American democracy is at risk under power-hungry Republican Party: New York Times columnist
President Donald Trump. (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)

New York Times commentator Michael Tomasky unleashed on elected Republicans, who he said are so disinterested in democracy they seem to be actively working against it at this point.


Commentators have spent the better part of President Donald Trump's presidency noting that he is unmaking the Republican Party and turning it from a party of George W. Bush's patriotism party to one that seeks to destroy.

"The aggressive gerrymandering, which the Supreme Court just declared to be a matter beyond its purview; the voter suppression schemes; the dubious proposals that haven’t gone anywhere — yet — like trying to award presidential electoral votes by congressional district rather than by state, a scheme that Republicans in five states considered after the 2012 election and that is still discussed: These are not ideas aimed at invigorating democracy," wrote Tomasky. "They are hatched and executed for the express purpose of essentially fixing elections."

He noted that over the decades, people assumed that both parties were the same, they just disagreed with the methods to get to the same goal. Now, however, Tomasky is concerned the GOP has gone so far off that they're not even close anymore.

"It’s a hard sell to make for one very simple reason: It doesn’t have a name, this thing the Republicans are trying to do,' Tomasky explained. "It’s not true democracy that they want. But it’s also a bit much to call them outright authoritarians. And there’s nothing in between."

The closest thing to it might be a kind of one-party rule, regardless of whether or not that party is in the minority.

He cited a 2010 book: “Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War,” by Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, which defines what authoritarian states look like.

The book describes “civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-à-vis their opponents.” It might sound oddly familiar.

"There are sections on Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon; on Taiwan, Malaysia and Cambodia; and on Russia, Belarus and Ukraine," said Tomasky. "In the late 2000s, when the authors were assembling their research, these were the kinds of countries they had in mind when they conjured up the phrase 'competitive authoritarianism.'”

Sadly, he explained, the United States of America is coming closer to falling in that category.

"I literally gasped as I read certain passages, notably the part about the important role of a strong party in winning elections and in controlling legislatures," he recalled.

“Legislative control is critical in competitive authoritarian regimes,” the authors said. The four reasons are things Tomasky bets Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is well acquainted with.

While America isn't there yet, it's a direction we're moving toward. Tomasky reached out to one of the book's authors, Steven Levitsky.

“For all of its unfairness and growing dysfunction, American democracy has not slid into competitive authoritarianism,” he told Tomasky. “The playing field between Democrats and Republicans remains reasonably level.”

One concern is President Donald Trump, who is politicizing the institutions within the executive branch. Meanwhile, he's turning the Justice Department into his own personal legal representation. Now he's making jokes about staying in the White House for more than two terms, despite the Constitution barring it.

Not only is the Republican Party allowing it, but they've also become an accomplice. The Commerce Department used guidance from a conservative activist to use the census to game redistricting. The Supreme Court is allowing one party to game the Congressional district lines in states.

“Recent Republican behavior — from the 2016 stolen Supreme Court seat to the legislative shenanigans that followed gubernatorial defeats in North Carolina and Wisconsin to voter suppression efforts across numerous states — suggests a party whose commitment to democratic politics has weakened,” Levitsky explained. “The fact that the Republican Party has grown increasingly authoritarian poses a greater threat to American democracy than Donald Trump.”

There are still institutions that stand in the United States. For those in them, however, maintaining the stability has become part of "the resistance," and what Trump and his allies call a "deep state conspiracy." Trump campaigned in 2016 on "draining the swamp," but he's turned the "swamp" from lobbyists, the revolving door of Washington or gaming the system for financial game into civil service workers or long-time government employees being "the swamp."

"Who doubts that Mr. Trump, with quiescent and tremulous congressional Republicans watching, will keep up his assault on them, intensifying in a second term?" asked Tomasky. "And what are the odds that after years of Mr. Trump, the Republican Party will return to what used to pass as normal? After all the Republican lurch in this direction predated Mr. Trump."

He closed by saying it's hard to believe that we've reached a point where this conversation is necessary in America. However, he urged people to be more informed about it.