Adam Przeworski, professor of political science at New York University, put it succinctly: democracy is “a system in which parties lose elections.”
The observation is alarmingly simple, and maybe that's why we don't think of it that way. We consider our politics in terms of changes in administration every four or eight years, but to view it from Professor Przeworski's perspective, it's more than that...and less. It's having one person try—and win, and having the other person try just as hard, but lose.
Men and women who run for any political office understand the principle, most Americans understand it, and residents of autocratic countries long for any form of government that even approaches that. In Russia and China and countless other authoritarian regimes, elections are either forbidden or carried out as mere window dressing with the results determined beforehand. Who will run against Putin? It doesn't matter. In 2018 he received 56 million votes; his closest competitor eight million. In America we consider a 60% to 40% margin a landslide. That's chump change for Putin.
In the democracy that is America, Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. In a country where parties lose elections, he was the loser. Now what do we make of his unwillingness to admit defeat or concede the election? That part is easy: he's a two-year old having a temper tantrum. But what do we make of all the party members, elected and appointed, who are marching in lockstep with him? This: we have a Democratic party and an authoritarian party. The Republican party has abdicated most of its economic and diplomatic policies to follow Trump's meandering style of government, and though there is a lot of breast-beating over the Republicans' fall from grace, it's worse than that. They are now full-fledged authoritarians whose allegiance lies not with any democratic form of government, but with winning.
They have made no secret of the fact that an informed and enthusiastic voter turnout is their enemy, and Trump himself declared that if voting became easier, Republicans would never win another presidency. But instead of changing that by trying to align themselves more closely with the thoughts and ideas of the majority of Americans, they have chosen the path that veers far to the right of democracy, and off the road, and into the miasma of authoritarianism. For instance, the majority of Americans favor a woman's right to choose, health care for all, and a reduction in carbon emissions—three issues on which the current Reublican party holds opposing viewpoints. Their answer? Stand their ground, then control the populace by removing voting rights and sullying free elections so that a party in power remains in power in perpetuity.
We are watching the curve bend toward authoritarianism as Trump carries out spurious lawsuits and tries to strongarm state legislators into controverting free elections. When this is over, those Republicans who either openly upheld Trump's demands or hid under a rock while their leader mewled and wept will find themselves unable to mask their collaboration in the attempt to upend democracy—an attempt that seems destined not only to continue through and past the inauguration of Joe Biden, but also threatens to become a viable political party, since the national Republican party has ceased to exist.
To see Donald Trump carrying the authoritarian banner in 2024 should surprise no one.