Transpartisan Note #21
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
EXTREME ORDER LEFT AND RIGHT
Progressive critics of President-elect Trump are producing a blizzard of warnings about authoritarianism both in the President-elect and in many of his followers. They are right to be concerned about anti-democratic sentiment from any source. Similar authoritarianism can be part of mass demonstrations against the new administration. We need to worry about this. These examples tend to be extreme expressions of the order right and order left.
If mass demonstrations protesting the election escalate, they may make it difficult if not impossible for Trump to govern. If Trump seeks to suppress his adversaries it may be impossible for the country to embrace any of his initiatives. The impulse toward authoritarianism on both left and right is fed in part by the low turnout of voters—it appears that fewer than 50% of age eligible voters cast ballots in 2016.
The problem is deep divisions in our society’s political party culture. This intuition is hard to avoid: when people are so deeply conflicted about their political choices that they vote reluctantly or not at all, and informal accommodation of differences is difficult if not impossible to achieve, it should not be surprising that authoritarian impulses appear on both sides, each seeking to impose its will on the other.
Candidate Trump repeatedly showed his anti-democratic tendencies, in the end implying he would accept the election result only if he won. Progressives expressed strong opposition to him for this statement (and many others), and since the election have doubled-down accusing many of his followers of being anti-democratic and racist. Some are now organizing mass demonstrations to obstruct his governing. They do not accept the election results either, and they want to impose their will on the country. Tyranny begets tyranny.
Who is Trump? How will he govern? Public comments vary all over the place. Dan Balz in the Washington Post November 20, 2016 calls Trump our first Independent President. Who are the demonstrators? What do they hope to achieve? See here. These questions about the next four years highlight what we have said repeatedly: our democracy will be threatened as long as the two major parties— representing, together, significantly fewer than half the people—continue to ignore those who either refuse to identify with them or opt out altogether. The truth is, the very structure of our political system, controlled by a political minority, is functionally undemocratic.
Never has the transpartisan vision been more important to bring people together and begin to restore the trust on which all healthy democracies depend.