GOP "semi-loyalists" sleepwalking into fascism

Jim Nelson is a retired Montana Supreme Court justice.

I am an outspoken critic of what former U.S. Representative Liz Cheney correctly describes as America’s “sleepwalk” into fascism.

Indeed, Donald Trump has defiantly laid out his plans to become our country’s first dictator. He copied his blueprints from the authoritarian playbook of corruption and venality which has informed and driven tyrants from Mussolini to the present. 

To save our democracy, voters must halt this slide toward Trump’s fascist abyss. But how? Who is responsible? Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide some answers in their new book Tyranny of the Minority.

The authors state that politicians who are committed to democracy must do three things: First, they must respect the outcome of free and fair elections, win or lose. Second, they must reject violence or its threat, as a means of achieving political goals. And third, those who support, protect, and defend democracy (loyalists) must always break with the semi-loyalist sleepwalkers.

At the outset, it is clear Trump has failed. First, he has never accepted that Joe Biden won the 2020 election (by margins which Trump, himself, had deemed a landslide). Second, Trump incited the attempted coup on our government, its Capitol, and the public officials gathered there on January 6, 2021.

Trump aside, the third requisite mentioned above is perhaps the most troubling. As the authors point out, loyalists clearly and consistently reject authoritarian behavior, while semi-loyalists act in a more ambiguous manner. The latter claim to support democracy while at the same time turning a blind eye to violence, extremism, and authoritarian conduct.

For example, as Jill Colvin reported for the Associated Press in 2022, at the time of the insurrection many Republicans joined Democrats in denouncing the violence and Trump’s role in it. A year later, “top Republicans were far more muted,” even accusing Democrats and the media of “politicizing” the attack in order to demean Trump. On the anniversary of the insurrection, most Republicans skipped observances.

Since then, many Republican politicians have stayed conspicuously silent about Trump’s role in the insurrection, aside from those who publicly or actively aided Trump’s effort. Those include U.S. Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Kevin McCarthy of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, and new Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana (who recruited members of Congress to support a Texas lawsuit seeking to throw out votes in four states).

Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that semi-loyalists are dangerous because their ambiguity lends legitimacy to the conduct of the authoritarians.  “Democracies get into trouble when mainstream parties tolerate, condone, or protect authoritarian extremists—when they become authoritarian enablers,” they write. The litmus test is “how politicians respond to violent or antidemocratic behavior on their own flank” (as opposed to such conduct from the opposing party).

When faced with these challenges, according to the authors, loyalists expel extremists from their own ranks; sever all private and public ties with antidemocratic groups; unambiguously condemn political violence and antidemocratic behavior; and, when necessary, join forces with rival loyalist parties to isolate and defeat antidemocratic extremists.

In contrast, by tolerating extremists, semi-loyalists strengthen these authoritarian elements and legitimize their conduct and ideas—perhaps creating the tipping-point that results in a democracy collapsing upon itself.

Trump poses an existential threat to the survival of our democracy by openly proclaiming his intent to become America’s dictator. He has marshalled his army of lickspittles and sycophants to accomplish that.

Even worse, though, is the silence of most in the Republican Party, and the establishment’s toleration of Trump’s unhinged conduct and deranged statements. These politicians are giving the aid, comfort and support Trump needs to topple our democracy, its norms, its institutions, and its Constitution.

Semi-loyalist Republicans are sleepwalking America into the fascist abyss. 

It is long overdue that they find their guts, their patriotism, and start supporting democracy–instead of helping to kill it.

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register, NBC News, and Mediacom indicated that among likely participants in the 2024 Iowa Republican caucuses who were surveyed in December 2023, 55 percent said Donald Trump would “do the best job protecting America’s democracy.”

About the Author(s)

Jim Nelson

  • they aren't sleepwalking they are continuing decades old platforms and schemes

    that’s a good book but this post suggests that the problem is “the silence of most in the Republican Party”, and it’s hard to square this with the ways in which the majority of the Party (particularly elected officials, agents, and their backers) actively and vociferously meet the book authors’ criteria…