Authoritarianism Experts: 2020 Could Be America’s Last Free Election
The upcoming 2020 presidential election is likely to be the last free election Americans get to enjoy if President Donald Trump and the Republicans enabling him continue on their current path, experts on authoritarianism have warned.
Speaking with journalist Andrew Feinberg, Yale University philosophy professor Jason Stanely, who studies authoritarian politics, said Trump’s recent intervention in his friend and confidant Roger Stone’s criminal trial represents a troubling milestone in what has been a journey toward authoritarianism from the beginning of the Trump presidency.
"The United States looks to be moving in the direction of Hungary or Poland, with the justice system starting to become a tool under the power of the executive branch that is being used for partisan ends,” Stanley said.
He added that "Republicans have shown no interest in sharing power or having a multi-party democracy, they've shown no interest in the rule of law.”
Stanley said Republicans’ rejection of the Democratic Party as legitimate, thereby invalidating a bloc of voters’ political voices, has become a guiding principle of the GOP.
The only real Americans are those who vote for Republicans, those in the party appear to believe, and it is a concept perfected by Trump, who has elevated himself to savior status for his supporters.
The U.S. has been heading down this path since the 1990s, Stanley said, beginning with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who kicked off the Republican rhetoric characterizing Democrats as “sick, corrupt, anti-American traitors whose every exercise of power is an abuse.”
"It's one party rule, and one party rule is a form of authoritarianism. Trump is a symptom of that," the professor said. "We're so far beyond democratic practice when people are talking about purely partisan judges, and when the Justice Department is being run by the President of the United States, we're talking about a monarchy or something like it."
Fellow authoritarian scholar Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University agreed.
"You see this in authoritarian states… those in important positions like the attorney general or equivalent end up spending a lot of their time on the personal vendettas of their leader," she said.
Ben-Ghiat gave as an example Attorney General William Barrs recent trip to Italy, where he pressured Italian security officials to provide information that would reflect poorly on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
"Inevitably, the people who last in the cabinet of an authoritarian leader are people who end up doing his personal-slash-official business, because you can no longer separate the two," she said.
Trump’s cabinet officials and congressional Republicans have adapted to the president in what Ben-Ghiat termed "personalist rule."
"This is a perfect example of when these men come to office and there is no longer a separation between their private profit and public office," she said, with "lackeys" like Barr taking actions that blur the line between the Justice Department’s business and the personal business of the president.
Republicans will continue enabling Trump in an effort to retain power, she said:"They're all complicit and they have to work to make sure the system doesn't fall down because they all see that they're going to be punished if he gets out of office and their gravy train ends. They don't have any interest in multi-party democracy anymore. The [Republican] party culture has shifted and it's now an authoritarian style party."
Given the path they currently travel, Stanley said the end result would be “many terms of Trump family rule,” with the 2020 election being the last free election Americans get to enjoy.
"He's creating a bond of loyalty with the Trump name, and what you see all the Trumps talking about [on TV and at campaign events] is that kind of authoritarian dynasty," Stanley said. "He's giving the Republican party complete power over everything they want. Their voters have this authoritarian bond with Trump, who's using fear of immigrants, white nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and the anti-media stuff to create paranoia and present himself as the protector of the people, and he's representing his family as the dynasty that will rule the United States.”
“This could be our last free election,” he warned.