Donald Trump has undermined our shared representative democracy in fundamental ways and appears to be actively pursuing an autocracy.
Below we present a bit of an overview of Trump’s assault on our democracy, divided into six main categories:
1. Working to Undermine the Democratic Election Process
2. Prepping us for more than two terms
3. Demanding the incarceration of political rivals
4. Stoking rather than refusing to condemn racism and white nationalism
5. A War on Truth and Accuracy (unparalleled record of dishonest statements; a willful online disinformation campaign reminiscent of dictatorships; a war on press freedoms)
6. Undermining Checks & Consolidating Power (undermining the independence of the civil service, the judiciary, and Congress; attacking blue states)
7. Corruption (making US foreign aid dependent upon the Ukrainian government helping Trump smear a political rival; filling top posts in regulatory agencies with industry lobbyists, etc)
We conclude with a discussion of how the GOP has aided and abetted Trump’s attacks on our shared democracy.
[As of October 12, 2020, the final sections of this article are incomplete)
- Working to Undermine the Democratic Election Process
Openly stating that they need to keep too many people from voting so that Republicans can keep power.
The below quote is in reference to Democratic proposals to provide substantially more funding for absentee and mail-in voting:
[“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”]
While refusing funds for mail-in voting.
[“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo. “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”]
Encouraging his supporters to come out and “watch” the polling place.
What is this but a not-so-subtle call for voter intimidation?
What are they going to “see”? except people lined up, trying to vote without having a partisan mob marching around them?
[CNN 10/1/2020: “State officials brace for conflict after Trump tells supporters to ‘go into the polls and watch’”.]
Of course, the GOP was already working to suppress votes prior to Trump’s presidency
Berkeley News 9/29/2020: Stacking the deck: How the GOP works to suppress minority voting
NY Times 11/3/2018: “‘They Don’t Really Want Us to Vote’: How Republicans Made It Harder”
But under Trump, the threat is getting worse
Washington Post 5/18/2020: “Republicans are serious about voter suppression. Here’s how to stop them.”
Rolling Stone 7/18/2020: “The Plot Against America: The GOP’s Plan to Suppress the Vote and Sabotage the Election”
Vox.com 9/30/2020: “The growing concerns over Trump and a peaceful transition, explained”
Our page on Corrupting Elections discusses recent voter purges engineered by Republican state congresses, Trump’s attempts to bribe a foreign government into digging up dirt on a political rival, and more.
Near Election Updates:
Texas Republicans Ask Judge to Throw out 117,000 Legally-Cast Ballots (Slate, Oct 31, 2020)
https:/Brett Kavanaugh Prepares to Upend Election Rules to Benefit Donald Trump
(The Nation, 10/27/2020)
Kavanaugh, in a footnote to his ruling (with the court’s conservative manority) that Wisconsin could toss out mail-in ballots received after election day:
As Chief Justice Rehnquist explained in Bush v. Gore, the important federal judicial role in reviewing state-court decisions about state law in a federal Presidential election “does not imply a disrespect for state courts but rather a respect for the constitutionally prescribed role of state legislatures. To attach definitive weight to the pronouncement of a state court, when the very question at issue is whether the court has actually departed from the statutory meaning, would be to abdicate our responsibility to enforce the explicit requirements of Article II.”
[The Article continues:
“The justice’s concurrence signals, on the eve of what could be an even more bitterly contested presidential election than 2000, that he is quite open to going further than the Bush v. Gore decision when it comes to meddling with vote counting in the states.”]
2. Grooming us for a sixteen year presidency
“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.
One heroic party ruling forever in eternal glory:
Or risk wealth, prestige, safety, family, life.
The choice is yours.
See, we have choices here too!
What do you need democracy for?
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 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).
There is a legitimate mail-in ballot concern, but the concern is 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 the mail-in ballots. Is it because he honestly believes mail-in ballots and all the polls that show him significantly behind 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:
“What are they going to do when in eight, 12, 16 more years we hang it up?” Trump said, talking about how boring he thought politics would be when he left, and giving fuel to the idea that he would potentially try to serve for more than the allowable two terms.
It is happening. Trump is prepping, is grooming us for an autocratic takeover, while simultaneously taking the practical steps necessary to realize this coup of our shared democracy.
3. Demanding — with neither evidence nor coherency — that political opponents — Obama, Biden, Hillary Clinton, and others — be jailed.
[“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes,” declared the president, “the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re gonna get little satisfaction unless I win. Because I won’t forget it. But these people should be indicted, this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country. And that includes Obama, and that includes Biden; these are people that spied on my campaign, and we have everything.”]
