The end of hope

by John Quiggin on February 9, 2022

If you want to mark the end of hope for US democracy, last weekend was as good a date as any. Both Trump and the Republican National Committee made unequivocal commitments to supporting the insurrection.

The response, on the Republican side, was much the same as in every previous step along the road to dictatorship. The usual handful of serving politicians, like Romney and Hogan (MD governor) objected, as did sometimes-Trumper Mitch McConnell, but none (not even Cheney and Kinzinger, the targets of the censure) even hinted at changing parties. A rather larger group of retired Repubs signed a statement, again failing to urge rejection of their party. Most current Repubs dodged the issue, claiming not to have read the news for a while. And, a couple of days later, it’s just about forgotten.

The result is that the overthrow of democracy has become, as far as the political culture is concerned, a routine issue of disagreement between the parties. In these circumstances, the par outcome is that the opposition party will do well in the midterm elections, and all the evidence suggests that 2022 won’t be an exception. So, unless effective legislation to prevent election subversion is passed this year, it never will be. It seems highly unlikely that reforms to the Electoral Count Act, if they pass, will be enough.

To look a little on the bright side, assuming Trump returns as president in 2024 (with or without a legitimate majority in the Electoral College) what’s the best chance of a more or less free election in 2028? Looking at the end of similar regimes, I’d say it’s a succession crisis.

Trump will be term limited in 2028. I expect, as is usual in such cases, he will either try to get around the limit or nominate a family member (probably Don Jr or Ivanka) to take his place. For ambitious Republicans, this will be the last chance to grab the presidency for themselves. The resulting struggle might lead some to see a return to democracy as their best chance.

Alternatively, Trump might die or become incapacitated. He’ll be 82 in 2028. A lot would depend on the circumstances, but if he died in office, his vice-president would become president and would then have to fight it out with the junior Trumps and other contenders. Again, anything might happen.

{ 19 comments }

1

nastywoman 02.09.22 at 11:11 am

Good Lord?! –

‘trump’ (the worlds new word for: Utmost Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Idiot) will NEVER become President again – even as ALL of the following is very depressingly true:

‘If you want to mark the end of hope for US democracy, last weekend was as good a date as any. Both Trump and the Republican National Committee made unequivocal commitments to supporting the insurrection’.
And that’s just the way Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Idiots in the US like to play ‘politics’ – and yesterday Jimmy Kimmel asked somebody on Hollywood Blvd: ‘Who are these people and WHO is the current US President and somebody answered:
‘Kanye’!

WAIT?!! –

That wasn’t yesterday?
That already was a few weeks ago –
AND before that – a few weeks ago before the few weeks…?
And I think one of the dudes who answered such ‘a tremendously difficult political trick question’ in the right manner was from…
from…
Australia? – and I also have these friends from Australia, who know everything about politics in the US and who are tremendously worried about the American Democracy – but they live in Zürich and so they actually couldn’t care less – and as I just yesterday flew from Zürich to Miami – and couldn’t sleep – and went to the Walgreen – I found out – everybody here couldn’t care less – about anything either? And do you guys know, that in Miami Beach… this… this ‘Virus’ already is completely forgotten – and about ‘democracy’ I have a friend in CA who called her cat: ‘Democracy’ and then we went surfing…

2

Shirley0401 02.09.22 at 11:27 am

I think there is a decent chance Trump just clearly and unambiguously loses again and virtually the entire GOP caucus simply claims he won and “everyone knows it,” and we finally see widespread murderous physical violence break out across the country, goaded on by the Open Insurrection Caucus. I can’t stomach much Cawthorn or MTG, but from what little I’ve seen, they’re already getting their millions of followers riled up in anticipation.

3

JimV 02.09.22 at 4:42 pm

Coming from a family and community of long-term Republican voters, I see signs from some of them that enough is enough. Of course what they want is not to become Democrat voters, but for another party to form, from “the best” of Republicanism–whatever that is. Well, I am old enough to remember when Nelson Rockefeller was my governor, and my state had one Democrat and one Republican senator, who got along.

Still, I tend to think the compromises and deficits of our Constitution are coming home to roost in an inevitable way, given the number of sociopaths who are born every minute.

4

Chetan Murthy 02.09.22 at 6:05 pm

John, just to draw the obvious conclusion from your observations:

It’s a lead-pipe cinch that sometime in the next decade, the GrOPers will gain the trifecta (Prez, House, Senate). That’ll be the last free Federal election in America, and the GrOPers have made that clear.

