It’s Not Polarization. It’s Republican Radicalization.

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post hits the political nail on the head:

Listen to political scientists, pollsters and well-meaning elected officials, and you’ll likely hear a lot of chatter about “polarization.” That characterization of our current political environment misses the point — and is dangerous.

You know the argument: America is divided into warring camps. The center has collapsed. Compromise is impossible. We have become uncivil and angry.

While it’s true that the country is more deeply divided along partisan lines than it has been in the past, it is wrong to suggest a symmetrical devolution into irrational hatred. The polarization argument too often treats both sides as equally worthy of blame, characterizing the problem as a sort of free-floating affliction (e.g., “lack of trust”). This blurs the distinction between a Democratic Party that is marginally more progressive in policy positions than it was a decade ago, and a Republican Party that routinely lies, courts violence and seeks to define America as a White Christian nation.

The Republican Party’s tolerance of violence is not matched by Democrats. Nor is the Republican Party’s refusal to recognize the sanctity of elections. Democrats did not call the elections they lost in 2020 and 2021 “rigged,” nor are they seeking to replace nonpartisan election officials with partisan law makers. Republicans’ determination to change voting laws based on their insistence that Donald Trump won the 2020 election is without historical precedent.

The Republican Party’s willingness to force a default on the debt is likewise indicative of a party that has fallen into nihilism. And Republicans’ refusal to give a sitting president’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing followed by the effort to push through a nominee of their own party during an election shows the party lacks any modicum of restraint and respect for institutions.

Only one party conducts fake election audits, habitually relies on conspiracy theories and wants to limit access to the ballot. A recent study from the libertarian think tank R Street found: “In Republican states, legislation tended to scale back the availability of mail-in voting and ballot drop boxes and to provide more uniform, if not shorter, early voting windows. Meanwhile, in Democratic states, legislators sought to increase the availability of early voting not only by expanded voting windows but also by instating universal vote-by-mail.”

Only one party overwhelmingly refused to participate in a bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Only one party tolerates and defends House members who resort to violent imagery and harass fellow lawmakers. Talk of “secession” comes from only one party. Only one party is turning a vigilante who killed two people and seriously injured another into a folk hero. Only one party rises in defense of parents publicly threatening school boards. Only one party has taken to defending book-banning and book-burning. Governors of only one party are suing private companies and localities that follow coronavirus guidelines.

Only one party has a media machine that propagates misinformation (from conspiracy theories about the death of a young Democratic National Committee staffer to the blatant lies about Dominion Voting Systems) and foments racism with a steady diet of “replacement theory” rants and hyperventilation about immigrants. Only one party pounds away at the already debunked connection between crime and immigrants solely for the purpose of enraging and scaring voters.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) had it almost right when she wrote in May, “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.” The GOP has already decided. The answer is no.

When it comes to compromise, only one party refused to cast a single vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan. Only one party in the Senate (minus a lone Alaska Republican) categorically refuses to debate voting reform or to consider reauthorizing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Take any issue, and one can see the difference between mutual polarization and radicalization. It is not merely that Republicans want to restrict abortions; they dangle bounties for those who aid women who seek abortions after six weeks of pregnancy (roughly 85 percent of all abortions) and attempt to shield the legislation from judicial review.

Republicans no longer seek merely to defend the Second Amendment; they fetishize guns. As Second Amendment advocate David French writes, “The ‘gun picture’ is a common pose for populist politicians. . . .  [She doesn’t mention that the Republican-controlled Supreme Court seems to be leaning toward making it easier to carry a gun in places like New York City.]

Likewise, Republicans do not merely object to significant tax increases on the super rich and corporations; they reject any tax changes that would force them to pay something in taxes and refuse to adequately fund the Internal Revenue Service to collect taxes already owed . . . .

The “polarization” decriers cop out when describing the country in terms that suggest both sides are to blame. Honesty compels us to recognize that while progressives might have more ambitious goals for government, they work within the democratic structure and acknowledge reality. The same cannot be said of Republicans. Let’s face it: We would not have a democracy crisis and an epistemological crisis if not for the Republican Party.

