In the U.S., the Republican Party faces a historic decision: either open itself up to voters of immigrant backgrounds or continue to follow Donald Trump’s ethnic nationalism, but the latter would come at the expense of democracy.
Democracies are capable of surviving and evolving only if they can believably garner the acceptance of other parties, politicians and voters that they defeat in elections, and if these groups know, regardless of how bitterly political campaigns are conducted, that they will eventually be able to significantly shape the country’s political course once again.
Since Donald Trump’s election, this assumption is no longer valid. What America is experiencing today is an atrophy of political discourse. As a result, political opponents mutate into enemies, political norms and values are vulgarized, and it is open season on a political opposition that is robbed of its humanity. For Trump and his supporters , the Democrats are “’animals’, lacking any human trait.”* In his opinion, the only thing keeping the country from sinking into chaos is his presidency.
The Majority Becomes a Minority
Trump’s Twitter bashings leading up to the impeachment must be considered a preliminary high point in this new political climate. According to Trump, impeachment is nothing but a coup that is perverting the voters’ will, freedom, Christianity, the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms, the wall on the Mexican border and American citizens’ God-given rights; impeachment will push the country over the brink into a civil war from which it will never recover.
What led to these abscesses? The stress of globalization, the post-industrial economy, rising inequality, influence from social media, demographic redistribution in voting districts, the president’s demagogic provocations? The U.S. is currently undergoing changes that no prosperous, stable democracy has ever experienced. The historically dominant group is becoming a minority, and those who have been minorities to date are demanding the rights they have been denied until now and all the privileges that those entail. In the past two centuries, most Americans were white and Christian. But this American no longer exists. How will these Americans react when tectonic changes to its ethnic and religious makeup completely turn the country inside out, when the non-white portion of America forms the majority?
As early as 2002, political scientist Ruy Teixeira and journalist John Judis concluded in their book “The Emerging Democratic Majority” that America would experience a new progressive era on the heels of its democratic changes, and that as a result, the Republicans would permanently become the minority party. Ten years later, after Barack Obama was reelected in 2012, they even declared that the Democratic majority could not be overturned, an assessment that the Republican National Committee shared in its electoral analysis and used as a precedent for challenging the Republican Party to open up to new voter groups, especially Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, blacks, Native Americans, women and young people. Otherwise, they concluded, the party could very soon be branded as a permanent minority party.
But then Trump was elected; the analyses and recommendations were shelved. In a regressive strategy, all efforts were now directed toward preserving the structural advantages that the Electoral College grants Republicans, systematically excluding critical voter groups, and instrumentalizing gerrymandering to secure legislative majorities with minority votes.
At its core, the U.S. is a conservatively-oriented country. Conservatives can certainly stand their ground against liberal America in an open competition over values and principles. But whether conservative Republicans can triumph in the long term in a competition for the voters’ favor that is reduced to pure identity politics is doubtful just based on basic math. At a certain point, voters will no longer be persuaded by this approach. Unless, that is, the existing democratic rules of play are suspended.
Trump has led the Republicans to a dead end that may cost him his reelection. The challenge now facing all democratic forces among the Republicans—especially the socially conservative representatives cut from the same cloth as Mitt Romney—is to encourage conservative voters that the looming loss of political leadership will always be temporary and that this transitory defeat is still more attractive than the country drifting into authoritarianism. In other words, the right-wing, chauvinist elements of the American voting population that see themselves as defenders of a lost civilization need to be incorporated into a newly constituted, socially conservative party that does not jeopardize the democratic system of government just to avoid a temporary loss of power.
Whenever Trump’s presidency ends, the Republican Party will find itself facing the same choice as the Republican National Committee analysis predicted after Romney’s defeat in 2012: Either accept the new reality and open up to voters of immigrant backgrounds, or keep following the conservative ideas and principles of Trumpian ethnic nationalism.
For this reason, the election in November 2020 is about more than the next presidency: It is about nothing less than the future of American democracy. If most Republican voters cannot be convinced that the democratic process will always ensure opportunity for political success, even in an ethnically diverse America, and that electoral defeats are not equivalent to losing constitutional rights, then Trump’s presidency will continue long after it actually ends, at the expense of America’s democracy.
*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.