5

Alex SL 02.09.22 at 9:07 pm

Not sure the focus on Trump and his family is that salient. I see no reason why the authoritarians wouldn’t rally around a different candidate, with the same outcome.

6

Chetan Murthy 02.09.22 at 9:13 pm

Shirley0401: I will take this moment to reiterate my plug for Barbara F. Walter’s excellent book How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them. She connects what’s happening today, with what happened in civil wars in other countries (of which there are many). And she paints a chilling scenario of the 2028 election, filling-in the gaps in your prognostication. Widespread terrorism, assassinations. And we can look to 1/6, but esp the #FluTrucksKlan siege in Ottawa, as a harbinger of the future. The enemies of democracy certainly see it that way.

Somewhere recently, I saw a really, really crisp definition of undemocratic-but-faking-it government: when clearly definable demographics groups vote at a rate lower than the average for the population. Full stop. [OK, set aside children] I think that’s about as crisp as you can get.

America isn’t a democracy in many places, and it’s getting worse. Much, much worse.

7

Publius Jay 02.10.22 at 4:38 am

Changing parties is not the right response here. No Democrat can hold a Senate seat in Utah or a House seat in Wyoming. And, leaving the Republican party is an easy excuse for Republicans to simply declare the departing Republican to be outside the tent, a secret Democrat, who they were right to ignore all along.

If this is to be stopped (and it might not be) it will be Republicans who stop it (as it was largely Republicans to stopped it in 2020). Our democracy can’t function with a party opposed to democracy and unfortunately the Republican party isn’t disappearing (whatever any elected officials do).

8

Ed 02.10.22 at 9:29 am

Romney could conceivably run for Prez as an independent and peel off enough votes to keep Republican Trump from winning (or even “winning”). Dunno if he’d be up for it. He’d surely take a lot of grief from his party but the weekly tongue baths from Chuck Todd et al would balance that.

Romney/Dick Cheney’s Daughter 2024!

9

Chris Bertram 02.10.22 at 9:35 am

Faced with permanent right-authoritarian government, there will be secessionist movements in liberal states such as California, Washington, New York, Massachusetts etc. Who knows with what long-term prospects.

10

TM 02.10.22 at 9:35 am

I second Alex. Hoping that the GOP will get back to their bad but not fascistsic old ways once Trump is gone is delusional. The extremists now running the Republican Party aren’t simply power hungry thugs, they are animated by a hateful, totalitarian ideology and they will turn it into reality as soon as they can, to the extent that they can. The only limit will be the extent and efficacy of the resistance. Which doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, it means we really need to step up the resistance.

11

nastywoman 02.10.22 at 10:35 am

and about:
@10 –
‘Hoping that the GOP will get back to their bad but not fascistsic old ways once Trump is gone is delusional’.
OR @9 –
‘there will be secessionist movements in liberal states such as California, Washington, New York, Massachusetts etc.
OR @10 –
‘The only limit will be the extent and efficacy of the resistance. Which doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, it means we really need to step up the resistance’.

YES and YES and YES –
as the utmost effective ‘resistance’ already includes some Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Idiots of all – supposedly – ‘political’ or ‘religious’ believes.
And never before in my Lifetime have I seen US Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Idiots
HATING other Right Wing Racist Science Denying Idiots in my Homeland as much as NOW.
AND never before US Right Wing Racist Science Denying Idiots were as divided and as confused as NOW. And in order to use one of the ‘BEAUTIFUL’ words of ‘trump’
(the worlds new word for: ‘Utmost Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Stupid)

The Republican Party – – hopefully- will keep on BEAUTIFULLY deconstruct itself to the utmost stupid degree.

12

NomadUK 02.10.22 at 1:29 pm

Re: Chris Bertram@9: Vermont’s big mistake was in not going in with Canada when they had the chance.

13

M Caswell 02.10.22 at 1:50 pm

What about an equilibrium where the Democrats make sure to lose every close election fair and square? Seems like that could leave the status quo in place for a while.

14

Fake Dave 02.10.22 at 2:17 pm

I don’t think anything about recent years has been normal and I doubt that will change by the midterms. People who are expecting the typical “party-in-power loses seats” outcome this far out are being awfully fatalistic. We don’t even know if the pandemic will still be active by then or what a recovery will look like. The collective trauma has been building for two years. We haven’t come close to dealing with it. After all this, there will be despair and anger and destructive self-righteousness, but people will also want to take control again. Some of those people are going to be on the warpath for “traditional values” or a white ethnostate or other Bad Ideas, but they’re a minority even in red states and there’s no reason to think the rest of us will just stand around and watch while things go all Handmaid’s Tale on us.