Unquote.

The Post’s Paul Waldman focuses on an aspect of the Republican Party’s radicalization that Rubin didn’t highlight (“the redistricting apocalypse is here”):

The word “redistricting” doesn’t carry the same inherent drama as a crowd of rabid thugs breaking doors and windows to storm the Capitol. But the way it’s proceeding right now, in its own way it’s just as much of an assault on our democracy. . . . 

Not only are Republicans frantically redrawing lines to increase their advantage; they’re doing it in a way that in place after place ensures that the results of every election will be clear long before any candidates debate issues or voters contemplate their choices. . . .

This is not ordinary partisan jockeying. It has been taken to an entirely new level, as a Republican campaign more than a decade in the making comes to fruition. Its goal is not merely to give Republicans an advantage in close elections. Its goal is to make elections irrelevant, so that no matter what the voters want, Republicans always stay in power.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer issues the same warning:

Republicans — who control the majority of state legislatures, partly because of their radical gerrymandering a decade ago — are for the most part [creating] a national map that would make next year’s midterm outlook bleak for Democrats even if the party bounced back to roughly even in [the] polls. Typical is the remapping process in competitive states that lean slightly Republican like North Carolina — where party registration is roughly equal yet the new districts tilt 10-4 for the GOP — or Ohio, where Republicans who got 55% of the 2020 presidential vote gerrymandered a stunning 12-3 congressional edge. . . . 

If anything, what Republicans are willing to do with T____ out of power could ultimately prove an even greater threat to democracy than actually having the authoritarian-yet-inept T____ in the White House. Democrats need to begin sounding this alarm today — that voters who turned out in near-record numbers in 2020 to defeat the culture of T____ism need to defy history and show up next November, to prevent something even worse. 

Unquote.

Aside from voting in record numbers next year, we also have to pressure a small number of Democratic senators (Manchin and Sinema especially) to pass a strong voting rights bill before it’s too late. Convincing a few senators to see reason should be easier than convincing millions more Democrats to vote in an off-year election.

An Urgent Message from Amy Siskind

You might remember the Weekly List, an effort by Amy Siskind to document the weekly, in fact daily, abnormal behavior of the previous administration. She published the list because “experts in authoritarianism advise keeping a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember”.

Week 129 of May 4, 2019, for example, included Robert Mueller telling former attorney general Bill Barr that Barr’s four-page summary of the “Mueller Report” didn’t capture “the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work. She’s not putting out new lists anymore, but she’s still as worried about the creeping authoritarianism being delivered by the Republican Party. This week’s message:

January 20, 2021 we were finally able to exhale, believing our near brush with authoritarianism was behind us, and that with President Joe Biden taking office our country and political system would return to normalcy. The ensuing months proved otherwise. Elected Republicans continually questioned the 2020 election results, and attempted to rewrite history, including casting the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol as a mere “tourist visit.” Rep. Liz Cheney, a critic of former President D____ T____, was removed from House leadership and replaced by a loyalist, Rep. Elise Stefanik.

Instead of righting itself, the Republican Party has been subsumed by T____ism. Nearly 6 in 10 Republican voters say believing the Big Lie that T____ won in 2020 is an important part of their party identification. At the same time, Republicans have quietly and methodically taken steps to be in a position to overturn the 2024 election. The 2020 election aftermath may well be a harbinger, much like Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch or the 1905 Russian revolution, a dry run for a coup of our democracy.

Biden understands this too. He has spoken repeatedly about the need to prove a functioning government can deliver for the people. In his first joint address to Congress, he extolled, “We have to prove democracy still works.” We are still, one year later, very much in a battle for the soul of our country, a battle to determine whether we remain a democracy or descend into an authoritarian state. That is why the upcoming midterms are so critically important, and we all need to gear up and get engaged in saving our democracy!

The first part of the Republican playbook is widespread voter suppression. So far this year, 17 states led by Republican legislatures have used the Big Lie to enact restrictive voting laws. It’s a tried and true strategy of a party reliant on white, Christian voters—a declining proportion of our population—to deny the right to vote to people whose skin is not white.

