Culture Wars/Current Controversies

America caught the presidential democracy disease

By Ryan Cooper, The Week

Now the fate of American democracy depends on proving me wrong.

On election night in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney conceded defeat around 1 a.m. After calling then-President Barack Obama to offer his congratulations on re-election, Romney gave a speech to his supporters. “I pray that the president will be successful,” he said.

That’s probably the last time a Republican will ever concede defeat in a presidential race — and the fate of the our democracy may depend on proving my expectation false.

Former President Donald Trump said there was rampant fraud in an election he won in 2016, and he tried for months to overturn his defeat in 2020, pushing the “big lie” that President Biden stole the election. That has cemented a new norm among the Republican base that their electoral defeats are never legitimate. A recent NBC News poll found that while 84 percent of Republicans thought their vote would be fairly counted in October 2020, a year later just 41 percent expect the same in future elections. As David Corn writes at Mother Jones, conservatives including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon are pre-emptively casting doubt on this week’s elections in Virginia, and a Marist poll published Monday found just 33 percent of Republicans will trust the results of the 2024 elections if their candidate loses. Unless this trajectory changes, our political competition will erupt into open violence.

It’s hard to see what could change it, but let’s begin by noting this state of affairs isn’t solely Trump’s fault. American-style presidential democracy incentivizes the very deranged behavior we’re seeing from him and the rest of the GOP.


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