Evan Vucci (AP)

Biden’s Wake-up Call

Giovanni Capoccia

5 mins - 16 de Septiembre de 2022, 11:16

President Biden's primetime speech in Philadelphia on September 1 ended any ambiguity on the US's current political situation. Democracy in America runs a serious risk of extinction

These words may still sound strange to some. Despite the events of the recent years, in the mind of many people authoritarian government continues to be associated with fledgling democratic experiments in developing countries or with the darkest pages of European history (not with the USA). True, the US electorate has been in a state of polarization for several years, and the Republican Party began drifting to the right well before former President Trump entered politics. But so far, barring the Civil War, all political crises that have punctuated US history have been resolved within the boundaries of the country's venerable Constitution

This time, Biden said in his candid and alarming speech, things might be different. Some passages are worth quoting: "Too much of what is happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundation of our Republic … MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election, and they're working right now as I speak in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself."

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These are no exaggerations. Congress' Select Committee on the January 6 events has unearthed compelling evidence on Trump's direct involvement in the Capitol insurrection. The Stop the Steal movement has been working relentlessly in many Republican-controlled States to take away from impartial administrators the power to declare the result of the Presidential election and confer it to political bodies. Their declared intention is to make sure that in 2024 the Republican presidential candidate (who may well again be Trump) does not meet the obstacles that Trump encountered in 2020, when he and his supporters pressured in various ways election officials to change the result of the popular vote in several States. Biden's speech is an open call to defend American democracy from a powerful internal enemy that will stop at nothing to achieve power.

The enemy in question are the "MAGA Republicans" (Republicans who are Trump's followers). Biden distinguishes them from moderate Republicans, who are loyal to the US Constitution and do not hold a "blind loyalty to a single leader". At the same time, underscoring the gravity of the "clear and present danger" for US democracy, Biden explicitly acknowledges that the Republican Party is "dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans". In this situation, Biden calls all those who care about American democracy to defend democracy by exercising their rights to electoral participation and free expression ("speak out, speak up, vote, vote, vote"). Will it work? Too early to say. There are some mildly encouraging signs, but the situation remains difficult. 

Two months from now, in November, Americans will vote in mid-term elections, where traditionally the President's party does badly. This time, however, the trend is somewhat different. On June 24, the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional protection of the right to abortion. Since then, the electoral tide has turned slightly in favor of the Democrats. The "generic congressional ballot" survey, which asks people which party they would support in an election (averaged poll data on www.fivethirtyeight.com), saw a 2.3% Republican advantage on June 25 turn into a 0.9% advantage for the Democrats since. 

The results of recent by-elections also show a pro-Democrats tendency. Over the past three weeks, Democratic candidates won in two Congressional districts in Alaska and New York that were previously held by Republicans. All other by-elections held after Dobbs, even though no seats changed party, show a clear vote swing towards the Democrats.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections though, the crisis of American democracy will continue for as long as the Republican Party is on Trumpian positions. It is impossible, at this stage, to predict if and when the Republican Party will return to the constitutional fold. The fallout of the August 8 search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, in which the FBI sequestered illegally held classified documents, has damaged several Trump-endorsed Republican candidates, and induced a few high-profile Republicans, including Governors Larry Hogan (Maryland) and Glenn Youngkin (Virginia), to publicly take some distance from the former President.

Hence, Trump's famous joke that he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody" and still "not lose any voters" may have lost some of its bluster. But even if Trump were no longer seen an electoral asset, or even left politics, the Republican Party's anti-democratic orientation would not necessarily change. The most popular presidential candidates after Trump are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (whose positions are indistinguishable from Trump's) and the former President's son Donald Trump Jr. For the sake of US democracy, it is to be hoped that Biden’s candid words will convince more moderate Republicans and independents to mobilize for it.
(Here, the Spanish version)
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