Trump's GOP is now a nakedly ‘authoritarian party’ that embraces ‘violence and lawlessness’: journalist

Trump's GOP is now a nakedly ‘authoritarian party’ that embraces ‘violence and lawlessness’: journalist

When far-right authoritarians gain power, they don’t necessarily do it through an outright coup d’état or golpe de estado like Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s violent overthrow of the socialist Salvador Allende government in Chile in 1973. Some authoritarians are voted into office —Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines — and do everything they can to undermine a democracy’s checks and balances. In the United States, liberal democracy has survived the authoritarian assault of former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. But journalist Ruth Ben-Ghiat, in a disturbing essay published by The New Republic on April 15, warns that the Trumpified Republican Party is still determined to turn the U.S. into an authoritarian state.

“What happens to a bipartisan democracy when one of the two parties turns toward autocracy?” Ben-Ghiat writes. “This is the drama we are now living through in the United States. Half the political class operates within a democratic framework, while the other half embraces extremist politics. From support for the January 6 assault on the Capitol, to the assault on free and fair elections, the GOP has jettisoned the rituals, norms and values of democracy. It has become an authoritarian party that considers violence and propaganda legitimate tools for the exercise of power.”

Americans who still favor liberal democracy, according to Ben-Ghiat, “must be clear about what is at stake and the scope of the challenges we face.”

“The GOP and allied media are continuing Trump’s agenda of democratic destruction,” Ben-Ghiat observes. “Not only are Republican-governed states like Florida and Texas becoming laboratories of American autocracy, but the Republican Party is reshaping its political culture to support illiberal rule at the national level if the Republicans recapture the White House in 2024.”

Ben-Ghiat adds, “Trump was able to radicalize the GOP, create an army of loyal grassroots insurgents, and lead both into battle against American democracy because he was an autocratic, not democratic, president. He differed from past heads of state of either party in having zero interest in public welfare or consensus politics. ‘If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time,’ he told governors about responding to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, summing up his approach to governance.”

Trump, according to Ben-Ghiat, exemplified “personalist rule,” which she describes as governance “in which the financial, legal and other personal interests of the leader prevail over national ones in shaping domestic and foreign policy.”

“Personalist rule typically develops within autocracies,” Ben-Ghiat explains. “The kind of power wielded by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who built a power vertical that leaves him untouchable — at least before his reckless invasion of Ukraine — and has reportedly made him the richest individual in the world, is one example.”

Ben-Ghiat cites Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as an example of Trump-influenced authoritarianism at the state level.

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s emergence as a mini-Trump, who imitates the former president’s hand gestures and makes his state into an illiberal stronghold, is another,” Ben-Ghiat notes. “Understanding these authoritarian dynamics, and how they have affected the Republican Party, is key to anticipating what the United States could become if the GOP retakes the White House in 2024.”

Ben-Ghiat adds, “Since the start of Italian fascist rule a century ago, personalist leaders have come to power by striking authoritarian bargains whereby elites, motivated by the preservation of their economic privileges, back the leader’s removal of rights from citizens. Certainly, the GOP was ready for an openly autocratic leader.”

The Republican Party still has some traditional non-MAGA conservatives, from Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to Rep. Adam Kinginzer of Illinois. But most of the GOP, Ben-Ghiat warns, has been hijacked by the MAGA movement — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who, she laments, has no independence from Trump and is nothing more than a “party apparatchik” at this point.

Ben-Ghiat writes, “January 6 has now become a foundational event of a new GOP that defines itself around violence and lawlessness, both framed as the patriotic protection of American freedom…. It is hard to overstate the danger of a party that is preparing for illiberal rule at the national level by normalizing criminality. Whether or not Trump runs for office in 2024, his four years as a personalist leader, and the force of his example, have been absorbed into the GOP’s DNA.”

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