Making Peace with Authoritarians

As we approach Halloween and next month’s mid-term elections (which some of us view as the same season), Spirited Reasoners find themselves wrestling with a pair of existential questions. Does making peace with Trump loyalists equate to the sort of appeasement practiced by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with Adolf Hitler? Or might it, instead, help to bring us together again?

We can boil those down to a single question that is more starkly worded: Will it ever be possible for Trump loyalists to accept the outcome an election that does not go their way?

If recent polls are to be trusted, that last question might turn out to be temporarily moot. Republicans could win a majority of House and Senate seats.  In that case there would be little in the election results for them to complain about. (Save for those districts in which Trump loyalists were defeated.) Given such a scenario, Americans can expect the next two years to be filled with demands for the impeachment of President Biden and the arrest of Dr. Fauci. (For what? It doesn’t matter. They adopt positions that anger Trump loyalists.)    

As a lover of history, I sometimes look for answers to present-day dilemmas by casting my eyes back a century or two. Were there any rational responses to those who, in the year 1860, demanded that the institution of slavery be extended to every new western territory? If the calm reasoning of Abraham Lincoln was insufficient to answer these demands, one wonders whether any words exist to quench the present-day anger of Trump loyalists. Chamberlain’s appeasement clearly failed to work against Hitler and might even have encouraged further aggression.

What makes the plight of Spirited Reasoners so difficult are (a) the unwillingness of Trump loyalists to accept legal and scientific facts; and (b) the paucity of rational policy demands on the right. (“Build that Wall,” “Lock her Up,” and “Stop the Steal” lie more in the realm of religious zealotry than rational argument. What’s especially troubling about the last two of these is that they would require the President to act as a dictator, ignoring the rule of law.)

Even more troubling is the paradox we Spirited Reasoners will face if a majority of Americans vote to look the other way when it comes to authoritarian gains. How can we argue the primacy of democratic values when a majority decides it no longer wants to keep them?

These are indeed troubling times. I find some solace in a recent campaign ad (of all places) involving this year’s Congressional race in the 3rd District of Washington. In the video, several prominent Republicans urge their fellow Republicans to vote for the more moderate Congressional candidate, Marie Glusankamp-Perez, who happens to be a Democrat. The reasons they express include the fact that the Republican candidate, Joe Kent, seems sympathetic to Putin, seems to admire Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and seems to doubt the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Will such political conversions be enough to turn the tide?

Stay tuned.