Part of the reason it’s so easy to get away with voter suppression is the Republican Party’s long game of taking control of our nation’s highest court. After invalidating key parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, in July 2021 an even more conservatively-stacked Supreme Court signaled their disinterest in protecting the right to vote in a  6-3 ruling on Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, allowing two Arizona voter suppression provisions to stand.  The ruling makes it substantially harder to challenge restrictive measures, effectively leaving it in Congress’ hands to pass voting rights legislation. That window could close after the 2022 midterms.

Already these measures, accompanied by aggressive gerrymandering in some GOP-led states, will make the climb to keeping our majorities that much steeper. Take Georgia, for example, where Sen. Raphael Warnock is up for re-election, this time facing 16 new provisions enacted by Republicans to limit voting. Losing our majorities in the midterms would disable our last safety valve at the federal level to protect against GOP efforts to subvert our democracy with voter suppression. Without federal legislation, these efforts at the state level would go unchallenged—save for states led by a Democratic governor.

Not coincidentally, another target in the Republican playbook will be Democratic governors.  Just last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan vetoed restrictive voting bills put forth by the state’s Republican-led legislature. It was a test flare. Republicans are hyper-focused for 2022 on three key states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Ring a bell? In 2016, a mere seventy-seven thousand votes in these three states delivered T____ the presidency. The same three states were also key to Biden’s 2020 victory. On the ballot next year in all three states are the roles of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state—the safeguards not only from voter suppression laws, but also for overturning state results.

T____ had a practice run with overturning the will of voters in 2020, coming closest in the state of Michigan. He invited two Michigan state legislators to the White House, while his allies and lawyers put forward fake claims of widespread voter fraud in Wayne County (part of Detroit with a large Black population). The Michigan State Board of Canvassers eventually held hearings before finally certifying results weeks after Election Day. It was a cliffhanger. As someone who closely monitored the transition of power, it was the one time I feared T____ could invalidate a state’s results and set off a domino effect, overturning the election and ending our democracy.

Ahead of the 2024 election, T____ has been priming his base with the Big Lie. A recent poll found just one-third of Republicans say they will trust the 2024 election results if their candidate loses. Republicans, inspired by T____’s false accusations of widespread fraud, have been systematically threatening election officials and their families, causing an exodus of experienced workers—many of whom will be replaced by T____ loyalists. Imagine a scenario with a close election, but this time Republicans control the House and Senate, and key state positions in the three states stacked with his loyalists. Who would fight back? This is the nightmare scenario the GOP is quietly cobbling together. This would spell the end of the great American experiment in democracy!

As dire as this sounds, it is not too late to fight back and protect our democracy. We know how to do this. We organized resistance groups in 2018 to take back the House, and then in 2020 the White House and Senate. I know many are feeling exhausted from the combination of the T____ era and a once in a century pandemic which has left us with generational trauma. I get it. But it’s time to push the panic button, and awaken into activism! The feeling of calm now is but quicksand.

Reach out to your members of the House and Senate—send them this article—and demand URGENCY and action on voting rights! As leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell carved out an exception to the filibuster to confirm T____’s judges. We can and must do so too in order to protect the core of our democracy: the right to vote. In the end, we are the cavalry. No one is coming to save us.

We Can’t Afford To Be Discouraged

Every so often I step back from the day’s transitory events and consider that a president of the United States recently tried to overturn the results of an election so he could stay in office. With the help of various public officials and propagandists, he has been able to convince millions of Americans that changing the results of the election, i.e. insurrection, was justified. A year later, few Republican politicians refuse to admit he lost.

Furthermore, all around the country, the former president’s supporters are trying to make it harder to vote and easier to change the results of future elections, including an election in which he may again be a candidate.

Support for the Republican Party should have collapsed by now. It hasn’t.

Meanwhile, in Washington, two senators who claim to be Democrats are delaying the implementation of President Biden’s agenda, even though it’s the agenda Biden ran on in 2020. In fact, these two senators refuse to modify the current version of a Senate rule in order to protect the voting rights under assault by members of the other party.

