Column: In 2024, it’s an election between authoritarianism and the uncommitted

Trump supporters and vaccine opponents protest in front of L.A. City Hall in 2021.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Super Tuesday is over, and so is any hope that Donald Trump isn’t speeding toward the White House.

With clear victories in the primaries, including in California, and a Supreme Court win that keeps him on the Colorado ballot, any belief that Trump doesn’t have a good chance of moving back into the Executive Mansion, or that the Republican Party will turn away from hate and authoritarianism, is magical thinking.

Just about as magical as believing that President Biden will somehow begin to inspire the many critical voters who have slowly been turning away from him — young voters swayed by a campaign against his age; voters agonized by the destruction in Gaza; voters who despite the strong economy still are shocked by inflation that makes filling the refrigerator increasingly hard.


And most of all, voters like me who are just tired.

It is incredibly disconcerting that we don’t have a Democratic nominee who inspires faith, much less excitement.

“Hold your nose and vote for Hillary” wasn’t a winning strategy in 2016 (personally, I voted for her because I thought she’d be a terrific president). But we are in the same position now as we were then — an unpopular candidate versus a useful idiot.

It is increasingly hard to care but increasingly dangerous not to.

When California Gov. Gavin Newsom began his I Am Not Running for President Tour last year, I was quick to call that magical thinking, too — a hubristic display of opportunism. And of course, it didn’t pan out for a 2024 run.

Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis argued the culture wars on live TV, but neither has a shot at the Oval Office. Why are we ignoring the two women who will decide the race?

Nov. 30, 2023

But I give it to his strategists — Newsom saw this future at the gates of Hades and created a unique lane that we didn’t know we needed: preacher to the uncommitted.

In the “Inferno,” Dante described the vestibule of hell as populated by those who did not choose a side in life, neither brazen enough to embrace evil nor strong enough to fight it.

These days, we call them independents, or the disenfranchised, or the worn-out weary like me. Case in point: Monday, my ballot was still sitting unopened on the living room table.


Our numbers are growing and we will determine America’s collective future. By voting for a Kennedy, a Stein, a West. Or by not voting at all.

At a dinner party recently, I sat next to a professor from a California university who pointed out that we survived the first Trump presidency. Maybe the second one won’t be so bad, he argued.

It was a little like standing in the slaughterhouse line with a fellow calf, bellowing that he’d never heard anyone come out with a complaint. For a minute, I saw his point.

Fascist fatigue is real.

But consider this.

Toppling a democracy requires a fearful populace — people so afraid for their own futures and the futures of their children that they will exchange rights for perceived safety. Trump is a pro when it comes to stoking these fears, and it is not an accident.
It’s an actual written plan that warns “the very moral foundations of our society are in peril,” and that “[i]n many ways, the entire point of centralizing political power is to subvert the family. Its purpose is to replace people’s natural loves and loyalties with unnatural ones.”

Those are just a few lines from the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise,” written as a guidebook for what to do after a Trump win.

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is on the rise across the nation and in California, couched in rhetoric about protecting kids. It’s a page from an old but powerful playbook.

June 8, 2023

The difference between Trump Term 1 and Term 2, if it happens, will be that kind of organization.


When Trump won the first time, those who would replace democracy with Christian theocracy weren’t prepared. They had an agenda, but lacked the skills and discipline to fully implement it.

Lesson learned.

For the last four years, this country’s far-right, extremist element hasn’t just been emboldened — they have been organizing like a Starbucks union drive. They will be, as they have repeatedly promised, ready on Day One to remake America as a place of exclusion rather than inclusion.

Trump (if not bankrupt) may personally be willing to foot the bill for red cloaks for women, but it is these unseen ranks of a new extremist ruling class that will make sure they stay on with federal laws that even California cannot avoid.

For those who don’t want to hold their nose and vote for Biden, I get it. Nobody should have to choose a candidate they don’t believe in or put someone in the White House just to prevent something worse. For those too tired to care, sisters and brothers, I feel you.

But those are the voters who will decide this election.

This isn’t Trump vs. Biden. It’s democracy vs. the uncommitted, the tired, the angry, the broke.

But you only get to lose democracy once.

A vote from the vestibule of hell is one heck of a way to do it.