No one can accuse Donald Trump of respecting democratic niceties.
In the two short years that he has held the U.S. presidency, Trum; has vowed to crush the re-election hopes of those in his own Republican party who don’t support him, threatened to jail his former political opponent Hillary Clinton, sullied the reputation of U.S. intelligence services, undermined the independence of the judiciary and Justice Department, cozied up to the world’s most dangerous dictators, and incited physical violence against both the media and dissenters at his rallies.
According to Steven Levitsky, who co-wrote How Democracies Die with Daniel Ziblatt, democratic institutions in the U.S. are, happily, much more resilient than those in Hungary and Venezuela.
Indeed, the threat Trump poses to democracy is probably the very reason Democrats won control of the House of Representatives last fall. And those members are now acting to check the president’s powers.
Still, if there is anything to be learned from Levitsky’s and Ziblatt’s book, it is this: Democrats must be careful not to play into Trump’s hands by adopting “scorched earth” tactics that can “erode support for the opposition by scaring off moderates.”
“When the opposition fights dirty, it provides the government with justification for cracking down,” they write.
And now that Trump has made it clear he is willing to enlist the military, police and even bikers to crack down on political opponents there is all the more reason for his opponents to follow Levitsky and Ziblatt’s advice and “preserve, rather than violate, democratic rules and norms.”
In other words, the way forward is not to counter threats with threats and violence with violence, but to strengthen democratic institutions and embrace vigorous, but respectful, debate.
It’s now up to other Republicans to join forces with Democrats to show they won’t let democracy be further eroded in the United States by a dangerous bully. After all, no one but Trump wins if it is further damaged.