October 14, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Was the 2020 election the Republicans’ best and last shot at an authoritarian takeover?
Everything we are seeing now, no matter how scary it is, may in the course of time prove to be a slow unwinding of an all-but-spent threat.
I want to share a thought with you. It may sound strange. It’s that the 2020 presidential election may have been the Republican Party’s best and last shot of an authoritarian takeover of the country. Now that it has failed, now that a majority of the American people understands what’s going on and what’s at stake, everything we are seeing now, no matter how scary it is, is a slow unwinding of an all-but-spent threat.
I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. We don’t know what we can’t know until the time has come in which knowing is possible. So I might be right about this, but I don’t know if I am, because I can’t know if I am until months or years from now. But there are small things suggesting to me, yeah, I could be right. What happened yesterday, for instance.
A judge in Georgia dismissed an attempt by the former president’s supporters to review absentee ballots from last year’s election. The ruling came a day after investigators found no counterfeits. According to the AJC: “Superior Court Judge Brian Amero’s ruling ended the last remaining major lawsuit over Georgia’s 2020 election and prevented an outside review of Fulton County’s 147,000 original absentee ballots.”
Think like an authoritarian. Humiliation drives everything. It’s what they fear most. Humiliation is what happens when they are knocked out of their place in “the natural order of things.”
In short order, the former president’s office said this: “If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ’22 and ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
What does this have to do with the idea that 2020 was the best and last shot at an authoritarian takeover? The answer is rooted in the political psychology of authoritarianism. Specifically, humiliation.
Humiliation drives everything. It’s what they fear most. (Regular EB readers are familiar with this.) Humiliation is what happens when they are knocked out of their place in “the natural order of things”: God over Mankind, men over women, white people over everyone else. The authoritarian collective that now constitutes the foundation of the GOP would rather give up on democracy than share political power with people who refuse to stay in their place in “the natural order.”
When Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, he didn’t lose. It is impossible for the leader of the authoritarian collective to lose on account of his being the leader of the authoritarian collective. If he were to concede defeat, he would be humiliated. That’s unthinkable.
Here’s the tip jar!
So he and his Republican confederates are going around the country creating conditions in which the leader really can’t lose. In order to defeat a system threatening to humiliate them with defeat, they are trying to rig the system so that Trump’s humiliation can’t happen.
This is what Trump means when he says the Republicans must “solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020.” The fraud isn’t fraud in any normal sense. The “fraud” is that he lost, something that’s not possible on account of his being the leader. (He’s correct, by the way. President Biden’s victory has been “thoroughly and conclusively documented.”)
So far, I have been arguing against my idea. So far, I have suggested that 2020 is the beginning of an authoritarian takeover, not the best and last shot. But again, you have to think like an authoritarian.
You already believe the system is rigged against the leader (and, therefore, against you). A political system, like a democratic republic, that gives power to his and your perceived enemies (think: Barack Obama in 2008) is a tyrannical system that can’t be trusted until it’s prevented from further empowering his and your perceived enemies.
If it isn’t prevented from “oppressing” your “rights” and “freedoms,” then you and the authoritarian collective you belong to might not vote. After all, why risk being humiliated again by the fact that the fix is in. This is why the former president’s statement said “Republicans will not be voting in ’22 and ’24” if the “Presidential Election Fraud of 2020” is not “solved.” They refuse to enable tyrants in their own oppression.
The same problem exists, however, if the “fraud” problem is “solved.” Again, think like an authoritarian. If the leader says it’s solved — meaning, that elections are now rigged to ensure the leader’s victory in order to prevent something that can’t happen, which is his and your humiliation — you, first of all, believe him. The leader is infallible. Second of all, you might not have the motivation to vote, because the chief motivation for doing anything, the thing that drives everything about being an authoritarian, is the prevention of humiliation. If the leader says “fraud” has been “solved,” well, there’s no reason to vote.
The conditions that led to this damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation did not exist prior to the 2020 election. To the extent that they did exist, they had been waning in potency since the 2016 election when the country really was blind-sided by a shameless candidate who conspired with a foreign power to sabotage his opponent. Since then, however, we have learned, especially about how authoritarians think.
Again, I don’t know if I’m right. I can’t know. The moment in which knowing is possible has not come. However, I want to believe it’s true that the majority of the American people, however slim, never looked back. I want to believe a union of Americans filled with the spirit of democracy overwhelmed the GOP confederates in 2022 and 2024. They had their best, last shot. They blew it. They won’t get another.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.