OnlySky Quick Take

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Few political claims sound as ludicrous as the warning that a candidate or a party or a set of policies will lead the United States over a cliff to the end of our democracy. Generations of politicians abusing the claim have effectively turned it into a laugh line.

Is it time to stop laughing?

Multiple recent polls have found that a nontrivial percentage of Republicans were willing to endorse violence in order to reach their political goals. A poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 30% of Republicans were willing to endorse violence, and agreed with the statement that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” A similar study from the American Enterprise Institute found that nearly 40% of Republicans backed some sort of violence for political ends. These polls were conducted after the January 6th insurrection and thus indicate that such a shocking moment wasn’t enough to turn many Republicans away from political violence.

In fact, it may have emboldened them. 

America is deeply divided in ways that it has not been since the Civil War.

America is deeply divided in ways that it has not been since the Civil War, with polarization extending into nearly every avenue of life. Democrats tend to live in urban areas while Republicans dominate rural areas. Partisans tend to want to live with only their co-partisans. Affective polarization, or the hate that Americans have for one another, has reached some of the highest levels since the development of modern surveys. This has culminated in violent rhetoric and extreme political candidates.

Some academics believe that Republicans would rather end democracy than turn away from former President Trump. Is this hyperbolic, or if conservatives had the opportunity, would they truly move to do away with elections?

Despite a fractured society and low trust in institutions, there is still reason to believe that Republicans aren’t going to attempt to completely bypass the democratic process. 

The first reason is that such a move to consolidate power would shake, and potentially break markets. Republicans may no longer advocate for free trade, but they still obsess over the growth of the stock market. An attempt by former President Trump or any other Republican to seize power could be a tremendous negative for markets. After all, who wants to invest if the rules of the game could be instantly changed through non-democratic means? The second reason is that an attempted power grab could fail, providing a possible opening for their political opponents to wield greater power against them. Consider how the Southern states lost the Civil War, and how the Constitution was then amended against their slave-owning interests. Perhaps the consequences of an attempted power grab would not be as dramatic this time around, but Republicans cannot dismiss it.

Finally there is the loss of standing. Countries where power is seized through undemocratic means generally face a drop in international prestige and reduced soft power. Are Republicans prepared to sacrifice America’s place as the world’s moral authority? 

Republican voters have increased their openness to political violence. But calls to end democracy will likely give Republican leaders pause. After all, there could be dramatic political, economic, and international consequences. The most likely outcome is that Republicans continue to use fiery, charged rhetoric while continuing to participate in democracy.

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Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.