Donald Trump has undermined our shared representative democracy in fundamental ways and appears to be actively pursuing an autocracy.
Donald Trump has undermined our shared representative democracy in fundamental ways and appears to be actively pursuing an autocracy.
There is ample reading on this subject.
Article after article, reason after reason. From attackinging the election, to stoking white nationalism, to blatant corruption (trying to use US aid to bribe a foreign government into digging up dirt on a political rival; filling leadership posts with lobbyists; etc), to spreading disinformation, to undermining the independence of the courts, civil service, journalists and anyone who would serve as a check on his power. You can read and read and read until you’re blue in the heart. And today’s GOP, far from restraining their president, has been either complicit or has collaborated with his anti-democratic actions.
But perhaps a couple quotes can quickly illustrate how Trump is not kidding, how this is not a joke:
“He’s now president for life. President for life,” Trump said of Xi [after China removed the two-term limit on their state-chosen presidents]. “No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
“We’ve cut more regulations in a year and a quarter than any administration, whether it’s four years, eight years or, in one case, 16 years,” he said. “Should we go back to 16 years? Congressman, can we have that extended? The last time I jokingly said that, the papers started saying ‘he’s got despotic tendencies!’ No, I’m not looking to do it, unless you want to do it.”
“Get rid of the ballots [apparently in reference to mail-in ballots] and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” [This exchange happened while a reporter was trying to get Trump to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. Trump would not agree to that.]
Like in Russia.
The Rolling Stone’s 7/16/2020 “The Plot Against America: The GOP’s Plan to Suppress the Vote and Sabotage the Election” has the subtitle “Blocking ballots, intimidating voters, spreading misinformation — undermining democracy is at the heart of Trump’s 2020 campaign”.
The New Yorker’s : “Donald Trump is Attacking American Democracy at Its Core” and Atlantic’s “The Election that Could Break America” both discuss suspicious Trump’s near-election maneuvers (both are from 9/23/2020).]
A quick Note on Trump’s repeated claims that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud:
There is no evidence of that.
But there is ample evidence that Russia intervened on behalf of Trump in the 2016 election by hacking into state voter databases and the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Democratic organizations, and Trump rivals; and by strategically releasing emails from those campaigns; spreading propaganda on social media; and staging rallies.
Here is a timeline of Trump’s statements about Russian interference (he’s not concerned).
And there is a legitimate mail-in ballot concern: That human error and partisan politics could cause many mail-in ballots to be tossed out. Since Democrats are four times as likely as Republicans to vote by mail in this election, these dangers affect Democratic candidates much more negatively than Republican ones.
Can anyone remember Trump suggesting we need to take steps to protect mail-in votes from human error and partisan maneuvers? What he appears to be doing is working to contest mail-in ballots (ie: working to leverage the weaknesses within mail-in ballots). Is it because he honestly believes the ballots are fraudulent, or because he doesn’t care about the will of the people, but only about maintaining and consolidating power?
Trump at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota on September 30, 2020 (about how “boring” politics will be without him):
It is happening. Trump is sending out signals and feelers — is prepping, is grooming us for an autocratic takeover, while simultaneously taking the practical steps necessary to realize this coup of our shared democracy.
We must prefer the preservation of our representative democracy over specific political victories. To the degree we lose representative democracy, we lose the ability to influence our shared democracy, and there is no longer an effective check on madness, corruption, and tyranny.
Representative democracy is a fundamental good. Destroying it in the name of any particular “good” is akin to destroying an individual’s ability to make coherent and meaningful decisions in the name of some particular “good”. Abandoning representative democracy is self-defeating.
We’ve written many essays about how Representative Democracy is a Spiritual Good.
But the basic argument is pretty self-explanatory:
The more corrupt and/or cut-throat the political/economic/societal climate, the harder it is to be both happy and decent, and the harder it is to be both effective and good. And the harder it is for the nation to make coherent decisions that are meaningful to human beings (“meaningful” in the largest sense of what makes sense to one’s mind/heart/soul).
