(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) Now that a full year has passed since the Jan.6, 2021 assault on Capitol Hill, the 2020 elections, and the republic, it is evident that the attack never really ended. Instead, it spread to other, less visible and more vulnerable targets.

Donald Trump had hoped to reverse his electoral defeat in a unique, decisive and dramatic confrontation between his supporters and those of the republic, broadcast live around the world. His plan backfired on us, filling our screens with vivid illustrations of authoritarianism’s most loathsome evils: chaos, lawlessness, violence, racism, fascism and all manner of hatred rages on. The blatant nature of the subversion provoked an immediate reaction, even among some Republicans.

Had he studied democratic erosion before becoming a practitioner, Trump would have known that effective authoritarians are gradually tightening their grip on government, stealthily undermining courts, legislatures, election officials, news organizations, the opposition. politics and other institutions strong enough to control them.

Blow by a thousand cuts is the stuff of nightmares of defenders of democracy and the dream of authoritarian politicians.


“The story of democratic erosion in other countries is that it happens invisibly, you don’t have that tank moment on the streets,” Brendan Nyhan told The New Yorker. Nyhan is a political scientist in Dartmouth and co-director of Bright Line Watch, a group of political scientists who “monitor democratic practices, their resilience, and potential threats.”

Destructive conspiracy theories

Democratic erosion in America hinges on the destructive and patently false conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen. As the author of a few books on Richard Nixon – who before Trump was the greatest White House conspiracy theorist we know of – I see conspiracy theories less as failures of rationality and more as triumphs. rationalization.

When Nixon whispered to White House aides that he was the victim of a plot by Jews, intellectuals and Ivy Leaguers, “arrogant” people who he said put themselves above the law, he did so to justify arrogantly placing oneself above the law. Nixon launched a real plot against an imaginary, plotting real crimes – breaking into the Brookings Institution, leaking grand jury information damaging to Democrats – against those he considered real criminals, despite a chronic lack of evidence.

Likewise, when conspiracy theorists mistakenly claim that the last election was stolen, they are putting the pieces together to steal the next one. Not by something as blatant as putting pressure on a vice president to publicly shirk his duty to certify the vote, but by more subtle means, like taking over the offices that manage the certification of votes at the state level.

Representative Jody Hice, a Republican who voted against President Joe Biden’s certification of victory, is running to topple Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who would not give in to pressure from Trump to “find” enough power. voice to overturn the election result. Fifteen Republicans refusing the election are running for secretary of state, according to NPR, which increases the risk that people who refuse to accept the results of the last presidential election will decide whether or not to certify the results of the next one.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature has revealed who controls the party by removing Raffensperger from his vote in the state electoral council, which sets electoral rules and investigates allegations of fraud. They also passed new electoral laws targeting local councils. “The laws allow Republicans to remove local officials they dislike,” The New York Times reported. Most of those removed initially were Democrats, at least half of whom were people of color.

Georgia is not alone. In at least eight other states, Republican-controlled legislatures have seized power from those who upheld the honesty of the last election, such as secretaries of state and local election officials, and handed it over to officials. partisan entities, ABC News reported. Many, if not all, of these Secretaries of State were partisan officials, although they behaved largely in a non-partisan manner.

Much reporting has rightly focused on the most important outcome of the electoral fraud lies, the “integrity of the vote” legislation. These stories focused on how little such legislation does to address America’s already small problem of voter fraud, and how much the legislation does to create problems for people who want to vote, especially if those people tend to vote Democrat.

False claims, real threats

Less attention has been paid to the influx of conspiracy theorists to the local level of election administration, where they could distort elections in several ways. They could discriminate in the application of voter identification laws, forcing people to vote provisionally and contest, organize polling stations in such a way as to create long lines, etc., Scott said. Seeborg, Pennsylvania state director of All Voting Is Local, a non-partisan group fighting to “remove discriminatory ballot barriers.”

If election workers dismiss false accusations of electoral fraud, they can face death threats. The Reuters news service documented more than 800 hostile and threatening messages to election workers related to conspiracy theories, including: “We’re coming after you and all the other mothers, the ones who stole this election; “” Everyone with a gun will be in your house; “And” We are now watching your children and loved ones. “

These threats are not shouted on television in front of the indignant majority; they appear without warning, Reuters reports, often anonymously, in individual voicemail and mailboxes, inspiring fear without eliciting a reaction.

By these means and more, the authoritarians seize power to win the elections without winning a majority of the votes. It’s something Nixon never dared to try.

In every race he has run – for the House, Senate, Vice President and President – Nixon has faced an electorate where Democrats have a power play advantage. This forced him to moderate his politics and his policies, to broaden their calls for the majority.

[Over 140,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.]

Today, Republicans can win not only the White House, but also Congress and the gerrymandered state legislatures, without winning a majority. “We are witnessing a minority takeover of our democracy,” constitutional law scholar Kermit Roosevelt wrote in TIME. It takes place not only at the national level, but at the state and local level.

This is why defenders of democracy – Republicans, Democrats and all people of good will – must not make Trump’s mistake, believing that the future of the nation will be decided in a single decisive public confrontation. . It depends on a thousand small struggles with huge stakes, on the unsung efforts of unknown heroes.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/how-democracy-gets-eroded-lessons-from-a-nixon-expert-174322.