Some voters who ordinarily support Democrats, or might be inclined to do so given the present state of the Republican Party, are discouraged. It’s feared that these voters might not turn out in sufficient numbers in upcoming elections.

The irony is that the situation in Congress and Republican-led statehouses should lead more people to vote and support Democratic candidates. Insuring that the House of Representatives remains in Democratic hands after the 2022 election is crucial. Insuring that there are at least 50 Democrats in the Senate willing to support the president’s agenda and protect voting rights is also crucial. Insuring that more Democrats win local elections is crucial too.

It isn’t fearmongering to point out that America’s political system is on very shaky ground. Majority rule is under attack by right-wing authoritarians. Time is running out to seriously address the climate crisis. This is no time to be discouraged and stop fighting for a better America and a better world.

When You Think About It, It Really Sucks

From Christian Cooper for The Washington Post way back in January:

Imagine if a country today took a plurality-Black  population, stripped those citizens of any meaningful political power, and relegated them to the whims of a few privileged Whites who ruled in comfort and majesty.

Welcome to Washington, D.C. How did our nation’s capital earn this disgraceful distinction? Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, African Americans constituted a majority of the residents of the District of Columbia. Today, about 45 percent of D.C.’s population is Black, still the city’s single largest racial group. But the people of D.C. do not have voting representation in the House of Representatives or the Senate — despite paying the same federal taxes as the rest of the country.

To make matters worse, D.C. residents have only limited control of affairs within their own borders; the city’s budget and every law the city council passes are subject to approval by Congress. So a collection of outsiders — mostly White men of privilege from somewhere else — dictate to the people of D.C., who are mostly non-White, how things are going to be.

Black disenfranchisement wasn’t the goal from D.C.’s start; rather, it resulted from the confluence of population growth, demographic shifts and the Framers’ quest for neutrality at the center of government. That this situation arises as an unintended consequence makes it no less intolerable.

Yet it has been tolerated, for decades, the insult to Black dignity and self-determination shrugged off, revealing the racial bias at the core of its continued existence. It is part of a long history of African American disenfranchisement, as old as the United States, whose Constitution counted our enslaved ancestors as three-fifths of a person. It echoes the nearly century-long denial of voting rights to Black people, followed by the suppression of the Black vote on through the civil rights era, to today’s renaissance of Black voter suppression, masterfully recast as efforts to combat nonexistent “voter fraud.”

It continues because some look at our right to have a say in our own destiny and still see us as only three-fifths human.

D.C.’s political limbo is all the more infuriating because ending this injustice would be relatively easy. Shrinking the federal enclave to a much smaller, nonresidential area of monuments and key buildings and granting the rest of D.C. statehood would give the people of the District the home rule and full representation in Congress every American deserves.

With some 700,000 residents, D.C. as a state would be more populous than two of the other 50 states. There is no defensible reason that sparsely populated, overwhelmingly White Wyoming (pop. approx. 580,000) and Vermont (approx. 625,000) should each have two senators while mostly non-White D.C. gets none.

Republicans respond by saying that, since any senators from D.C. would likely be Democrats, granting statehood to the District is nothing more than an unfair political power grab. Here’s what’s truly unfair: Our Constitution grants every state two senators regardless of its population. That may have been fine in 1789, when barely a dozen states existed and differences between rural and urban areas were not so pronounced.

But it has become absurd with the passage of 230 years. North Dakota and South Dakota, with a combined, nearly all-White citizenry of about 1,650,000, are represented by four senators, all Republican; California, with a diverse population of about 40 million, is represented in the Senate by two Democrats. It is Republicans who have pulled off the power grab.

But it should not matter whether senators from a new state of D.C. would be blue, red or Day-Glo green: Nobody gets to deny any Americans their rightful votes just because they don’t like who those Americans vote for. . . . 

The House voted last year to make D.C. a state. The Senate has never taken a vote on the question. As of Jan. 20, Senate Democrats can take the next step. It requires only that they close ranks to scrap the filibuster, either in its entirety or more surgically, to advance this cause of full enfranchisement for District residents. The filibuster has already been diminished twice in recent years; such a move is not unprecedented.

