We’ve arrived at a tipping point in our democracy for a variety of reasons, but we are here.
After the publication of the Eastman memo just several weeks ago in which Trump’s lawyer John Eastman drafted a six-point sedition plan for Pence to follow, the lead story everywhere should be the ongoing attack on U.S. democracy and what are we doing to stop it.
It only takes small numbers of people to create tipping points in the breakdown of a democracy, Associate Professor in Global Politics at University College London and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas warned on Monday.
In a Twitter thread, Klaas laid out how the rise of authoritarianism can occur and “with the right timing, or the right turn of events, democracy can still die at the hands of small groups” and why it’s urgent for Democrats to pass reforms that protect democratic institutions from “the obvious onslaught that is clearly coming”:
1. A lot of my academic research has involved travelling to places where political violence has led to the breakdown of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism. And a dynamic I’m not sure is fully appreciated in the US is how small numbers of people can create tipping points.
2. I’ve interviewed coup plotters who organized a few dozen soldiers to take over a government. Some militias that grow into rebel movements start as tiny amateur outfits. But with the right timing, or the right turn of events, democracy can still die at the hands of small groups
3. This matters because the post January 6th dynamic in the US is one in which a small group of diehard extremists *is* planning to destroy democracy in 2022/2024. Some aren’t taking them seriously because a somewhat small percentage of Americans support them. It’s a huge mistake
4. People like Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, etc. have a big platform among these extremists and those violent extremists are taking cues on how to behave. Some will take even comparatively minor calls to action as an incitement to serious violence. That’s extremely dangerous.
5. Simultaneously, there’s an organized effort to fill key, lower profile election jobs with people who will only certify elections that Republicans win. They’re proponents of the Big Lie – a debunked authoritarian conspiracy theory – and they’re trying to run our elections.
6. This combination — of hundreds of thousands or even a few million Flynn-style extremists, along with authoritarians in key election jobs — means that significant political violence and official attempts to subvert democracy will likely arise at every US national election.
7. January 6th didn’t involve that many people. It still shook the foundations of American democracy. What happens when a more organized effort takes place in 2022, with more direct support from people in formal political power? The answer isn’t comforting.
8. That’s why Democrats need to focus their attention, resources, and political power on passing reforms that protect US democratic institutions from the obvious onslaught that is clearly coming. Because you don’t need anything close to 50% of the population to destroy democracy.
How did we get here? It appears to be by the same mechanism that has been testing our young democracy for decades: The urge by Democrats to focus on governing when they have power, while modern day Republicans use their time in power to grab more power, violate more norms, attack democracy itself — in broad daylight, even.
“We’ve seen this repeatedly on the right, with Republicans expressing far less concern about the acute threat on Jan. 6 than they did several months ago and offering almost no opposition to the chronic dishonesty about election fraud. As part of this revisionism, there’s constant policing of how people talk about the post-election period,” Phillip Bump wrote in a piece titled “‘The coup didn’t work’ is not a reassuring argument” published in the Washington Post. “Analysis from the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden shows how the Republican Party has been increasingly embracing an illiberal approach to democracy over the past several decades, walking away from a commitment to respect the will of the electorate.”
Image by Washington Post with data from V-Dem:
No one with the power to do something about it wants to call Republicans out on their attack on democracy, for fear of sounding partisan. Republicans are ensuring the narrative that January 6th was an anomaly dominates with policing of how it’s discussed in the mainstream as well as a concerted effort to rebrand the domestic terrorist attack of 1/6 to be J6, which doesn’t sound as much like the terrorist attack of 9/11, as well as going so far as to claim that one of the terrorists who was killed while involved in a coup that put our then lawmakers and Vice President in jeopardy is actually a hero.
No one even looks over to elected Republicans anymore when it comes to protecting basic freedoms like voting, because save a few holdouts, the Republican Party has gone full anything-for-power. They don’t care what their constituents want or need. This isn’t about the people; it’s about grabbing more and more power until the voice of the people is completely irrelevant.
Democrats have come up with bills like For the People Act to address the death spiral of democracy at Republican hands, but the media that covers these issues won’t just call it what it is: an ongoing, authoritarian-driven power grab by a political party that has now used political terrorism to get its way for over a decade to nary a whiff of real brand damage.
Republicans have become so power mad that they now openly conspire with their Attorney General (who was also installed regular order in yet another move to get an Attorney General who would do Trump’s bidding instead of his job) in order to keep and grow power. Their last president, who is still running their party, wanted the National Guard to protect the 1/6 terrorists, weaponized every department of government they could and filled the entire federal government with cult members willing to politicize previously non political jobs.
Today’s installation of hardcore Trump loyalist Paul Dans as chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management is big signal that the Trump administration is moving full steam head in its efforts to break the civil service and hamstring the Biden administration. (1/7) pic.twitter.com/XU3eyWrqPg
— Yevgeny Shrago (@yevshrag) December 11, 2020
“McConnell knew Trump’s claims were bogus and endangering the country. And he refused to speak up because he put politics before country,” Rick Hasen wrote in Election Blog.
It is the mainstream refusal to simply hold to the truth that poses the biggest threat to our freedoms right now; it is the play to “neutrality” rather than truth; it is the ever-encroaching dishonest right-wing narrative being brought into the mainstream by a willing media. We have all been gaslit now into accepting what the intelligence agencies deemed a “domestic terrorist attack” as just no biggie. A silly, spoiled plot by a man whose ego is too big to accept defeat.
January 6th was a terrorist attack on our country – an act of political violence intended to stop the certification of a democratic election. There could not be a bigger warning. The Eastman memo should have set off alarms that had the Department of Justice investigating Donald Trump and his close circle for sedition.
The people enabling Trump’s lies should be called out for what they are: Traitors to democracy. Time is running out for democracy, and sadly we have only 48 senators (all Democrats) willing to take a stand for our country.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.