America is at a Crossroads
Mr. Trump’s iron-fisted instinct is one of a cascade of behaviors that bode poorly for American democracy. It is not alarmist to say, if Mr. Trump is reelected, we may see such a perversion of democratic processes and apparatuses as to mirror more the authoritarian regimes of Turkey and Russia than the United States. The spectacle in Washington DC the other day laid bare that Mr. Trump has no fidelity to the traditions of US democracy — for one, that we don’t use the military to “quell” protesters, and that peaceful (note: peaceful) protests are not only tolerated but also supported. The mere presence of “military police” in the nation’s capital conjures images of something foreign, something that doesn’t happen in the United States. Mr. Trump has always nurtured affinities for despots and it’s as though he relishes opportunities to emulate them. Further, Mr. Trump’s invocation of religion, often used by tyrants to legitimize their regimes, is an ominous signal. Mr. Trump is not religious; and it’s laughable that he purports to take a strong stand against abortions whereas most people acquainted with him in New York know he’s likely been responsible for a few of them. He uses religion purely for political effect. His antagonistic relationship with the media is meant to discredit criticism against him as unfair or fake; the media is his chosen enemy. Dictators utilize this strategy — invoking threats of an insidious enemy working behind the scenes to sow chaos — in order to rile support and legitimize the compromise of civil liberties. George Soros in Hungary; terrorists in Russia; the media in the United States. And it goes without saying that Trump’s self-absorption and bloated self-image probably engenders in him a good-faith belief that he should be coronated as monarch for life.
Perhaps one of many issues is that each election cycle, all manner of vitriol and exaggeration is unleashed by both sides onto one another. It wasn’t always this way; for all of the rancor against Bill Clinton, the political dialogue of the 1990s seems like a knitting circle by a comparison. I recall a Facebook post going around in 2012 referring to Mitt Romney as a genocidal murderer — and educated, seemingly reasonable people were actually agreeing. Well, the reality is, Mr. Romney is a decent family man who happens to disagree with liberals on many issues. It’s OK to disagree without questioning the humanity of your opponent. Had Mr. Romney won the election, one wouldn’t worry about the fundamental course of the country and whether it was slipping into a skeletal vestige of its former self. Romney has ethics; Trump has none. Obviously, similar things were said about Barack Obama; to watch Fox News is to think the United States is constantly amidst some form of hysteria. Both sides peddle exaggerated outrage although I think Republicans are generally better at it. In any event, the effect of this is that when you ring the alarm too many times, in too many contexts, about too many people, common men and women won’t react when there is actually reason to panic and prepare for fatalistic scenarios.
Perhaps now is that time. Donald Trump is not the cause of all of America’s problems. Some of those problems have been simmering for 400 years. But he has made them worse and he’s attempting to bend the arc of history in his image, and for his personal benefit. And now we find ourselves at a crossroads. This isn’t really a Democratic or Republican problem; it’s an American problem. And it really doesn’t relate to Donald Trump’s policies as related to healthcare or otherwise. We can disagree about policies and live with those disagreements. And let’s not exaggerate: not every one of Trump’s policies are flawed, not every one of Obama’s policies are perfect. The system is meant to encourage compromise; perhaps that’s why Clinton’s triangulated, third-way was so successful. The issue with Donald Trump is rather, that he’ll always do what’s best for Donald Trump.
My concern — and I think people are underestimating this — is that Donald Trump may not leave the White House, even if he loses the election. Those who have fidelity to a higher cause must prepare for the prospect that Donald Trump will not leave unless he is forced to do so. It is not alarmist to say that 2020 may be the first election in modern history that is not at all free or fair — and the first transfer of power that is not normal or peaceful. There have been electoral disputes before — and even if they weren’t adjudicated ideally — they were done so within the context of the democratic and legal systems. And the loser stepped aside with some degree of grace. Trump has always played fast and loose with the law and hasn’t shown interest in conforming to protocols. It is hard to imagine him giving a concession speech and walking away.
Democrats are not known to be good politicians or tacticians, with some exceptions; but they have to take this threat seriously. And while it seems some Republicans benefiting from Mr. Trump’s administration are more interested in power than any progress or principle, there are those I trust will stand up to Mr. Trump should he lock himself in the White House and refuse to leave, or make an attempt to cancel or otherwise discredit the election.
I think there’s a tendency in American life to do what is right, or do what must be done — but to delay doing so until the last possible moment. The reaction to the Coronavirus may be one such example. But people — and those in government — cannot allow the election of 2020 to be subverted, and cannot be naive about the possibility that Trump will foment excuses so that he can stay on regardless of the result.