Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): When I decided, about three years ago, to use Twitter to publicly engage with U.S. politics, I promised myself to stay clear of cynicism and defeatism, and that I wouldn’t let my general sense of despair overwhelm my commentary.

I find it so hard to keep that promise right now.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): I was never of the belief that Biden becoming president proved that things were fine, that the system worked, that Trump was just an accident, an aberration. Things are obviously not fine, and I spend much of my time on here talking about and analyzing the reasons why.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): Voting Trump out was never going to be enough. When Joe Biden took office, it was clear that unless the system was fundamentally democratized, we would soon reach the point where it would become impossible to stop America’s slide into authoritarianism through elections.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): We’re getting closer to the mid-term elections, Republicans are likely to take at least the House, and the system has not been democratized in the slightest. Meanwhile, the Right is more determined than ever to entrench white Christian dominance by whatever means.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): Then there’s the rise of far-right militancy and fascistic brutality, of vigilante violence and white supremacist terrorism, this culture of violent threat that is jeopardizing the foundations of democracy – all of which rapidly moving towards the center of conservative politics.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): And then there are the violent pathologies of American life, not all of them specific to America, but some of them – the gun cult, the culture of gun-toting militancy – truly exceptional to this country, all of them desperately calling for public policy interventions.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): But those public policy interventions aren’t coming. Not because of a lack of resources, as America is among the wealthiest nations in the history of humankind; not because there aren’t any solutions, as other countries have demonstrated that some of this is fixable.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): If the U.S. were a functioning democracy, its political leaders would have to answer to the will of the majority. And in most areas of public policy, this would indeed move the country forward, and at least somewhat closer to becoming a multiracial, pluralistic democracy.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): The problem, of course, is that America is, in fact, not a functioning democracy, but a system in which severe anti-majoritarian distortions and a deeply unhealthy political culture conspire to give disproportional power to a radicalizing minority devoted to a reactionary cause.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): That’s what it all comes down to: Conservatives don’t care about democratic legitimacy. They have figured out a way to hold on to power against the will of the majority, and they have a comprehensive strategy to realize their reactionary vision for America.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): Right now, it is just very hard to see who and what is supposed to stop them. The reactionary counter-mobilization against multiracial pluralism has been progressing with breathtaking speed – and yet, too many people are still clinging to the idea that “they won’t go that far.”

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): American democracy is hanging by a thread – and yet so many “moderate” voters (and quite a few self-proclaimed liberals) sneer at the “alarmist” warnings of ascending rightwing authoritarianism and don’t like the “partisan” critique of the American Right…

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): What is the solution? The only thing I can contribute is to try to convey how the struggle over democracy is not just one among many issues, that it defines the political conflict, that it’s an overarching concern that transcends and permeates nearly all areas of public policy.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): The struggle over democracy sets the conditions for all public policy areas, including guns, health and welfare, abortion – and conversely, what democracy is in practice, and who gets to participate fully, depends on the decisions in any of these arenas.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): In many ways, the key question in America today is whether or not enough people are as committed to preserving democracy as Republicans are to abolishing it, and whether those people can move the institutions to act accordingly. So far, the answer is pretty definitively no.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): Let’s make democracy our overriding concern, just like those on the Right have made restricting the promise of democracy to groups they define as “worthy” their single focus. We need to match their commitment.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): “Aren’t you advocating just the kind of polarization that is the root of all evil that plagues America?” Well, I understand the concern that, by emphasizing how high the stakes are, they get even higher – making it potentially more difficult to solve the situation politically.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): But, well, if the key question at the heart of the political conflict is: “Multiracial, pluralistic democracy: Yes or No?”, then the committed (and increasingly radical) “No!” coming from the Right needs to be matched by a determined “Yes” from the pro-democracy camp.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): If anyone wants to call that “polarization,” then I’d say this kind of “polarization” is not the problem on which we need to focus – the actual problem is the anti-democratic radicalization of the Right, and pleas for “unity” are not an adequate response to that.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): Matching the rightwing commitment to preventing multiracial pluralism with an equally strong commitment to preserving democracy does also not mean that those two stances are equivalents, politically or morally.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): The reactionary vision wants to restrict democracy and refuses to accept a significant portion of the population as equal members of the body politic; no one in the pro-democracy camp, meanwhile, is demanding to exclude or disenfranchise Republican voters.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): Republicans are regarding their political opponent as a fundamentally illegitimate enemy who is pursuing a radically “Un-American” political project – that’s not the same as trying to keep rightwing extremists away from positions of political power by voting them out.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): I’m just rambling now, and I should stop. The thing is: Right now, the reactionary forces who want to turn the clock backwards by many decades and obstruct all attempts to solve any of the urgent public policy problems the country is facing are winning. Time to raise the alarm.

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): This is it, exactly. It’s getting harder and harder to see how America’s slide into authoritarianism could be stopped without a mass mobilization of civil society outside and beyond the established political institutions - but when and how is it going to happen, if ever?

Thomas Zimmer (@tzimmer_history): The main threat to democracy is not that it may “die in darkness” - but that the institutions tasked with upholding it do not possess the strength and/or will to mount an effective defense against an authoritarian movement that could not be clearer about its ideology and goals.