With the news that the radicals on the Supreme Court will decide next term whether states can toss out the popular vote, along with the rest of the rulings that have already made the US less free, I started wondering how long will the United States be ruled by an authoritarian regime. Yes, tis a dark place, essentially giving up on American democracy. Sure, we are not quite there yet, and the folks who have been warning us haven't coded the US as autocracy yet (I await the next update of Brightline Watch). But I have seven hours to spend at Newark airport in between flights so why not think this through a bit. And no, conditions here are ok--the new United Lounge has a great taco bar and pretty terrific cccookies.
Part of this is talking with folks during the EISS conference, getting some fresh perspectives. That 27% of Republicans think Biden was elected legitimately which means folks may just say that we need an unpeaceful transition (Mike Flynn taking the 5th on that question is disturbing for so many reasons) helped get me thinking.
Anyhow, assuming that the 2024 election may be tossed out by GOP types or Trump might win and and then return to his mission of destroying democracy, how long might it last? For me, the starting point is: what type of autocracy? Sure, we could think about the possible civil war of blue vs red states, but I will skip that for now as I am already sufficiently depressed. So, I did read Barbara Geddes's book a while back where she codes different types of authoritarian regimes and assesses which ones last longer. I found a pdf of a paper that took that dataset and went further with it, so that folks can get an open-access taste (but do get her book--it is pretty great)
There are four types of regimes (or more or less, depending on the scholar) but the archetypes are: monarchies, single-party regimes, military regimes, and personalist dictatorship. Things can get fuzzy, but here's what the basic pattern is:
We don't have to worry about monarchy, and I don't think a military regime is a likely form for the US. Maybe down the road, but not in the near future. That is a post for a different day. First, the bad news: the average autocracy lasts more than .... ten years. But most don't last forever. The big question is whether it will be a personalist dictatorship or single party regime as the latter lasts twice as long as the former. Personalist regimes do tend to have succession problems.
Will the oncoming autocracy really be the rule of one man or will it be one party? This is hard to say because the GOP is doing a lot on its own, the stacking of the court preceded Trump, the state parties around the country are running amok, and so it could just become a single party government. Previous and existing ones had a coherent ideology to bring folks together (again, this is what I remember from a book I read a while ago)--Communism, Nazism, fascism. What is the binding ideology of the GOP? If the last several years has taught us anything, it is a party entirely devoid of values, just a power seeking machine, as the party let itself be taken over by a guy who was very much the antithesis of the stated values of the party (well, besides the racism and misogyny that was baked into the GOP).
This is important because an utterly craven, power-seeking party with no values will have a hard time building or sustaining institutions that could keep the party together. Can the GOP stick together after Trump leaves the scene? Or will it be torn apart by those who seek to succeed him? While there are those who think they could control the party, such as a Mitch McConnell, how much power will he have when the Senate becomes just an empty symbol that could be disbanded if it gets too quarrelsome for Trump/Trump 2.0. Trump might get so annoyed and jealous of whatever power McConnell has, that he might disband the Senate. No Senate, no McConnell. Once you break institutions, those who were empowered by institutions may become less relevant.
Alternatively how would a GOP politburo work? Who would be on it? Would they get along? Would they sublimate their egos so that their rule could be perpetuated? I just don't see the GOP managing one party rule well. On the other hand, I also have a hard time imagining what the rebellion would look like (too much Star Wars in my head).
Of course, in the short term, the US will have an electoral autocracy, so it will look a lot like Hungary (no accident that today's GOP are fans of Orban and what he has done to Hungary) or Russia. So, the institutions will stick around for a while, despite reduced legitimacy, and they might constrain Trump/whoever somewhat. And that gives us a bit of hope as one thing that does bring autocracies to an end is their screwing up their fake elections.
All of this is gross and disturbing. I haven't given up hope yet, but damn, we face dark days ahead.