Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Want to save our democracy from Trumpism? One approach is to follow the blueprint that led to last week’s surprising defeat of Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who’s also known as the Czech Donald Trump.
Babis, a billionaire tycoon at the forefront of Czech politics since 2011, was elected as prime minister in 2017. He’s spewed anti-immigrant rhetoric, proposed disbanding the Czech Senate and was a loud critic of Western European alliances like the EU – all while being a fan of Hungary’s far-right leader Viktor Orban. Just before the election, the right-wing populist was also accused of controversial business dealings – allegations Babis in essence dubbed “fake news.” Sound familiar?
So how did the people of the Czech Republic edge out Babis? Through various political parties putting their ideological differences aside to form an alliance with one goal: getting him out of office. That meant a more conservative party had to team up with an anti-establishment party that supported gay marriage and other progressive causes they actually opposed. Babis’ party lost by a slim margin, but it appears to have worked.
Petr Fiala, who led the anti-Babis coalition and will possibly serve as the nation’s next prime minister, stated after the election: “People were fed up with the populist, short-term politics of Andrej Babis,” adding that Czechs want “normal, competent and decent politics,” in contrast to Babis’ divisive rhetoric.
Another Czech political analyst said Babis’ loss “stabilizes the country’s position in the West camp,” in contrast to being more aligned with Hungary’s Orban – who is beloved by White nationalists and has been slammed by Western leaders for embracing undemocratic ways to retain political power. (Orban is also a person Trump has publicly praised.)
Obviously, the United States – a nation of over 300 million people and only two major political parties – is vastly different from the Czech Republic, a nation of a little over 10 million with numerous viable political parties. But there are still lessons from the Czech election that apply to where our nation finds itself today.
The Republican Party of 2021 is not in practice the political party it once was – one that embraced democracy and at least tolerated a multicultural society. Rather, as Harvard professor and “How Democracies Die” co-author Steven Levitsky recently explained to me, it’s an “openly authoritarian party” akin to “European far-right parties” that are “ethno-nationalist (and) nativist” in focus.
Levitsky bluntly added that in his view, today’s GOP is less about policy prescriptions and more focused on “essentially preserving the identity of a White, Christian America.”
This is backed up by more than a dozen GOP-controlled states contributing to the passage of a combined 33 laws since January designed to make it more difficult to vote, per the Brennan Center. Those laws were not enacted because of Trump’s “Big Lie,” but because of Trump’s “Big Loss.” The GOP understands it’s increasingly becoming a minority party – both electorally and demographically. The voter suppression laws are an effort for the GOP to retain and acquire political power over the majority.
Levitsky also noted that the threat to our democracy is no longer just from Trump, but rather emanates from the entire GOP, given that they still openly embrace him. For example, after the January 6 attack on our Capitol, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy slammed Trump on the House floor, saying Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”
Now, though, we are seeing McCarthy and other GOP leaders rallying behind Trump because, as Levitsky noted, they would “rather end democracy” than end their political careers. Trump is actively seeking to purge people like Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from the party for refusing to acquiesce to his undemocratic desires, a strategy that deters others from daring to stand up to him. Levitsky warned, “It’s now crystal clear that they [the GOP] will follow him to whatever authoritarian destination he takes them.”
While Levitsky notes “there is no magic solution” to defeating an authoritarian movement, the forming of a politically diverse pro-democracy coalition is a good start. As the Harvard professor explained, “a lesson we’ve taken from other cases, particularly in Europe, is the need to form a broad, ‘small D’ democratic coalition that has to range from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to include democratic conservatives” to “as many Republicans as want to join.”
Thankfully, we are already seeing the making of that, as laid out in a recent New York Times op-ed written by former GOP New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor, who served in the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security.
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They explained that over 150 conservatives – including former governors, members of Congress and party leaders – have joined forces to defeat Trumpism by supporting Democrats who are taking on “Trump extremists.” These Republicans admit they will likely disagree with Democrats on policy issues but add that “we agree on something more foundational — democracy.”
They powerfully urged that, “in the battle for the soul of America’s political system, we cannot retreat to our ideological corners.”
They are right. We do need to form a pro-democracy coalition in the same way leaders in the Czech Republic were able to put aside political differences to defeat a right-wing, populist leader. The hope is my fellow progressives will also see the urgency to join forces with those whom we passionately disagree with on policy but passionately agree with on preserving democracy. The future of our nation depends on it.