"Democracy needs its gatekeepers": The Republican Party is too corrupt to care about the country

Experts explain why "Republicans appear to be in denial about the actual crisis in their party"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 22, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Natalya Bosyak/Stephen Maturen)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Natalya Bosyak/Stephen Maturen)

Last week, ex-president Donald Trump and 18 other co-defendants were indicted in Fulton County, Georgia for a range of serious crimes in connection with the Jan. 6 coup attempt and larger nationwide plot to overturn the 2020 election. Trump and his co-defendants are being charged under Georgia's racketeering laws, which are typically used to combat organized crime and other complex criminal organizations. If convicted of violating Georgia's RICO laws, Trump and his codefendants will have to serve a minimum of five years in prison. The charges in Georgia come after Trump was indicted and arrested in Washington, D.C. for his alleged crimes in connection to Jan. 6. In total, Trump faces hundreds of years in prison for the range of crimes he has now been charged with.

Pro-democracy Americans were jubilant in response to these events. With the criminal indictments in Georgia, those jubilant voices were even louder and more joyous and rapturous.

But with the indictment in Georgia, where are we really in the ongoing story that is the Age of Trump? Are the news media and political class – and many among the general public – so desperate to escape the Age of Trump that they are possessed by wish-casting, denial, and other forms of unhealthy optimism, seeing what they want to see instead of what is actually there because the latter is too frightening and upsetting?

Or are the walls truly closing in on Donald Trump? Is the nightmare that is the Trumpocene finally nearing its end?

In an attempt to make sense of what comes next in this truly historic and unprecedented moment with Donald Trump and the future of American democracy, I recently asked a range of experts for their thoughts and insights.

Their answers have been lightly edited for clarity

Katherine Stewart is an investigative reporter and author who has covered religious liberty, politics, policy, and education for over a decade. Her latest book is "The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism". Stewart's journalism has been featured at the New York Times, NBC, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books.

The crisis we face today is a crisis of American democracy and specifically a crisis of the Republican Party. Part of what makes the crisis very difficult to address is that attempts to call out the problem – like this – are often characterized as partisan, "shrill," or one-sided, and thereby relativized and minimized. But the fact remains that a substantial part of the population is made up of essentially authoritarian voters – people who, having witnessed the corruption, the coup attempt, and the ongoing festival of criminality that is Trump, continue to support him. And that's a real problem. It's not easy to understand how you can have a functioning democracy when a substantial part of the population is essentially prepared to dynamite it.

Democracy needs its gatekeepers, and it needs leaders in all parties who are willing to stand for principle and defend institutions. The leadership of the Republican Party has demonstrated a degree of corruption, hypocrisy, and cravenness in its quest for power that many would not have anticipated but that now stares us in the face.

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This betrayal of America's democratic ideals will be an enduring legacy of this period. But unfortunately, history won't take care of itself. The big question for the coming year is whether the Republican Party digs even further into the dirt with Trump in this election cycle, or if it finds some ignominious way of separating him from the nomination. (The noble path—rejecting his candidacy on principle—is inconceivable in today's Republican Party and has in any case already been foreclosed.)

Certainly, Republicans appear to be in denial about the actual crisis in their party. Some seem to think that it's just about Trump, a single bad actor. In fact, at this point the GOP has proven itself to be profoundly un-American in its current form. It is viciously anti-democratic and committed to engineering and entrenching minority rule. It is dependent on dark money and its alliances with ideological extremists, and it knows it doesn't have a chance of winning elections without systematically targeting its base of voters with disinformation and conspiracies.

Trump has completely and utterly destroyed the Republican Party.

The GOP shows signs of being every bit as toxic after Trump. The fact that Ron DeSantis is the runner-up for the nomination makes the case. Banning books, banning the teaching of subjects, demonizing groups of people, replacing democratically elected officials with political cronies, platforming racists and misogynists — that is the DeSantis program. It is what Trump did, and arguably a little bit sharper in its realization.

Thanks to the GOP's embrace of conspiracies and disinformation, we are unable to achieve the kind of consensus about basic facts and assumptions that allows for meaningful debate. This is evidenced by the fact that the Republican Party and its captive Supreme Court is consistently pushing policies that do not have popular support, such as restrictions on reproductive medicine, absence of gun safety laws, and tax cuts aimed primarily at the rich — and yet we are unable to deal with these challenges.

This points, again, to the crisis of the Republican Party. On most substantive policy issues having to do with economics, taxation, defense, reproductive rights, gun safety and others, Democrats are staking out positions that are not just in the mainstream but command significant majorities in most cases. Republicans, meanwhile, continue to talk about further attacks on reproductive healthcare rights, cuts in Social Security and Medicare, continue to side with gun manufacturers over children and their parents, continue to favor tax cuts for the wealthy, and push a range of other positions that are intrinsically unpopular.

Whatever the explanation for their electoral success, such as it is, the bottom line is that they have in one way or another coopted a democratic form of government to achieve undemocratic ends. Donald Trump didn't invent this crisis, but he embodies it, and he made it dramatically worse.

David Pepper is a lawyer, writer, political activist, and former elected official. His new book is "Saving Democracy: A User's Manual for Every American".

I continue to assume Trump will win the GOP nomination with little trouble. While legal accountability for all he has done is absolutely critical, I think the real demise of Trump will only come when the people soundly reject him for the second time.  With all his lawbreaking, that's not how this should be settled in a country that abides by the rule of law. But given where things stand today, I believe that's how it will have to be settled.