It is a stain on our nation that, in the very shadow of the monuments to American democracy, a separate and unequal form of citizenship has been allowed to endure. Democrats can put an end to it once and for all by granting statehood to Washington, D.C. The only question is whether they have the will and the moral conscience to do it.

[At which point, the narrator says “not enough of them did or do”].

Giving full voting rights to the residents of Washington D.C. would fit nicely with the voting rights legislation now pending in Congress, more than eight months after the above was written. If only all fifty Democrats had the will and moral conscience to do something about it.

A Uniquely Dangerous Moment

Robert Kagan of The Washington Post explains why the threat we face is unique in American history. His article is almost 6,000 words. I don’t agree with everything he says, but the threat is real. Here’s 75% of what he wrote:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.” — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, D____ T____ will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest . . . Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, T____ and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. T____’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that T____ and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for T____ are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process.

As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. . . . Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian.

They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating T____ since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power.

The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if T____ had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, T____ came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but T____ has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the T____ phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on the separation of the three branches of government, each of which, they believed, would zealously guard its own power and prerogatives. The Framers did not establish safeguards against the possibility that national-party solidarity would transcend state boundaries because they did not imagine such a thing was possible. Nor did they foresee that members of Congress, and perhaps members of the judicial branch, too, would refuse to check the power of a president from their own party.

In recent decades, however, party loyalty has superseded branch loyalty, and never more so than in the T____ era. As the two T____ impeachments showed, if Republican members of Congress are willing to defend or ignore the president’s actions simply because he is their party leader, then conviction and removal become all but impossible. In such circumstances, the Framers left no other check against usurpation by the executive — except (small-r) republican virtue.

Critics and supporters alike have consistently failed to recognize what a unique figure T____ is in American history. Because his followers share fundamentally conservative views, many see T____ as merely the continuation, and perhaps the logical culmination, of the Reagan Revolution. This is a mistake . . . In fact, the passions that animate the T____ movement are as old as the republic and have found a home in both parties at one time or another.

Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions . . . ; distrust of the broader world, especially Europe. . . — such views and attitudes have been part of the fabric of U.S. politics since the anti-Federalists, the Whiskey Rebellion and Thomas Jefferson. The Democratic Party was the home of white supremacists until they jumped to George Wallace in 1968 and later to the Republicans. Liberals and Democrats in particular need to distinguish between their ongoing battle with Republican policies and the challenge posed by T____ and his followers. One can be fought through the processes of the constitutional system; the other is an assault on the Constitution itself.

What makes the T____ movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, T____ himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements. Although the Founders feared the rise of a king or a Caesar, for two centuries Americans proved relatively immune to unwavering hero-worship of politicians. Their men on horseback — Theodore Roosevelt, Grant, even Washington — were not regarded as infallible. This was true of great populist leaders as well. William Jennings Bryan a century ago was venerated because he advanced certain ideas and policies, but he did not enjoy unquestioning loyalty from his followers. Reagan was criticized by conservatives for selling out conservative principles, for deficit spending, for his equivocal stance on abortion, for being “soft” on the Soviet Union.

T____ is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of T____ supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with T____ has little to do with economics or other material concerns.

They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — “losers,” to use T____’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view T____ as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, Republicans In Name Only, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the “Mitch McConnell Republicans.”

His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity. While T____’s critics see him as too narcissistic to be any kind of leader, his supporters admire his unapologetic, militant selfishness. Unlike establishment Republicans, T____ speaks without embarrassment on behalf of an aggrieved segment of Americans . . .  who feel they have been taking it on the chin for too long. And that is all he needs to do.

There was a time when political analysts wondered what would happen when T____ failed to “deliver” for his constituents. But the most important thing T____ delivers is himself. His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites,” his followers see their own victimization. That is why attacks on T____ by the elites only strengthen his bond with his followers. That is why millions of T____ supporters have even been willing to risk death [to COVID-19] as part of their show of solidarity: When T____’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic. One T____ supporter didn’t go to the hospital after developing covid-19 symptoms because he didn’t want to contribute to the liberal case against T____. “I’m not going to add to the numbers,” he told a reporter.

