This year authoritarianism and the future of American politics are on the ballot.
As he proclaims his political opponent would be imprisoned if he were elected, Donald Trump promotes ideas dangerous to democracy. Rally-goers have pushed and punched nonviolent protesters. They chant “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton, journalists and women who report Trump groped them. Trump brushes aside our constitutional commitments to due process.
Linked to these dictatorial desires is the perspective that anyone not supporting one’s candidate is an enemy. Trump has entered into this territory with his claims that Clinton is aligned with forces that wish to destroy the United States.
The Trumpian authoritarian tendency should be appalling to Republicans, who used to declare that their party was defined by a commitment to individual liberty.
Sen. Susan Collins and Gov. Paul LePage come down on different sides but are similar in that neither has been timid about where they stand on Trump.
LePage supported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie early on, but then moved to Trump after Christie’s defeat in the Republican primary. Recently, LePage touted Trump’s “authoritative persona,” which would fight the chaos that doesn’t really exist. Ramping up fear is an element of populist authoritarianism.
LePage took a position on political discourse antithetical to our fundamental precepts and laws and in line with Trump’s view of state power and punishment when he stated that several leaders of the Maine People’s Alliance should be imprisoned because they have been working to raise the minimum wage.
Collins spoke out against Trump this summer and announced she will not vote for him. Collins cited Trump’s insults toward a reporter with a disability, women, and the Khans, a Gold Star family. Trump went after the Khans because Mr. Khan had the temerity to criticize his position on immigration during a speech at the Democratic National Convention and to ask Trump if he had read the U.S. Constitution.
After the release of the 2005 tape in which Trump bragged about his history of sexually assaulting women, Collins reiterated her unwillingness to vote for Trump and responded to LePage’s criticism of her by stating that she will continue to work with him. The tape led other prominent Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to withdraw their support for Trump.
Unlike Collins and LePage, Rep. Bruce Poliquin has been publicly shy to say whether he wants a President Trump. While Poliquin has been supportive of Trump behind closed doors, the congressman will not say whether he will vote for him.
Instead, Poliquin has engaged in a sort of political tap dance by not answering reporters who ask him if he supports Trump or changing the subject. After news broke of Trump’s 2005 tape, Poliquin issued a statement that criticized both Trump and Clinton.
Last week Poliquin refused to say whether he thought Trump “should drop out of the race.” Reporter Mal Leary of Maine Public pressed him, saying, “Congressman, you can’t hide,” but Poliquin simply wouldn’t give his view.
Poliquin said that he’s “not getting involved in any of this media circus.” One citizen remarked, “He’s supposed to answer our questions. . . He didn’t really take it seriously, I guess.”
Our representatives are elected, in part, to exert their judgment. Those assessments don’t just involve legislation and public policy. By openly stating whom they want to hold the highest office in the land candidates disclose values, policy positions and leadership.
In terms of politics, one can appreciate the fine line Poliquin is dancing. He does not want to offend either Trump supporters or Trump opponents.
But Trump is not an ordinary candidate. He tried to delegitimize President Obama and, by claiming the election will be rigged, is attempting to do the same to Hillary Clinton. While over 60 percent of Americans see Trump as unqualified and temperamentally unsuited for the presidency, Trump isn’t going away.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has taken steps to start a Trump television network after the election, suggesting Trump wants to reshape the Republican Party. If these plans get off the ground, Americans will see the advance of an authoritarian, conspiracy-minded, anti-Semitic white supremacist party faction, moving our nation in a dangerous direction.
All Republicans will have to face the Trumpist party bloc eventually. Before voters cast their ballots this November, all candidates should say where they stand on this perilous transformation of American politics.