The Twenty-first Century has not been good to America’s democracy. However, the recent upset victory by Doug Jones in Alabama and the results of Virginia’s election last month indicate that a democratic resurgence may be brewing. Still, American democracy is now on life support. How did this happen?
The 2000 Election: It all started when the U.S. Supreme Court halted the full recount of the people’s ballots in Florida and declared George W. Bush president in December 2000.1 With a five-to-four decision, you could effectively argue that one Supreme Court justice’s vote has determined the course of American history ever since. Despite Al Gore’s winning the national popular vote by more than a half million,2 the Electoral College with the Court’s help put Bush in the White House: Hardly a democratic outcome.
The Iraq War: Then, in March 2003, President Bush took the country to war against Iraq. Even though our Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war, the President usurped its authority in a futile attempt by the administration to gain control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves.3 This autocratic decision to invade Iraq enhanced the power of the presidency and diminished the authority of Congress: another blow to our democracy.
The 2004 Election: Next came Bush’s re-election in 2004. Again, there were serious questions about the electoral process, especially in Ohio. The National Election Data Archive (NEDA) conducted an analysis of the 2004 Ohio presidential election, which provided convincing evidence of an outcome-altering vote miscount4 that handed Bush his margin of victory. America’s democracy was being shredded without any real resistance from the people.
The Wall Street Bailout: While the election of Barack Obama in 2008 appeared to provide renewed hope for democracy, the Democrats and the new president soon demonstrated their own disregard for the needs and desires of the people. The bailout of the big Wall Street banks, which did practically nothing for the multitude of average Americans who had lost their homes and/or jobs during the Great Recession, as well as the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute those responsible for the country’s financial collapse, indicated Obama’s willingness to please his Big Money donors at the expense of many of the people who voted him into office. Despite controlling both houses of Congress, Obama and the Democrats failed to seize the opportunity to halt the country’s march to plutocracy. Putting the bankers who had committed massive fraud in jail may well have curbed Big Money’s appetite for corrupting influence and overreach. Moreover, it would have given Americans more faith in our government and less reason to turn to a faux populist like Donald Trump. Once again, the democratic process had failed the American people.
The 2016 Election and the Trump Presidency: In 2016 Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the presidential election by almost 2.9 million votes.5 Nevertheless, Trump became president by winning the Electoral College vote. Since then, we have learned that Russia interfered in the election, and that the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians in order to win the election.6 In the eleven months of Trump’s presidency, he has attacked the press, the judiciary, religious groups, minorities, women and, most recently, the FBI. Anyone not actively supporting Trump automatically becomes an enemy of his government. This is what authoritarian leaders do to crush democratic values and gain more and more control.
The Current Republican Tax Bill: This bill, which is about to become law, is the product of America’s advance toward autocratic rule. How else can you explain the fact that only 32 percent of Americans support the legislation; Trump’s favorable rating is only 34 percent; and the Republican Party’s favorable rating is just 24 percent?8 Congressional Republicans have pushed through this highly unpopular bill without any public participation, not a single hearing, nor any Democratic input. In fact, they are the minority party, having won their Congressional majority through their gerrymandering of districts to win seats they would not have otherwise been able to capture. As we have noted, Trump is also a minority president, having lost the popular vote by close to 3 million. Yet, he and his Republican allies are ruling with an iron fist. American fascism is on the rise.
Saving Our Democracy: Unfortunately, the Democratic Party, with only a 36 percent favorability rating and its own leanings toward plutocracy, has been unable to restrain the Republicans’ thirst for autocracy. The only force capable of reversing this authoritarian wave is the American people. The #Me Too movement, along with the recent Alabama and Virginia elections, provide some glimmer of hope. The question is will the American people come together and create the massive, grassroots movement required to break this autocratic thrust and revive our democracy.
Numerous organizations are working to rebuild our democracy. Common Cause, Move To Amend, American Promise, Take Back Our Republic and Represent.us are just a few of the national groups leading the way. Here in New Mexico, Indivisible, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and Retake Our Democracy, among others, are engaged in this critical work. The more we are all actively participating in this effort, the greater the chances of its success. Watching and worrying as our democracy disintegrates won’t help. You can do something. Get involved before it’s too late.