American democracy — the world’s longest-running experiment in government of, by, and for the people — is, astoundingly, under assault by its own president, who looks to be auditioning to become the world’s next, and no doubt greatest, autocrat.
In just under two years, since he was inaugurated, Donald Trump has trashed every tenet of American democracy. Let us quickly count the ways:
Rule of law? Trump clearly expects “my” Attorney General to serve, not the people, but himself; as New York Times columnist David Leonhardt puts it, this is a “lawless presidency.” Rules-based international order? For 70 years, in the post-World War II era, America served as the guarantor of international peace, but Trump, trashing alliances and rules, has unilaterally surrendered America’s most precious mantle, “Leader of the Free World.” Right to vote? Trump is fine with the Republican party’s project of disenfranchising entire swaths of the American electorate, which swaths are always ethnic minorities. An informed citizenry? Along with his own non-stop lying, Trump has declared the press “the enemy of the American people,” chortling recently that anyone who “body-slams” a reporter is “my kind of guy.” This fifth-rate lounge act is our leader?
Moreover, to “make America great again” — that is, white again — Trump has unleashed, overtly and shamelessly, the malignities of racism and xenophobia, forces always present in our history but, after great struggle, contained. He demeans women, in word and (admitted) assault. Violence, fear, hatred, humiliation, cruelty, non-stop lying— these are the proto-autocrat’s weapons.
Going full demagogue in the run-up to the midterm election, rather than point to the powerhouse economy, Trump points to a caravan of “invaders” — migrants fleeing their violent countries in South America, making their way to the U.S. — and, in blatant fear-mongering, threatens to deploy 15,000 federal troops to the border and rescind birthright citizenship, a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Meanwhile, as he pumps the migrant caravan as a national-security crisis, Trump scants real ones — the pipe-bombs mailed to a dozen Democratic leaders, the massacre of 11 worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue — denying his violent rhetoric could in any way be responsible, blaming the media instead.
In this destruction, Trump is aided and abetted by the GOP’s Congressional leaders, who’ve made a Faustian bargain with Trump to retain power, and by his base, who seem to thrill to his transgressive act.
All of which is why this midterm election — this Tuesday, Nov. 6 — is so important: This election is more than a regular kitchen-table election, though, yes, kitchen-table issues are in play, notably healthcare in various Democratic campaigns.
But, more important: This election is a strategic one — relating to America’s direction and moral character. Winning this strategically significant election, we could, 1) reduce Trump’s power — and, more important than the person, Trumpism; 2) check the damage he’s inflicting on America; and, 3) redirect ourselves away from the dark autocratic place Trump seems to be taking us and turn us back to Democracy, where we belong. In so doing, we might find our moral compass again. As The Washington Post puts it, Tuesday will “render a nationwide judgment on whether Trumpism is a historic anomaly or a reflection of modern-day America” (also here). Even our 15-year-old lawn guy gets it: “Yeah, this election is about our future.”
This midterm is our first opportunity since Trump took office to recalibrate the balance of power between Trump’s Republicans (the GOP is Trump’s party now) and the Democrats. Massive energy has been expended on the left since Trump’s inauguration — in protests (the Women’s March the day after, other pop-up protests) and in the anti-Trump resistance movement that rose up spontaneously. But this election is our first opportunity to re-enter the wheelhouse and get our hands on the helm again — on power. Trump can do all he does because he has all the power inhering in the modern American presidency, and then some (again, thanks to a craven GOP). He needs to share that power — by force of the ballot.
And if Trump is not forced to share power — if the lawless and amoral Trump wins on Tuesday — hunker down for more racist and xenophobic baiting, watch Republicans pass another massive tax cut for the rich and take another swipe at repealing the Affordable Care Act (and renege on pre-existing conditions), bite your nails as Trump tries to close down the Mueller investigation for good, etc. It all sounds awful, doesn’t it, and awfully passive to boot. So, take action Tuesday and vote.
Were Democrats to retake the House of Representatives, investigations that have gone nowhere under Republicans — into Russian meddling in our elections, into Washington corruption — could properly get underway. It’s conceivable an infrastructure package could finally happen (Trump has expressed support). And — finally — since it is a key issue this election: Could Democrats, both in the House and Senate, make immigration reform and border security a top priority? As for impeachment, this writer hopes that matter will stay off the table: Best to defeat Trump fair and square — at the polls — rather than via a purely political maneuver like impeachment.
Happily, a record turnout at the polls appears in the offing on Tuesday. Early voting is off the charts. Clearly, the people — the demos, the component part of democracy — sense the peril America is in. This conscientious electorate includes not only Democrats and Independents, but moderate Republicans who reportedly “recoil from President Trump’s divisive language on race and gender” and deem his preoccupation with the migrant caravan and birthright citizenship as “alarmist.” Especially troubling to these conservatives: Trump “amplified his fear-peddling” with an online video showing a Mexican man convicted of killing two deputies with a voice-over saying, “Democrats let him into the country.” Leading conservative voices (and profiles in courage) like George Will and Max Boot urge their cohort not to vote Republican this time.
To those in the electorate who elect not to vote: If you are worried your vote would not be counted, whether due to GOP or Russian meddling, your worry would be valid if the final vote count is close, but a tsunami of ballots would be inarguable. And if America’s present chaos has made you so sick at heart that you see no point to voting, know that, writing in The New York Times, a medical doctor recommends voting as good for your health (reducing blood pressure, reducing risk of depression, etc.).
Again, this midterm election — strategic in significance — is our first opportunity to put the brakes to the anti-democratic, pro-autocratic force now in the White House. Let us, the demos, come to our country’s rescue, with the mother of all turnouts Tuesday. If the Dems were to retake the Senate, too…
The world’s faltering democracies, and for that matter the world’s autocrats, need to see a faltering America recalibrate — as a liberal democracy. It would do our heavy American hearts much good, too. America is not in breakdown, we are engaged in a grand reckoning. Step One toward a New Day: Vote.