Leonard Zwelling

In a particularly germane opinion piece in The New York Times on September 10, two Harvard professors of government, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, make a strong case that the real threat to democracy in the United States does not come from the right-wing extremists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, but rather from the rank-and file members of Congress and other elected officials who have failed to condemn the violence as indicative of truly un-American behavior. What happened on January 6 was not normal visits by Americans to the seat of government.

That was a mob wishing to overthrow the results of a fair election.

Now before you go all, here he goes again about Trump, let’s review a little history. On February 6, 1934 a right-wing rebellion was unsuccessful in Paris, but the mainstream conservatives did not speak out against the coup and eventually democracy failed in France as these same semi-loyalists to democracy became the leaders of the Nazi-sympathizing Vichy government. The point of the authors is that it is not the extremists that bring down a democracy, but those in the mainstream who do not vigorously oppose the extremist ideology. A similar event occurred in Spain in 1981 with a very different outcome as all of the opposing political ideologies in Spain joined hands to defend democracy and democracy prevailed in Spain.

Today, there is great concern among many Americans that the Republican Party consists mainly of careerist semi-loyalists to the Constitution who chose not to convict Donald Trump during his second impeachment thus leaving the door open for his return. What is clear is the following:

Mr. Trump could beat Mr. Biden in 2024 regardless of what happens in the four cases going before juries in Georgia, New York, Washington, and Florida.

During the GOP debate most of the participants pledged to support Mr. Trump even should he become a convicted felon. This is ridiculous and everyone one of those who raised his or her hand ought to be ashamed.

The House and Senate are filled with Trump apologists who fear their own constituents particularly the MAGAots who will vote for Trump if he, indeed, walked down Fifth Avenue and shot someone.

There are two cures for the problem of the shakiness of democracy in America in 2023.

First, Mr. Biden ought not run for President. He’s too old and viewed as ineffective no matter how fervently the Democratic Party wishes to support him. He’s really yesterday’s news and needs to move on. If it takes Joe Manchin to run for President, then let’s get started.

Second, the Republican Party has many great candidates for the presidency. Many are running. Some great governors are not. Everyone needs to get into a room and not leave until they have identified a non-Trump standard bearer and endorsed that person. It can be one of those currently running or a draft of Chris Sununu or Glenn Youngkin. The GOP has too many good ideas and too great a history to stake its future on a 91-times indicted demagogue.

Finally, it is also my hypothesis that the damage done by the semi-loyalists plays out in all kinds of organizations, including MD Anderson. If the real excellent faculty rose up as one or if the Faculty Senate passed a vote of no confidence in Dr. Pisters, the institution would be on the way to true shared governance and perhaps even a little scientific progress.

In a real functioning democracy, all sides must be committed to the perpetuation of that democracy. The same is true of academic institutions. If your leaders do not believe in excellence, those who do should make their voices heard. There is no room for semi-loyalists to inferior leaders at the best place for cancer care in the world.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle, 


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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