Because the T____ movement is less about policies than about T____ himself, it has undermined the normal role of American political parties, which is to absorb new political and ideological movements into the mainstream. Bryan never became president, but some of his populist policies were adopted by both political parties. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s supporters might not have wanted Biden for president, but having lost the nomination battle they could work on getting Biden to pursue their agenda. Liberal democracy requires acceptance of adverse electoral results, a willingness to countenance the temporary rule of those with whom we disagree. As historian Richard Hofstadter observed, it requires that people “endure error in the interest of social peace.” Part of that willingness stems from the belief that the democratic system makes it possible to work, even in opposition, to correct the ruling party’s errors and overreach. Movements based on ideas and policies can also quickly shift their allegiances. Today, the progressives’ flag-bearer might be Sanders, but tomorrow it could be Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or someone else.

For a movement built around a cult of personality, these adjustments are not possible. For T____ supporters, the “error” is that T____ was cheated out of reelection by what he has told them is an oppressive, communist, Democrat regime. While the defeat of a sitting president normally leads to a struggle to claim the party’s mantle, so far no Republican has been able to challenge T____’s grip on Republican voters . . .  It is still all about T____. . . .

The T____ movement might not have begun as an insurrection, but it became one after its leader claimed he had been cheated out of reelection. For T____ supporters, the events of Jan. 6 were not an embarrassing debacle but a patriotic effort to save the nation, by violent action if necessary. As one 56-year-old Michigan woman explained: “We weren’t there to steal things. We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.”

The banal normalcy of the great majority of T____’s supporters, including those who went to the Capitol on Jan. 6, has befuddled many observers. Although private militia groups and white supremacists played a part in the attack, 90 percent of those arrested or charged had no ties to such groups. The majority were middle-class and middle-aged; 40 percent were business owners or white-collar workers. They came mostly from purple, not red, counties.

. . . Their bigotry, for the most part, is typical white American bigotry, perhaps with an added measure of resentment and a less filtered mode of expression since T____ arrived on the scene. But these are normal people in the sense that they think and act as people have for centuries. They put their trust in family, tribe, religion and race. Although jealous in defense of their own rights and freedoms, they are less concerned about the rights and freedoms of those who are not like them. That, too, is not unusual. What is unnatural is to value the rights of others who are unlike you as much as you value your own.

As it happens, however, that is what the American experiment in republican democracy requires. It is what the Framers meant by “republican virtue,” a love of freedom not only for oneself but also as an abstract, universal good; a love of self-government as an ideal; a commitment to abide by the laws passed by legitimate democratic processes; and a healthy fear of and vigilance against tyranny of any kind.

Even James Madison, who framed the Constitution on the assumption that people would always pursue their selfish interests, nevertheless argued that it was “chimerical” to believe that any form of government could “secure liberty and happiness without any virtue in the people.” Al Gore and his supporters displayed republican virtue when they abided by the Supreme Court’s judgment in 2000 despite the partisan nature of the justices’ decision. (Whether the court itself displayed republican virtue is another question.) [Note: they didn’t]

The events of Jan. 6, on the other hand, proved that T____ and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past. While it might be shocking to learn that normal, decent Americans can support a violent assault on the Capitol, it shows that Americans as a people are not as exceptional as their founding principles and institutions. Europeans who joined fascist movements in the 1920s and 1930s were also from the middle classes. No doubt many of them were good parents and neighbors, too. People do things as part of a mass movement that they would not do as individuals, especially if they are convinced that others are out to destroy their way of life.

It would be foolish to imagine that the violence of Jan. 6 was an aberration that will not be repeated. Because T____ supporters see those events as a patriotic defense of the nation, there is every reason to expect more such episodes. T____ has returned to the explosive rhetoric of that day, insisting that he won in a “landslide,” that the “radical left Democrat communist party” stole the presidency in the “most corrupt, dishonest, and unfair election in the history of our country” and that they have to give it back. He has targeted for defeat those Republicans who voted for his impeachment — or criticized him for his role in the riot.

