Governor: U.S. ‘headed down a very dark path’

Spencer Cox cited politicians’ use of fear to divide Americans, leading to a growing number of threats against public officials.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool, File)

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) said he sees the United States as a declining democracy as political leaders use fear to divide the nation, leading to a growing number of threats of violence against public officials.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday at a monthly news conference, Cox cited a report in a forthcoming biography that U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R) is paying $5,000 a day for security to protect his family, after Romney voted twice to convict former President Donald Trump on impeachment charges.

“The United States is headed down a very dark path, and we’re further down that path than I think most people realize,” Cox said. “There is a very real chance over, you know, the next couple decades of a complete failure of our democratic institutions, of our republic.”

Asked directly whether he thought the United States was a declining democracy, Cox said: “I do. Yeah, I do. And it scares the hell out of me.”

Cox has made improving the political dialogue the cornerstone of his tenure as chairman of the National Governors Association. He recently visited New Hampshire, where the NGA heard from Rachel Kleinfeld, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the threats facing American democracy.

“Political leaders are really good at using fear to divide us. I’m hoping today to use a little bit of fear to unite us,” Cox said.

Cox said he, like most governors, had faced threats against his own family. He said Kleinfeld’s research found a startling number of public officials had faced threats in recent years, especially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One of the hallmarks of declining democracies are threats against public officials,” Cox said.

Cox cited a new survey from the Pew Research Center that found 65% of Americans always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics. The poll found just 4% thought the American political system works extremely or very well. He said politicians bear responsibility for those feelings.

“In a very real way, what every one of us does every day, posting on social media, attacking other people instead of ideas — we are adding to that,” he said.