Assuming democracy remains intact for years to come, Levitsky thinks the GOP will eventually have to moderate its stance in response to changing demographics. The current extremism will not be sustainable if the party hopes to win enough elections to exercise power in the future. However, Levitsky thinks any adjustment could take longer than expected.
“The problem is our incentives — the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, the fact that sparsely populated territories are dramatically overrepresented in our electoral system — allow Republicans to wield a lot of power without winning national majorities,” Levitsky says. . “If the Republican Party were to actually win over 50% of the national vote to control the Senate, control the Presidency, control the Supreme Court, you wouldn’t see them behaving the way they are behaving. They would never win.
It remains to be seen whether Trump will be the Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election, but there is clear evidence that the effects of his actions would not simply disappear if he did not control the party. Many Americans have become radicalized since he took office, and it is not easy to undo them.
“I think the consensus is that democracy is unclear, and that’s because the rhetoric and actions of the GOP have encouraged their supporters to somehow accept certain behaviors that we wouldn’t have thought were consistent with democracy,” says Erica. Frantz, associate professor of political science at Michigan State University. “Suddenly, it is normal to wonder if our elections are free and fair. So it’s okay to be provocative and suggest that you might use violence if the election doesn’t go your way.
Frantz says that large sectors of the American population accept the authoritarian message launched by Trump, and that it will probably have lasting effects. She says the fact that Trump was successfully removed from office despite his attempts to cancel the 2020 election is a big deal, but there is still a lot of work to be done to protect American democracy.
“I don’t think we’re going back to dictatorship. The probability is higher than before Trump, but still low compared to many other countries,” Frantz says. “It is very possible that we will be embroiled for some time in this situation where undemocratic norms are spouted and perpetuated by one of our major parties.”
When it comes to what proponents of democracy can do in the face of an authoritarian movement, there is no silver bullet, but there are ways to push back. Levitsky says it’s important to form broad coalitions to “isolate and defeat” authoritarians, which means uniting pro-democracy supporters from left and right.
A. James McAdams, a professor of international affairs at the University of Notre Dame, says those who oppose authoritarianism need a strong message that will appeal to people who may be attracted to authoritarian leaders.
“If you look back, one of the big problems with democracies has always been that the forces of reason can’t understand what they stand for,” McAdams says. “We are now at a time in history in the United States and Europe where the moderate parties do not know what to say.”
You also need to support and strengthen democratic institutions like the courts, McAdams says. He says this is particularly important because weak courts are often part of the reason authoritarians are able to take power and undermine democracy, such as in Latin America in the 1970s.
“If you have stable democratic institutions, especially viable courts, then there’s a lot of bullshit you can get over,” McAdams says. “Perhaps the greatest victory for American institutions in the Trump era was that the courts were out of control.”