Trump's base emboldens his 'authoritarian impulses' -- and poses a fatal threat to democracy: Conservative columnist
President Donald J. Trump delivers a speech during the "Make America Great Again" rally held at the Mohegan Sun Arena. (Brandon Stivers /

One conservative writer warned darkly that American democracy could be irrevocably harmed if President Donald Trump somehow wins a second term.

The Republican Senate's acquittal of Trump in the impeachment trial had exposed a glaring weakness in American democratic institutions, and writer Nathaniel Zelinsky wrote in The Bulwark that an election win could deal a fatal blow.

"After his acquittal in the Senate, Donald Trump has fully internalized just how much the American constitutional order runs on the honor system," Zelinsky wrote. "And Donald Trump couldn’t care less about honor."

The president was already harming democracy to secure his re-election, Zelinsky argued, and has suggested he won't even accept a loss.

"Trump finally knows that he really does have a free hand to do whatever he likes because 40 percent of the country will support him, whether or not it’s legal," Zelinsky wrote. "And his responses to breaking the law have devolved from dissembling evasions or shaky rationales into—this is quite literally what his own chief of staff just said — 'nobody cares.'"

The president has indulged his "authoritarian impulses" by assaulting constitutional norms and promoting violent bigotry to secure another term, and Zelinsky warned there's no boundary he won't cross to remain in power.

"With this election what’s at stake isn’t policies so much as the basic bargain that governs our political system," Zelinsky wrote. "And for the first time in my life, I’m genuinely fearful that, should the other side win, I might not be able or allowed to right the national ship in the next election."

"That’s new. That’s different," he added. "And it’s why this really is a defining moment for the country."