Is the Republican Party, under President Donald Trump’s leadership, veering toward authoritarianism? Many already believe that to be the case, but a newly-published study confirms that the GOP has moved in a decidedly autocratic direction over the past 20 years.
The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute study, published on Monday, noted that there is an alarming “global trend” of governing parties in democracies becoming “more illiberal in recent decades.” The United States is not immune to this drift away from democratic ideals, researchers found.
“This rise of illiberalism is not like mere disagreement about policy issues,” Anna Luhrmann, a deputy director at V-Dem, explained. “Lacking commitment to democratic norms signals a willingness to also erode these norms once in power.”
A shift from democratic to illiberal principles is demonstrated within the study through a number of observable changes, including an increase of demonizing political opponents, an encouragement of violence toward those with opposing political views, a disrespect for minority rights in a given country, and a lower commitment to political pluralism.
V-Dem’s study noted that the Democratic Party in the United States had almost zero shift in its principles on democracy since 2000. The Republican Party, meanwhile, has changed dramatically — not altering its views on policy or economic matters but embracing undemocratic viewpoints over the course of the past two decades.
The study also said the GOP is more comparable to autocratic ruling parties like Turkey’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) and Fidesz in Hungary, than they are to other center-right parties like the Conservatives in the United Kingdom or the Christian Democratic Union in Germany.
Trump’s aggressive and autocratic behavior as president was largely to blame for the dramatic change in the Republican Party’s philosophy.
“The demonisation of opponents — that’s clearly a factor that has shifted a lot when it comes to the Republican party, as well as the encouragement of political violence,” Luhrmann said, adding that the president’s rhetoric has shown “how he has encouraged supporters to use violence against either journalists or political opponents.”
V-Dem’s study observed changes that took place from 2000 to 2018, and it’s likely that more actions taken by Trump over the past two years that weren’t observed — such as pressing for persecutions against former Justice Department officials (not to mention his clamoring for investigations against his 2020 presidential rival, Joe Biden), as well as the labeling of political opponents as traitorous or enemies of the U.S. — would likely reinforce the idea that the president’s party is shifting toward authoritarianism.
But it isn’t just Trump who has deepened the GOP’s autocratic tendencies in recent years. Other Republican lawmakers are also taking disturbing turns, including some who have introduced a bill to denote “antifa,” the broad anti-fascist movement that some have errantly suggested is a formally organized group, as a “domestic terrorist organization.”
Indeed, as New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait noted in an article over this past weekend, Trumpism will likely persist in the Republican Party even if he loses the election next month.
“Even if his presidency ends in complete ruin and repudiation, Trump has given his party something it never had before: the performance of a despot — bullying his rivals, criminalizing anybody who challenges him, violating the law with impunity,” Chait wrote. “They have a taste for it now. They will crave more.”
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