The greatest threat to the United States that will emanate from Trump’ reign does not come from his normalizing of xenophobia, sexism, racism, and other hate-speech, or his disastrous fiscal policy, or his foolish foreign policy, or even from his complete lack of experience in public office—although those concerns are all real and valid. Rather, it is his normalization of the challenging of the very backbone of the country itself: our democratic traditions and norms.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has openly degraded and disregarded cornerstones of American democracy. He has questioned the validity of elections, claiming that they are rigged by the media and by voter fraud, despite the fact that many studies have shown that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. Moreover, Trump has challenged the norm of peaceful exchange of power between government officials, saying that he would only accept the result of the election if he wins.
Trump has also cast doubt on the independence of the judiciary, another pillar of American democracy. In one instance he questioned whether the judge overseeing the cases related to Trump University was fit to serve in the case because he was Mexican.
He has challenged the principal of free press. Trump has said that if he wins he would “open up libel laws” to sue news outlets that disagreed with him. Moreover, Trump has steadily denied news outlets—even respected ones like the Washington Post—access to campaign events because they don’t portray him in a positive light.
Lastly, he has disputed the integrity and impartiality of central U.S. institutions. He challenged the conviction of a retired general in federal court. Even though the general pled guilty, Trump called into the question the integrity of the FBI and Department of Justice in the prosecution. Additionally, he has continually argued that the FBI is “rigged” in favor of Clinton, claiming that they have not thoroughly investigated her emails.
Yes, leaders are important. But, leaders die. For the United States to continue to prosper, strong democracy must endure.
The trust in electoral results, and peacefully transitioning power based on those results, is crucial to strong democracy.
An independent judiciary is crucial to strong democracy.
The principal of free press is crucial to strong democracy.
Trust in government institutions is crucial to strong democracy.
Trump has called all the above pillars of democracy into question.
In doing so, he has set a dangerous precedent. No longer is it just fair game to challenge one’s opponent on their platform and the merits of their policies. Now, Trump has normalized the open degradation of democracy itself.
The dismissal of democratic cornerstones that has occurred under Trump—and is likely to continue to occur—poses the greatest threat to the United States. Through great turmoil—through unpopular wars, steep recessions, and bitter race riots–our democratic traditions have endured. In claiming to “Make America Great Again”, Trump has waged war, and will wage war, against the very thing that has made America great: our strong democracy. Are we strong enough to stop him?
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