Our fundamental civic duty of serving as a final check on madness and corruption in government becomes easier to the degree that we maintain our government’s transparency, openness, honesty, clarity, accuracy, competency, civility, and good-faith, and the rules and norms that prevent any individual or group from amassing too much power.
To the degree we lose shared control over our government, all our political opinions become moot. To maintain itself, a corrupt government pursues a more and more desperate and desolate, scorched earth, my-ends-justify-any-means logic. The more that political and social reality becomes our background, the harder it is for us citizens to enjoy material wealth and basic goods like safe food and water without becoming complicit in cheating, stealing, fraud, cruelty, disinformation, suppressing dissent through intimidation and violence, and general injustice. And the easier and more likely it becomes for us and our fellow citizens to sacrifice common human decency in the names of ourselves, our friends, and our families — thus harming our souls as we harm the world.
By preserving representative democracy, we make it easier for us and other people to be both happy and decent. We also make it easier for goodness to be effective: In a healthy government, good, wholesome, helpful, win-win actors, ideas, and organizations gain more power and prestige — granting them more ability to do good. Whereas the more corrupt a government, the easier it is for harmful, corrupt, unhealthy actors, organizations, and ideas to gain the upper hand — granting them more ability to do bad.
In a healthy representative democracy, we citizens openly share the universal, fundamental values of awareness, clarity, honesty, accuracy, competency, transparency, kindness, good-faith, and shared joy. In this way, we all acknowledge that we share the same underlying values and openly agree to abide by those values without which none of our feelings or thoughts mean anything to any of us. This allows us to effectively share meaning, which in turn makes effective communication and collaboration possible. Within this context, we—unburdened by the details of governing but still ultimately in charge of their government — together observe and nudge our shared government towards better directions.
In this way, a representative democracy allows us all to live our lives as we see fit while remaining true to the most fundamental and universal of human values. We cannot put a price on that.
Accordingly, we citizens of the United States of America should do everything in our power to inform our fellow citizens that Donald Trump presents an immediate, acute threat to our shared representative democracy. We should work to elect Joseph Biden, who is willing and — with our help — able to help us begin the process of restoring and reinvigorating democracy in our country. And we should work to make sure this election is fair.
Some argue that, for example, abortion is so evil that one must vote Republican in order to fill the court with justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade.
This argument assumes either that the Republican party will never gain so much power, corruption, and ill-will that it would accept the destruction of our democracy; or it assumes that abortion is so bad that ridding the land of it is worth accepting a despotic autocracy.
As discussed above, the former assumption is clearly a very questionable and dangerous one (check out our overview of Trump’s threat to democracy).
As for the assumption that trading representative democracy for anti-abortion rulings is a good deal: Once you effectively destroy a democracy, you don’t know and cannot control how the autocratic power structures will evolve. Perhaps in time, the government will decide that any woman who already has a child will have to abort the second one. (Is a link needed to point out that such a move is not unprecedented in recent human history?)
But aren’t they all hopelessly corrupt? Can a vote for Biden really make a difference? As we’ve discussed to above, Trump presents a unique danger to our democracy and way of life because he has autocratic tendencies and is succeeding in eroding democratic norms, rules, and institutions. There is no comparison between him and Joe Biden — a person an with an understanding of and respect for our democracy and nation.
[Cindy McCain (widow of John McCain) for Biden
Former Republican National Security Officials for Biden
9/27/2020 list of prominent Republicans endorsing Biden]
Trump and the GOP — which has enabled his strongman tactics and was already actively working to suppress minority votes before Trump came to office — have betrayed their responsibility to our democracy.
This is the hope for US American democracy: Vote Trump and his Republican enablers out, demand real democratic reforms from Biden and the Democrats, and support and help them realize these reforms.
[Washington Post 9/25/2020: “How Biden can immediately begin to restore good governance”.
The New Yorker 9/28/2020 “Biden will restore America’s moral leadership”. (“Imagine a President determined to do something about the destruction of democracy.”)
Atlantic Monthly October 2020 “America’s Plastic Hour Is Upon Us”.
(“The country is at a low point. But we may be on the cusp of an era of radical reform that repairs our broken democracy.”)]
