In a sprawling, 7700-word cover story in this week’s New York magazine, writer and political commentator Andrew Sullivan offers something of an ultimatum: “[The GOP elite] must take the fight to Trump at every opportunity, unite with Democrats and Independents against him, and be prepared to sacrifice one election in order to save their party and their county.”
That is because, Sullivan ultimately concludes, “in terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order …[Trump] is an extinction-level event.”
Sullivan finds a model for the current state of affairs in American politics in antiquity — namely, Plato’s Republic.
The gist of Plato’s argument, by way of Sullivan, is that, given enough time, democracy becomes distrustful of elites to the point that “There is no kowtowing to authority … let alone to political experience or expertise.”
At this moment in what Sullivan calls “late-stage democracy,” the tyrant — in this case, Donald Trump — will “seize his moment.” It’s what Sullivan calls democracy’s “unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.”
Sullivan cites the flattening effect of internet media (which replaces “authoritative sources for even a common set of facts”), touts the spiritual disenfranchisement of middle-class white men (those who comprise the mass movement that “lashes out” in the form of Trumpism), and warns of the now well-known commonalities between Trump’s rhetoric and (neo-)fascist precedent.
While the newsworthy summary of the story might be something like “conservative commentator calls for bipartisan cooperation to stop Trump,” Sullivan’s indictment of the Republican frontrunner ultimately comes across as a corollary to his larger thesis — the one highlighted by the story’s subtitle: “The case against the people.”
The reader with the endurance to make it to paragraph 55 is told that: “The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.”
The upshot, apparently, is that Trump was right about one thing — the nomination system is rigged, and Sullivan urges for the exploitation of that very rigging: “The GOP elites have every right to deploy whatever rules or procedural roadblocks they can muster, and they should refuse to be intimidated.”
Business Insider’s own Josh Barro called a rule change in Colorado’s primary system “antidemocratic,” which seems to be Sullivan’s very point — if he is to be believed (a big if), too much democracy is what got Americans into this mess in the first place.
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