The deepening menace of Trump

There is no precedent for this kind of executive branch madness in American history, and no precedent in any functioning Western democracy. In any healthy democracy, Trump would already be an untouchable, despicable pariah — Nixon in 1974 with more public contempt.

And yet … this man remains the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP nomination in 2024; and, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, two-thirds of Republicans believe the election was stolen. And the methods Trump innovated to discredit the 2020 result are the model for the next assault. Last year was a dress rehearsal. Sixteen states have now shifted electoral powers away from the governor and secretaries of state to legislatures, run by Trump loyalists, as Robert Kagan has noted. And those few in power — like Esper or Pence — who put the constitution before Trump will be absent next time. A commitment to Trump over the Constitution will be a litmus test for a career in GOP politics.

As was the case with the Roman republic, the violations of procedures, the discrediting of elections, the power of mobs and the ferocity of the tribal politics have slowly rendered the system weaker and weaker. The question, pace Ross, is not whether Trump has the competence to build a de facto dictatorship, it is whether he has so eroded core democratic values within one of our major parties that this country is likely to enter a period of civil conflict over the very legitimacy of our system in future elections, a period of violence and mayhem and rule-breaking that could so easily lead to the rapid unraveling of the entire system of liberal democracy. Out of that chaos, who knows what rough monster will emerge?