Already, there have been threats to bomb polling sites, kidnap officials and attack state capitols. “You and your family will be killed very slowly,” the wife of Georgia’s top election official was texted earlier this year. . . .  Looking ahead to 2022 and 2024, T____ insists “there is no way they win elections without cheating. There’s no way.” So, if the results come in showing another Democratic victory, T____’s supporters will know what to do. Just as “generations of patriots” gave “their sweat, their blood and even their very lives” to build America, T____ tells them, so today “we have no choice. We have to fight” to restore “our American birthright.”

Where does the Republican Party stand in all this? The party gave birth to and nurtured this movement; it bears full responsibility for establishing the conditions in which T____ could capture the loyalty of 90 percent of Republican voters. Republican leaders were more than happy to ride T____’s coattails if it meant getting paid off with hundreds of conservative court appointments, including three Supreme Court justices; tax cuts; immigration restrictions; and deep reductions in regulations on business.

Yet T____’s triumph also had elements of a hostile takeover. The movement’s passion was for T____, not the party. . . .  T____’s grip on his supporters left no room for an alternative power center in the party. . . . Those who disapproved of T____ could either keep silent or leave. . . . 

All this has left few dissenting voices within the Republican ecosystem. The Republican Party today is a zombie party. Its leaders go through the motions of governing in pursuit of traditional Republican goals, wrestling over infrastructure spending and foreign policy, even as real power in the party has leached away to T____. From the uneasy and sometimes contentious partnership during T____’s four years in office, the party’s main if not sole purpose today is as the willing enabler of T____’s efforts to game the electoral system to ensure his return to power.

With the party firmly under his thumb, T____ is now fighting the Biden administration on separate fronts. One is normal, legitimate political competition, where Republicans criticize Biden’s policies, feed and fight the culture wars, and in general behave like a typical hostile opposition.

The other front is outside the bounds of constitutional and democratic competition and into the realm of illegal or extralegal efforts to undermine the electoral process. The two are intimately related, because the Republican Party has used its institutional power in the political sphere to shield T____ and his followers from the consequences of their illegal and extralegal activities in the lead-up to Jan. 6. . ..  Party leaders, run interference for the T____ movement in the sphere of legitimate politics, while Republicans in lesser positions cheer on the Jan. 6 perpetrators, turning them into martyrs and heroes, and encouraging illegal acts in the future.

This pincer assault has several advantages. Republican politicians and would-be policymakers can play the role of the legitimate opposition. They can rediscover their hawkish internationalist foreign policy (suspended during the T____ years) and their deficit-minded economics (also suspended during the T____ years). They can go on the mainstream Sunday shows and critique the Biden administration on issues such as Afghanistan. They can pretend that T____ is no longer part of the equation. Biden is the president, after all . . . . It is a dodge. Republicans focus on China and critical race theory and avoid any mention of T____, even as the party works to fix the next election in his favor. The left hand professes to know nothing of what the right hand is doing.

Even T____ opponents play along. Republicans such as Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse have condemned the events of Jan. 6, criticized T____ and even voted for his impeachment, but in other respects they continue to act as good Republicans and conservatives. On issues such as the filibuster, Romney and others insist on preserving “regular order” and conducting political and legislative business as usual, even though they know that T____’s lieutenants in their party are working to subvert the next presidential election.

The result is that even these anti-T____ Republicans are enabling the insurrection. Revolutionary movements usually operate outside a society’s power structures. But the T____ movement also enjoys unprecedented influence within those structures. It dominates the coverage on several cable news networks, numerous conservative magazines, hundreds of talk radio stations and all kinds of online platforms. It has access to financing from rich individuals and the Republican National Committee’s donor pool. And, not least, it controls one of the country’s two national parties. All that is reason enough to expect another challenge, for what movement would fail to take advantage of such favorable circumstances to make a play for power?

