Is Donald Trump Eroding Democracy in the United States of America?
Donald Trump is a very bad president. It is not just the incompetence; the immaturity, the mental instability, the bromance with Putin--it's government by chaos. Deliberate or incidental--it's an attack upon democracy.
The Statue of Liberty
A Little Background on Democracy
Let’s begin with a brief description of democracy. The United States did not invent democracy. The first known democracy began in the fifth century BCE in the Greek city-state of Athens. It lasted, in various forms and with brief interruptions, for about eight centuries until Athens was conquered by the Macedonians in 338 CE.
Democracy gives the people of a country a say in how they are governed. The United States is not a pure democracy; it is a democratic republic. The people vote for representatives who are empowered to govern.
The Constitution of the United States provides for a system of governance in broad terms. The Constitution sought to provide “checks and balances” by instituting three co-equal branches of government—the President, the Congress, and the Judiciary.
Within the Constitutional framework, laws are written and voted on by the elected representatives. The representatives are supposed to act on behalf of their constituents and pass laws for their benefit. (Unfortunately, too many of these elected representatives do not consistently govern in accordance with the will of the people. They manage to get reelected nonetheless, but that is another story.)
The Fragility of Democracy
Democracy is fragile. It depends on good will from all and informed choices by all. Democracy is very vulnerable to demagogues. A demagogue is a charismatic person who can exploit prejudice and ignorance in order to whip up emotions and sway people to forgo reasoned deliberation.
The founders of the United States were afraid that a demagogue who was unqualified and unsuited for the presidency could win over the masses. Consequently, they created the Electoral College as a check on the masses. People vote for Electors who then vote for president. Unfortunately, almost from the start, electors pledged themselves to one candidate and did not act as an independent check.
Benjamin Franklin feared that a demagogue could destroy democracy. When he was asked what form of government the United States has, he replied, “A republic if you can keep it.”
More recently President John Kennedy echoed the same concerns when he said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy threatens the security of all.”
The Importance of Voting
Democracy is most vital when people vote. In the 2016 presidential election, the one which made Donald Trump president, only about 58% of eligible voters actually cast a ballot. (This was a 20-year low in turnout.) Trump got 46% of this vote.
A president who has been chosen by only 27% of the people cannot be said to be representative of all the people. (Also, because of the outdated Electoral College, Trump became president by narrowly winning a few states which gave him the needed Electoral College votes despite having nearly three million fewer people vote for him than for his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who won 48% of the vote. But that is another story.)
Currently in the United States, many states have “early voting” which lasts, in some cases for weeks, and most allow mail-in ballots. There really is no excuse for not voting
Your Vote Counts
The most often cited examples of fascism are Italy under the dictator Mussolini and Germany under the dictator Hitler in the years immediately after WW I until the end of WW II. The United States has not become a dictatorship, but it is troubling to see how many fascistic elements are seeping into the government since Donald Trump assumed the presidency.
Fascism is a governmental system led by a dictator who has complete power and who forcibly suppresses opposition and criticism, regiments all industry and commerce, uses the power of the state to enforce what he calls “law and order,” and emphasizes an aggressive nationalism, often accompanied by racism.
The dictator has an authoritarian personality which makes people think he is a strong leader. He wins political elections because he is admired by the people who expect him to make life better for them. Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.”
Democratic institutions (the aforementioned checks and balances) are preventing Trump from becoming the dictator he would obviously like to be, but his policies have many fascist qualities.
- The Trump administration has begun to roll back civil rights and uses the term “law and order” frequently, a term that many believe is code for anti-black sentiments.
- Trump’s Justice Department, under former Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, has stopped defending lawsuits to promote voting rights and halted consent decrees to reduce excessive police force in black communities.
- Trump hates Mexicans and Muslims (just as Hitler hated Jews).They both have used hated of the “other” and made “the other” a scapegoat for all the problems of the country. As a consequence, hate crimes have increased markedly since Trump’s election.
- Trump made “America First” one of his campaign slogans—a clear appeal to nationalism.
- Trump is trying to suppress opposition by threatening to shut down the mainstream media and accusing them of disseminating “fake news.”
A plutocracy is a form of oligarchy. It means government by the few. In practice, the moneyed class—the top 1% (as they are called)—rule the country. It is not the government of Abraham Lincoln who notably said the U.S. was a government government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Trump’s government is of the few, by the few, and for the few.
Just about all of Trump’s cabinet and political appointees are billionaires and multi-millionaires, and most are completely unqualified for the positions they now hold. There is a lot of evidence that they are motivated by their desire to further their own business interests and increase the wealth of the moneyed class.
Kakistocracy is government “by the worst.” It is a pejorative term. This term was first used by the English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829. It was meant to be the opposite of aristocracy, the form of government Peacock apparently thought was best.
Trump himself has no political experience and lacks the temperament to be the leader of the greatest country on Earth. But, instead of recognizing his weaknesses and surrounding himself with “the best and the brightest” (a term from the era of President Kennedy), he chose the worst. The people he has chosen often have no experience and actually want to destroy the area of government they are supposed to be managing.
Trump, during his campaign, promised to “drain the swamp,” a phrase that meant he would rid government of corruption. Instead the swamp now has more alligators than ever, and they are better fed than ever before.
Kleptocracy comes from a Greek word meaning “to steal” and it is the root of the English word kleptomaniac. A kleptocracy is a government of thieves.
Donald Trump has not divested himself from his worldwide business empire, and every day we see new information that shows how he is using the presidency for his own financial benefit. When the money comes from foreign entities, it puts him in violation of the “emoluments clause” (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8) of the U.S. Constitution which is an impeachable offense.
Trump, the Phony
Government by Chaos
Trump seems to have invented a new form of government--government by chaos. Perhaps he finds chaos exciting or useful, or perhaps it is just a result of his incompetence.
There is a lot of infighting among his inner circle. There are constant leaks as his staff tries to gain power over other staff-members.
Trump seems to have no policies. When he speaks without a teleprompter, he apparently just says whatever pops into his head. He has been known to contradict himself three times in one day.
He sold himself as a great deal-maker, yet he seems incapable of getting anything done outside of signing executive orders. The “repeal and replace Obamacare” bill failed because Republicans would not vote for it. He was unable to negotiate with the members of his own Republican party.
Trump insults our allies. Angela Merkel is essentially the leader of Europe. He pointedly refused to shake her hand and made a joke at her expense in public in front of her. She was not amused.
Our trading partners are finding new markets for their goods, as Mexico is currently doing. They feel the U.S. is too unstable.
Trump lies constantly. And not just the ordinary political lies—giant whoppers—without a grain of truth. No one knows what to believe anymore. Plus, when his lies are exposed, he just doubles down and tells more lies in an attempt to make the first lies seem true.
A Dangerous Time for America
An American president is under investigation by the FBI while serving as president! Trump and his associates are being investigated for possible collusion with a foreign power, Russia, to undermine the American democracy.
Further, many of Trump’s advisors and cabinet members have very close associations with the Russians. For instance, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who apparently has no idea how to do his job, but is very chummy with the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Many people think that Putin is blackmailing Trump. Perhaps Trump owes money to Russian banks. Perhaps the blackmail is of a more personal nature.
Could we have a Russian mole in the White House?
If you are not frightened for the survival of American democracy, you are not paying attention.
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© 2017 Catherine Giordano