Yes, removing Trump and his Republican enablers is just the first step towards restoring our democracy. But there are further steps that can be taken to restore the integrity of the system, and we’ve no choice but to try to take those steps — once we’ve managed the first one.
To give our democracy the best chance of a meaningful and sustainable recovery, the GOP needs to suffer heavy losses — both so that the ruling class hears loud and clear that harming our shared democracy is political suicide, and so that Republicans cannot thwart efforts to reinvigorate democracy — and the Democrats need to make restoring the health of our democracy an immediate priority.
The Democrats have a decent pro-democracy platform; let’s help them bring it to life.RESTORING AND STRENGTHENING OUR DEMOCRACYOur government and our elections are supposed to reflect the interests of the American people, not only the wealthiest…democrats.org
“… We will make it a priority to pass legislation that restores and strengthens the Voting Rights Act, and ensure the Department of Justice challenges state laws that make it harder for Americans to vote. … ”
“We must give voters the confidence that their ballot was counted as cast by supporting mandatory, statistically meaningful post-election audits and full transparency of all election results and data. …”
“… Democrats will also increase oversight of private election vendors to ensure voting systems are secure and worthy of voters’ trust. …”
“… Democrats will fight to pass a Constitutional amendment that will go beyond merely overturning Citizens United and related decisions like Buckley v. Valeo by eliminating all private financing from federal elections.”
“In the meantime, Democrats will work with Congress on legislation to strengthen the public funding system by matching small-dollar donations for all federal candidates, crack down on foreign nationals who try to influence elections, and ensure that super PACs are wholly independent of campaigns and political parties. …”
“Democrats will establish a commission on federal ethics to aggressively enforce and strengthen federal ethics laws, including rules around personal financial disclosures for Executive Branch officials, and make campaign finance, financial disclosure, and lobbying disclosure filings easier for the public to access and understand. …”
“Democrats will re-establish merit-based federal contracting decisions and prohibit political appointees, at the White House or in agency leadership, from interfering in grantmaking. …”
And so on.
A lot of good ideas. Let’s demand they follow-through and give them the support and numbers necessary to do so.
But at the very least, talk to your friends and family. Don’t be shy: this election can destroy US American democracy — speaking out in defense of one of our greatest, if not our greatest, shared resource is more important than avoiding the possibility of an awkward moment.
Don’t be crazy/vainglorious and start arguments with people who you know will never listen to reason on this subject. But if, for example, someone comes out with some watercooler comment about how there’s no difference between Trump and Biden, take the opportunity to point out the obvious truth: “There is a difference. It is the difference between someone who wants to be Putin and someone who wants to be a democratic president with no more than two four-year term limits, constrained by checks and balances, and ultimately beholden to the will of the people. There is a big difference in this election. It represents a chance we may not get again.”
And also at the very least in 2020:
Make sure your vote, and the vote of your friends, families, co-workers, and acquaintances count. There’s no a priori guarantee that a vote you cast in the 2020 election will be counted: You need to study up on how to make sure it is counted and then go make sure it is counted.
Our democracy is in danger. People have fought and died for the right to self-govern. People have suffered loss of prestige and wealth, have been tortured, imprisoned and killed attempting to bring more freedom to their fellow citizens. The least we can do is speak out against Trump’s anti-democratic statements and actions; and speak up for Biden and those who would peacefully, and through a fair and open democratic process, remove Trump and his enablers from office. And protect our own vote and the votes of other people. This is what we as free citizens of a democratic republic are called upon to do — for our own sakes, the sake of our fellow citizens, the sake of the world, and for the soul of things.
Authors: Bartleby Willard & Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andy Watson
[This essay part of From-Bartleby.com’s NYC Journal — Politics page.
Bartleby Willard is the author of many poems, stories, and essays — including many on Something Deeperism — , and countless advertisements for Pure Love.
He currently has four books for sale: Superhero Novella, A Readable Reader, First Essays, and First Loves.
Related Articles: The US is a Shared Culture; Representative Democracy is a Spiritual Good; Trump’s Threat to Democracy; Trump Push-Poll — A Lesson in Disinformation; Duties of a Republic’s Citizenry; A Simpler Shared Something Deeperism]