Democracies get into trouble when mainstream parties tolerate, condone, or protect authoritarian extremists—when they become authoritarian enablers.” The litmus test is “how politicians respond to violent or antidemocratic behavior on their own flank” (as opposed to such conduct from the opposing party).

When faced with these challenges, according to the authors, loyalists expel extremists from their own ranks; sever all private and public ties with antidemocratic groups; unambiguously condemn political violence and antidemocratic behavior; and, when necessary, join forces with rival loyalist parties to isolate and defeat antidemocratic extremists.

Semi-loyalists, by tolerating the conduct and statements of extremists, actually strengthen the behavior of these authoritarian elements and legitimize their conduct and ideas—perhaps creating the tipping-point that results in a solid democracy collapsing upon itself.

Trump poses an existential threat to the survival of our democracy by openly and defiantly proclaiming his intent and plan to become America’s dictator; and he has marshalled his army of lickspittles and sycophants to accomplish that.

Even worse, though, is the silence of the Republican Party and its toleration of Trump’s unhinged conduct and deranged statements—the Republican members’ semi-loyalist response— that are giving the aid, comfort and support Trump needs to topple our democracy, its norms, its institutions and its Constitution.

Semi-loyalist Republicans are sleepwalking America into the fascist abyss. It is long overdue that they find their guts, their patriotism, and start supporting democracy--instead of helping to kill it.