Today, we are in a time of hope and illusion. The same people who said that T____ wouldn’t try to overturn the last election now say we have nothing to worry about with the next one. Republicans have been playing this game for five years, first pooh-poohing concerns about T____’s intentions, or about the likelihood of their being realized, and then going silent, or worse, when what they insisted was improbable came to pass. . . . 

The world will look very different in 14 months if, as seems likely, the Republican zombie party wins control of the House. At that point, with the political winds clearly blowing in his favor, T____ is all but certain to announce his candidacy, and social media constraints on his speech are likely to be lifted, since Facebook and Twitter would have a hard time justifying censoring his campaign. With his megaphone back, T____ would once again dominate news coverage, as outlets prove unable to resist covering him around the clock . . . 

But this time, T____ would have advantages that he lacked in 2016 and 2020, including more loyal officials in state and local governments; the Republicans in Congress; and the backing of GOP donors, think tanks and journals of opinion. And he will have the T____ movement, including many who are armed and ready to be activated, again. Who is going to stop him then? On its current trajectory, the 2024 Republican Party will make the 2020 Republican Party seem positively defiant. . . . 

Seven Republican senators voted to convict T____ for inciting an insurrection and attempting to overturn a free and fair election: Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Patrick J. Toomey. It was a brave vote, a display of republican virtue, especially for the five who are not retiring in 2022. . . .  Yet as much credit as they deserve for taking this stand, it was almost entirely symbolic. When it comes to concrete action that might prevent a debacle in 2024, they have balked.

Specifically, they have refused to work with Democrats to pass legislation limiting state legislatures’ ability to overturn the results of future elections, to ensure that the federal government continues to have some say when states try to limit voting rights, to provide federal protection to state and local election workers who face threats, and in general to make clear to the nation that a bipartisan majority in the Senate opposes the subversion of the popular will. Why?

. . .  They can’t be under any illusion about what a second T____ term would mean. T____’s disdain for the rule of law is clear. His exoneration from the charges leveled in his impeachment trials — the only official, legal response to his actions — practically ensures that he would wield power even more aggressively. His experience with unreliable subordinates in his first term is likely to guide personnel decisions in a second. Only total loyalists would serve at the head of the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and the Pentagon. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs will not be someone likely to place his or her own judgment above that of their civilian commander in chief. Nor would a Republican Senate fail to confirm T____ loyalists. In such a world, with T____ and his lieutenants in charge of all the levers of state power, including its growing capacity for surveillance, opposing T____ would become increasingly risky for Republicans and Democrats alike. A T____ victory is likely to mean at least the temporary suspension of American democracy as we have known it.

We are already in a constitutional crisis. The destruction of democracy might not come until November 2024, but critical steps in that direction are happening now. In a little more than a year, it may become impossible to pass legislation to protect the electoral process in 2024. Now it is impossible only because anti-T____ Republicans, and even some Democrats, refuse to tinker with the filibuster. It is impossible because, despite all that has happened, some people still wish to be good Republicans even as they oppose T____. These decisions will not wear well as the nation tumbles into full-blown crisis.

It is not impossible for politicians to make such a leap. The Republican Party itself was formed in the 1850s by politicians who abandoned their previous party — former Whigs, former Democrats and former members of the Liberty and Free Soil parties. . . . 

Romney & Co. don’t have to abandon their party. They can fashion themselves as Constitutional Republicans who, in the present emergency, are willing to form a national unity coalition in the Senate for the sole purpose of saving the republic. Their cooperation with Democrats could be strictly limited to matters relating to the Constitution and elections. . . . 

Senate Democrats were wise to cut down their once-massive voting rights wish list and get behind the smaller compromise measure unveiled last week by Manchin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. But they have yet to attract any votes from their Republican colleagues for the measure. Heading into the next election, it is vital to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It will also still be necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab. . . . 

One wonders whether modern American politicians, in either party, have it in them to make such bold moves, whether they have the insight to see where events are going and the courage to do whatever is necessary to save the democratic system. If that means political suicide for this handful of Republicans, wouldn’t it be better to go out fighting for democracy than to slink off quietly into the night?