People aren’t that apathetic about their own freedom and safety. It just seems like people don’t care about democracy because so far it’s all been endless talk with no opportunity for action. When the time comes, normal Americans — busy people who don’t view politics as a hobby or obsession but more like an unpleasant chore to be put off — are going to start paying attention again and they’re not going to be happy. The outrage about January 6th that seems to be missing so far is still coming, I’m sure of it. It’s just that most people have been distracted by the pandemic and are confused and uncertain about what’s actually been going on. Once the facts are more broadly known, I suspect the Republicans will find their current position untenable and will start looking for scapegoats.

It took a long time for the tide to properly turn on Trump, but it did. Maybe we need to start looking out for the next putschist, but he’s done. He loves to talk but he’s lost that winning momentum and now he’s too old and out of it to keep fighting gravity. I think the serious Republicans have mostly accepted this and are waiting for the mob of cranks to move on to the next cable news obsession. In a few years, they might disavow him like they did Nixon (who most Republicans still supported when he left office), but doing it too soon could cost them credibility (party loyalty is everything to most Republicans and many Democrats). That doesn’t mean they’re willing to follow him over the cliff in three years though (assuming he actually runs). Voters’ attention spans aren’t that long. I’m sure by the midterms win or lose, they’ll have found a new torch bearer and cause celebre to latch onto and once the base has moved on so will the party.

15

Chetan Murthy 02.10.22 at 11:48 pm

Fake Dave: Certainly there are people who think that TFG is a sui generis threat to American democracy. Sure. Sure. But I think most respectable commentators think that TFG is merely a manifestation of the GrOPers, and the Conservatie Movement generally. Yes, he taught them how to bay to their base with a bullhorn. But they were heading that way, cycle-by-cycle, every time they lost at the Federal level. Every time, they got worse. Since Clinton, the GrOPers have built up an edifice of anger and hatred, and specifically founded upon the assumption, the axiom, that no Democratic victory is legitimate and no Democratic elected official may be allowed to govern.

And since Obama was elected, they’ve built a rage machine on racist reaction.

What we learned a few days ago, was that they’re ready to abandon any pretense (however slight) of committment to democracy: they believe that violence is a legitimate alternative to losing at the ballot box. You write

Voters’ attention spans aren’t that long. I’m sure by the midterms win or lose, they’ll have found a new torch bearer and cause celebre to latch onto and once the base has moved on so will the party.

but the problem isn’t that voters will move on from TFG. Rather, that whomever they move on to, will use the same methods of racist reaction to incite the base, and will refuse to allow Democratic victories, regardless of what method that refusal entails.

They’re not done, they’re not moving on, and they definitely want to kill or subjugate us all. That’s what they told us, when they said that the Epiphany Coup was “legitimate political discourse”.

16

craig fritch 02.11.22 at 2:00 am

Sure glad to have gotten to Canada. American born, and still American in Spirit. Maybe Trudeau will welcome y’all.

17

nastywoman 02.11.22 at 10:38 am

@14
‘When the time comes, normal Americans — busy people who don’t view politics as a hobby or obsession but more like an unpleasant chore to be put off — are going to start paying attention again and they’re not going to be happy’.

that’s not ‘Fake’ – Dave –
as I just met a lot of them…

18

Trader Joe 02.11.22 at 1:37 pm

@14 Dave
“We don’t even know if the pandemic will still be active by then or what a recovery will look like. ”
Dude, the recovery is over. It already happened. The economy only gets worse from here. The pandemic also may be over – NJ, NY, CT et al have already thrown in the towel. Stay safe on your own recognizance.

The end of hope we need to worry about is Uncle Joe having a heart attack or stroke and the ticket in 2024 has Veep Harris at the top….then Trump (or whomever) will win by a landslide and actually have a mandate for whatever they imagine they ought to do.

19

kent 02.11.22 at 10:09 pm

Just put me down as one more who hasn’t lost hope. At all.

Anxiety leads to very confident predictions that the future will be terrible, and virtually all of those prediction turn out to be incorrect. All of us politically aware left-leaners are at least a little bit anxious and unhappy right now, due to COVID and Trump and global warming and so on. That factor ought to decrease our confidence in our own predictions.

The future is unknown, just like it always is. The potential for horrible outcomes is there. But there’s plenty of room for hope.

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