Adkins: Warning signs


I recently pointed out that democracy is threatened both abroad and at home. Our constitutional checks and balances are insufficient to prevent a slide into authoritarianism. In order to buttress our checks and balances, we must, as we had done for over 200 years, adhere to our unwritten political norms — especially mutual toleration and forbearance. But in this 21st Century, those norms have all but been ignored. This dangerous trend began before the election of Donald Trump, but he and his most ardent supporters greatly amplified the trend.

To those who do not comprehend what a dangerous precedent was set during the Trump administration, I adamantly suggest they read “How Democracies Die” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and also “The Breakdown of Democracy,” written presciently in 1978 by Professor John Linz, whose experiences allowed him to recognize authoritarian warning signs. Within both books, there are numerous examples of democracies crumbling from the acts of an elected authoritarian. Within their pages are numerous examples that highlight the dangers of the movement the far-right has taken the Republican Party in the past two decades. Levitsky and Ziblatt harp on the loss of our democratic norms that served, until recently, as guardrails for democracy. Professor Linz developed four warning signs of a would be authoritarian. Republicans would be well served to note how the acts of Donald Trump and his MAGA minions meet those very descriptors.

Here are but a few examples from Linz’s warning signs:

First, do they express a willingness to violate the Constitution or attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections by refusing to accept electoral results? Remember this was written in 1978, long before Trump and his MAGA minions attempted to overturn the 2020 election with the insurrection at the Capitol and the fake electors.

In the second warning, Linz asks whether they describe their rivals as subversive and do they baselessly describe their partisan rivals as criminals whose supposed violation of the law disqualifies them from full participation in the political arena? Does this not describe the oft-spoken words of Mr. Trump and the multitude of his supporters shouting “lock her up?”

The third — do they have ties to armed groups, militias or other organizations that engage in illicit violence. Among the MAGA minions are militias, including those who plotted the kidnapping of Gov. Whitmer. Also, among the many Trump supporters are the KKK, the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and others of this violent ilk.

Further, wrote Linz, have they encouraged attacks on the opposition, tacitly endorsed violence by supporters by refusing to unambiguously condemn it, and have they praised or refused to condemn other significant acts of violence? Need I list all the times Donald Trump met this warning sign?

To be fair, these people are not mainstream conservative Republicans. As it was wisely pointed out to me recently, these are the real RHINOS of the GOP. They do not fit the mold of traditional conservatism. They are not the proud supporters of law enforcement. No mainstream Republican would vilify the FBI for doing their job, nor would they call an officer guarding the lives of Congress members fascists. Many Trump supporters are salt of the earth people but, unfortunately, many are not.

The entire point of this column is to point out to mainstream Republicans, including many of my friends, it is up to you to learn the lesson of democracies destroyed by elected authoritarians. It is entirely up to you and traditional conservatives like you, to save your party from the tightening claws of the authoritarian wing of your party. It is up to you to prevent the MAGA minions from completely destroying our democracy. Do not think it cannot happen here.

Michael Adkins formerly was chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. Send comments to [email protected]


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