4. Stoking rather than refusing to condemn racism and white nationalism
[Washington Post 7/4/2020: “Trump’s push to amplify racism unnerves Republicans who have long enabled him.”
The Guardian 9/30/2020: “Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy fits pattern of extremist rhetoric”.
Southern Poverty Law Center 8/23/2020: “President Trump is stoking white nationalism, exploiting racist fear.”
[Trump’s “Stand back, and stand by” is classic example of race baiting.
In the presidential debate, the moderator asked Trump if he would condemn white supremists and ask them to “stand down” during protests about police targeting minorities.
Trump replies: “Sure, I’m willing to… but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing,”
He asks who he’s supposed to condemn.
Biden says “the Proud Boys” — twice.
Trump replies “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what… Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”
There is then of course in the next few days a lot of concern voiced about the ambiguous and actually rather encouraging “stand by”, while the Proud Boys leader writes that the “‘stand by’ remark was the president ‘basically said to go f**k them up. This makes me so happy.’” And they make “Standing By” T-Shirts. [9/30/2020 Newsweek article]
The next day reporters ask him to clarify his “stand by” comment, and he deflects with, “‘law and order to be a very important part of our campaign’ when asked whether he welcomed white supremacist support.”
Pressed further: “I’ve always denounced any form, any form of any of that.” Of what Trump? You’ve denounced any form of what? You can’t say it, can you? Why?
Then on Thursday on Fox News, in an interview with the Trump-friendly Sean Hannity, Trump says, “I’ve said it many times, but let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. “I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that,” he added.
If you are a member of the Proud Boys, what conclusions do you draw? You know that — as he’s not yet secured his dictatorship — he has to at some point say you are wrong and should not police protest rallies for racial justice. And so he does, after two days of refusing to revise his “stand back and stand by”, and when now he’s clearly scripted and rehearsed what he’s supposed to say.]
[From a 10/1/2020 Complex article about the Proud Boys:
“In theory, (group founder) McInnes touts an embrace of white pride by closing the borders, preventing dilution of white culture, and encouraging everyone to adopt Western, white, English-speaking habits and values. In practice, the Proud Boys are effectively a ragtag fight club who purposefully targets, triggers, and provokes anyone perceived to be in opposition to their values for an excuse to become violent. McInnes has often recommended violence as an effective solution to problems and has encouraged members to literally ‘fight for the cause.’”]
The New Republic 8/12/2020: “Donald Trump’s Coded Message to White-Nationalist ‘Accelerationists’”
The Atlantic June 2019: Trump’s Racism, an Oral History
The Conversation 9/18/2020: ”Trump’s Appeals to White Anxiety are not Dog Whistles; they are racism”:
“This is why the term “dog whistle” does not accurately describe Donald Trump’s rhetoric. When Trump talks about “rapists” from Mexico, “shithole countries” in Africa and white supremacists as “very fine people,” the racial connotation isn’t hidden — it is obvious.”
The Atlantic September 2020: ”Is this the end of American Racism?”:
“He has held up a mirror to American society, and it has reflected back a grotesque image that many people had until now refused to see: an image not just of the racism still coursing through the country, but also of the reflex to deny that reality. Though it was hardly his intention, no president has caused more Americans to stop denying the existence of racism than Donald Trump.”
5. A War on Truth and Accuracy
An incomparably high number of untrue statements
As of October 12, 2020, of the 868 Trump statements that Polifact.com checked 71% were mostly false, false or pants on fire false. As this comparison of various politician’s Polifact.com scorecards makes clear, that that is an unprecedented number of falsehoods.
A concerted and willful disinformation campaign
Atlantic Monthly March 2020: “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President”
MIT Technology Review October 2020: “Mainstream media is the biggest amplifier of White House disinformation”
Business Insider 9/23/2020: “Russian trolls are relying on Trump quotes and tweets for disinformation campaigns, saving them from making up the content themselves like they did in the 2016 elections”
Washington Post 9/6/2020: “Trump and allies ratchet up disinformation efforts in late stage of campaign”
Berkman Klein Center for the Internet & Society 10/1/2020: “Mail-In Voter Fraud: Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign”
Vanity Fair 9/23/2020: “Why did the Trump Administration bury a report on Russia’s latest 2020 disinformation campaign?”
