How big of a threat does Donald Trump pose to American democracy? This question has been asked countless times and answered in innumerable ways since his surprise victory in 2016. The shocking events of Jan. 6 seemed to vindicate the alarmists. And yet the insurrection was over in a matter of hours, the president stepped down, and his successor was inaugurated without further incident.
Recent events in Israel show, however, that Trump's destabilizing actions following his defeat in Nov. 2020 may extend well beyond the first week of Jan. 2021 — and even beyond the boundaries of the United States.
After 12 years leading Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu looks days away from being replaced by a broad coalition of parties united by little beyond a desire to oust him as prime minister. But instead of accepting the outcome and vowing to fight another day, Netanyahu and his political allies on the Israeli right have chosen to follow Trump's example of denying the legitimacy of his own defeat and the victory of his opponents. And he's doing so in precisely the same conspiratorial and insurrectionary terms as Trump did, speaking of the electoral outcome as the "fraud of a century" and the result of a "deep state" plot, while allies in his party complain that they are victims of Big Tech "censorship."
In a strong New York Times column Tuesday morning, Ross Douthat threw a welcome bit of cold water on the most fearful progressive fretting about the prospects of Republicans stealing the election of 2024. Yet events in Israel point in a more ominous direction. In refusing (to this day) to accept the legitimacy of the election that led to his defeat, Trump injected the kind of autocratic thinking and tactics associated with Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan into the political culture of a long-established democracy — and managed to bring a significant chunk of his party along with him. And now Netanyahu is trying something similar in another democratic system.
How long can the peaceful transfer of power between parties in a democracy be maintained when one side talks and acts as if a loss, and a victory by the opposition, is simply inconceivable? Thanks to Donald Trump and his influence, we may be distressingly close to finding out.