The Trump lens remains a too narrow way to view today's politics. The bigger picture is that we are engaged in a deeper struggle for democracy itself. The attack on democracy we are undergoing began before Trump ever announced for president the first time. If he were locked up tomorrow, it would continue. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, blunt-force attacks like Ohio's Issue 1, and increasing attacks on the rule of law: all are part of a deeper, state-based attack on democracy that is fraying the core principles of our nation.

And while this deeper and wider attack on democracy explains the downward spiral of extremism and anti-democracy we see in so many states, I agree that too few still see that THIS is the bigger picture reality we must contend with. And until we see it that way, we won't overcome it in a sustained way.

Cheri Jacobus is a former media spokesperson at the Republican National Committee and founder and president of the political consulting and PR firm Capitol Strategies PR.

I'm rarely an optimist, but I see the Age of Trump hitting the downslide.  But it may get worse before it gets better. 

Rabid MAGA Trump cultists who think they also wear that cloak of immunity if they hitch their wagon to him, are waking up to the shock of being held accountable. Be it Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, or the rank-and-file MAGA threatening the lives of those who hold Trump accountable, they are finding out what the term "FAFO" means. The violence Trump is urging is being dealt with immediately, tamping it down, and sending a message that this particular aspect of the "era of Trump" is no longer tolerated.  From the FBI Utah assassination raid to the arrest of a woman threatening the life of the randomly-appointed judge in the Trump case in DC, that invincibility that Trump has engendered in his cult following is diminishing.

I suspect cameras in the courtroom will further erode the sheen his MAGA followers see in him, as they will see he is treated as any other criminal defendant in the American justice system. The somewhat pedantic but necessary details and finer points of the process will apply to Donald J. Trump, just as they applied to each January 6th defendant, and each of Trump's 18 fellow defendants in Georgia.

Similarly, with the RICO charges in Georgia helping to set the stage for charges in other states where Trump and his fake electors tried to steal the election, each defendant that arrogantly believed Trump — and therefore also they — were above the law — will be smaller. Diminished. And treated like any other common criminal. The death knell of the cult.

I disagree that the media is eager to turn the page on Trump. Gorging on Trump ratings is one reason we got Trump in the first place.  Now, it's merely a matter of which way each network scores those ratings. In terms of supporting Trump, the worm doesn't actually turn until Rupert Murdoch says so.  That MSNBC ratings topped FOX News and CNN combined on "indictment night" may trigger FOX into creating a bit of distance from Trump.  Their 2015-2016 Trump ratings helped put Trump in the White House. The weakening of those ratings may be what ensures he never returns.

Wajahat Ali is the author of "Go Back To Where You Came From." He is also a columnist for The Daily Beast, MSNBC Daily and co-host of the Democracy-Ish Podcast.

I hope we're in the Return of the Jedi phase, but without Ewoks. The MAGA empire will try to the end to defend their withered, desiccated, golden calf but the walls are caving, the resistance is strengthening, accountability looms around the corner, and a few of his allies will definitely betray him because these porcelain dolls are too fragile to spend a day in prison. 91 counts is a lot of bullets to dodge, but if anyone could escape accountability, it would be Trump, a man who has been cocooned, privileged, sheltered and elevated his entire life due to his wealth, Whiteness, celebrity. Now, he has his own weaponized and radicalized cult army in the form of the GOP and right-wing media. I remain both hopeful and skeptical that justice will be served, but I still can't imagine this man spending a day in prison. I just hope it's enough to deter enough voters in 2024.

There's a blind side in America when it comes to acknowledging the primary role of racism and white supremacy that drives Trump's base and the right-wing ecosystem. For nearly seven years we've read study after study that has revealed that it's primarily cultural anxiety and not economic anxiety that binds MAGA to Trump and yet the zombie narrative still persists. If institutional power and its stenographer actually confronted this reality, they'd have to admit there are double standards in place - top down - that create unfair advantages that benefit those with wealth and light skin. That shattered the nonsense myth of "pulling yourself up from your bootstraps" and "trickle-down economics" and forces us to confront our role in perpetuating injustice and inequities. It also means we have to actually confront white supremacist extremism, the number one domestic threat in America. Instead, we infantilize, coddle, normalize and excuse white rage, and by extension, MAGA. We still haven't learned.

Rick Wilson is a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, a former leading Republican strategist, and author of two books, "Everything Trump Touches Dies" and "Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump - and Democrats from Themselves".

Trump is the frontrunner and the eventual GOP nominee for President. He has a commanding lead, controls the levers of power within the party, and is only gaining ground. None of the other candidates have exhibited any ability to cut into his lead and bring the MAGA cult members who dominate the party into their campaign.

The indictment in Georgia is sweeping in its scope and details how Trump has turned the GOP into his own personal crime family. But the trial will take years to resolve itself. MAGA will not be stopped in a courtroom, only through the ballot box.

The nation is facing a serious crisis. Trump is leading a crime family masquerading as a political party. He empowers individuals who believe violence is a political tool, support racism and misogyny, and don't want anything to do with governing - only obtaining power. 

Trump has completely and utterly destroyed the Republican Party. The party of Reagan is no longer a legitimate party concerned about policy. It is an authoritarian force with designs on taking control of the nation and destroying any opposition to its bankrupt vision.

There is only one party that believes in the rule of law and supports democracy - and that is the Democratic Party led by President Biden. If we are to turn the page on this dark moment in American history, then MAGA must be defeated and a new party must take the place of the Republican party.

Democrats need to come to the realization the election will be contested between President Biden and Donald Trump, and that Trump can win. This will be a close election and no one can afford to sit it out because they want different choices. Anyone who cares about democracy needs to be working to re-elect President Biden. 

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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