See also our Dissection of a Trump Push-Poll (A lesson in disinformation)
A War on the Press
[Committee to Protect Journalist’s 8/16/2020 report:
The Trump Administration and the Media
From the Intro:
“The Trump administration has stepped up prosecutions of news sources, interfered in the business of media owners, harassed journalists crossing U.S. borders, and empowered foreign leaders to restrict their own media. But Trump’s most effective ploy has been to destroy the credibility of the press, dangerously undermining truth and consensus even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to kill tens of thousands of Americans. A special report of the Committee to Protect Journalists.”]
6. Undermining Checks & Consolidating Power
See War on the Press directly above this category
Undermining the independence of the civil service
[Atlantic Monthly April 2020: “The president is winning his war on American institutions — How Trump is destroying the civil service and bending the government to his will”
[Our “Politicizing Independent Institutions” page has an overview and excerpts from the above article]
Statnews.com July 2020: “The CDC is an apolitical organization. That’s left it defenseless against Trump”
JustSecurity.org: The Politicization of our security institutions
Washington Post 10/26/2020 Trump Appointee Resigns Over Executive Order Removing Job Protections for Many Civil Servants:
“The order, which could affect tens of thousands or more career positions involved in making or carrying out policy, “is nothing more than a smoke screen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process,” Ronald Sanders wrote in his letter of resignation Sunday from the Federal Salary Council.
“…President Trump issued an executive order to redesignate career employees in ‘confidential, policy-determining, policymaking, and policy-advocating positions’ as falling under rules that primarily apply to political appointees. Such ‘excepted service’ positions do not require competition in hiring, or even public notice that a position is available, do not allow for union representation and do not allow for appeals of disciplinary actions, including firing.”
The noose is tightening, America.
Please vote for Biden and work to secure the vote.
Undermining the independence of the judiciary
Center for American Progress: “Trump’s Politicization of the Justice Department”
Our “Executive Power Grabs” page has excerpts from:
(1) Brennan Center Article with “… examples of Trump’s public statements attacking individual judges and questioning the constitutional authority of the judiciary …”
(2) Executive summary of Alliance for Justice’s Trump’s attacks on our justice system from 1/14/2020:
(3) Trump is at war with the whole idea of an independent judiciary by Garrett Epps (Professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore) for the Atlantic on 3/4/2020:
And of Congress
One of the most salient instances of Trump’s ability to corrupt congress is his impeachment trial, where Republican senators blocked key witness testimony from being heard and also voted to acquit Trump in the face of overwhelming evidence of his malfeasance.
Our Executive Power Grabs page contains excerpts from:
“Congress has lost its power over Trump” [Kim Wehle for the Atlantic on 2/4/2020]
Buzzfeed summary of impeachment evidence
NY Times 1/30/2020:
“Republicans Block Impeachment Witnesses, Clearing Path for Trump Acquittal”
Trump has also declared a war on Democratic-run states
Our Executive Power Grabs page contains excerpts from
“Trump escalating his war on blue America” by Ronald Brownstein for the Atlantic on May 14, 2020
Everything we’ve been outlining is corruption in one form or another.
The bribing of Zelensky (linked to in the Executive Power Grab page mentioned above) is a famous case of blatant quid pro quo corruption.
Many other articles on the subject of Trump’s corruption exist:
Global Anticorruption Blog: Tracking Corruption and Conflicts in the Trump Administration
Washington Post 11/5/2019: “The scope of Trump’s corruption is mind-boggling. New developments show how.”
GQ 11/1/2019: “How Trump corrupted the presidency in every possible way”
NPR 10/8/2019: “A look at Trump’s anti-corruption record”
[Where to categorize?:
-Refusing to acknowledge — let alone condemn — Russia’s concerted interference the 2016 election on his behalf.
-Siding with Russian intelligence reports of US intelligence reports.
-Preferring the company of dictators to democratic leaders.]
Trump Not Alone: GOP Enabling His Attacks on Democracy
Trump’s anti-democratic push dovetails nicely with voter disenfranchisement by the Republican party (see above at the end of section 1 “Corrupting Elections”). And, rather than push back on Trump’s dismantling of checks and balances, his rampant disinformation, and other anti-democratic activities, the GOP leadership has held onto his coattails and passed tax cuts for the richest Americans and shoved two supreme court justices through. We’ve already mentioned how they blocked witness testimony and then voted to acquit over overwhelming evidence that Trump had attempted to bribe a foreign leader with US aid money for the sake of his (Trump’s) political career.
For the sake of our democracy, Trump must lose this election decisively, taking large numbers of his GOP enablers with him. With that we the people will have said firmly that betrayal of democratic values is political suicided. And from there we can work with the new president and congress.
Authors: Bartleby Willard & Amble Whistletown
Copyright: AM Watson
This is part of our NYC Journal — Politics page