In what we can only hope is its terminal phase, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to make a mockery of American democracy. Friendly foreign observers bemoan the depths to which our country has sunk as Trump seeks reelection, and unfriendly observers celebrate the demise of the American example. It continues to astound me that one man and a coterie of conspiratorialists could, in less than four years, bring democracy to its knees.
But we were warned: Donald Trump has never, so far as I can tell, spoken about democracy or democratic values; he has been too busy stomping on them. Let’s recall, for the record, these examples. Perhaps one day they’ll be used as reminders to another generation of how fragile and porous democracy is, and how susceptible to a determined autocrat.
- Failing to act decisively on the pandemic, leaving the responsibility to states while saying virtually nothing about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
- Incessantly spreading the lie that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud.
- Devising and authorizing numerous actions to depress the vote of minorities.
- Encouraging armed far-right groups to intimidate voters and Democratic officials.
- Taking the side of white supremacists on racial issues.
- Adopting policies both inhumane (separating children from family) and contrary to international law (rejecting amnesty applications) in order to drastically reduce or eliminate immigration and refugees.
- Using the office of the president for personal financial gain.
- Attacking independent media, judges, women, his own appointees—in short, anyone who is disloyal, criticizes him, or stands in the way of pursuit of his private agenda.
- Refusing to acknowledge, much less support, science-based findings by his own agencies on public health and the environment.
- Undermining the Constitution’s clauses on presidential power, the role of Congress, and official corruption.
- Announcing the intent to ignore defeat at the polls, and use the Supreme Court as a vehicle for staying in office.
- Colluding with foreign powers to interfere in US elections on his behalf.
- Demanding that political opponents be jailed.
- Politicizing the justice department and other government agencies, converting them to a personal weapon.
“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.” So begins the New York Times editorial of October 16, 2020. The court of public opinion will have its say November 3. But someday one may hope that Donald Trump will be hauled before a real court to answer for his crimes—with a genuinely independent department of justice as prosecutor. He is an enemy of the people, pure and simple, and we cannot leave it to “history” to judge him (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/truth-reconciliation-tribunal-trump-historians/2020/10/16/84026810-0e88-11eb-b1e8-16b59b92b36d_story.html). He has singlehandedly so damaged the institutions, reputation, and ideals of the United States that repairing them will take an enormous effort on the part of Joe Biden’s administration. The job must begin January 20.