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.
We, the people, are being severely tested. While former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee about President Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice, and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller investigates whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of our 2016 elections, it is the American political system which is actually on trial. In these most difficult times, will we, the people, stand together, demand the complete truth and see that our Constitutional principles are upheld?
Though a significant element on the left is up in arms, a great many Americans seem willing to let the government’s lengthy, investigative process take its course. At the same time, a sizable segment of the population is lost in despair or has given up on our broken political system altogether. Meanwhile, Trump and his plutocratic gang continue to plunder our national treasury, destroy our environmental protections and damage our international relations.
So much is at stake now. If we care about our children’s future, our communities as well as the environment, then we must do whatever is in our power to overcome this tyranny of greed and self-interest, which Trump represents. While the United States has a mixed record, at best, in this regard, we cannot lose sight of all that is good in our nation, most importantly, the great many hard-working, generous and compassionate people who constitute the heart and soul of this country.
Unfortunately, both the Democratic and Republican parties have proven unable or unwilling to meet this challenge. Our political leaders are too beholden to special interests and their corporate sponsors to overcome these dark forces and truly serve the best interests of our nation. Additionally, most Congressional Democrats fall into the camp of supporting the drawn-out investigative process. As usual, they prefer taking what they consider “the safe path.” In any event, as the minority party, the Democrats do not have the Congressional power to initiate impeachment proceedings against our corrupt President.
The Republicans, on the other hand, are too fearful of Trump’s loyal base to put our country before their party. They would rather curry favor with their wealthy donors by giving them more tax relief, while standing by and watching as Trump destroys America’s reputation in the world and our relations with our allies. It seems Republicans have no shame as they continually acquiesce to Trump’s self-serving, corrupt dealings with Russian oligarchs and his demeaning of anyone or any institution that fails to go along with his unethical and arrogant behavior. The Republican Party has sold its soul to the devil of expedient power.
So, what are we, the American people, to do? We can sit back, glued to our televisions, watch this political drama unfold, and hope for the best. Or, we can take matters into our own hands. To do that, however, we must build a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots democracy movement capable of successfully challenging Trump and his corrupt practices. This movement would speak to the real needs of the people and provide inclusive, democratic alternatives to Trump’s authoritarian policies. Additionally, it would reach out to the millions of disaffected Americans who feel left behind by both parties.
Fortunately, such a movement is beginning to emerge following the disenchantment of the 2016 election. Last weekend in Chicago, four thousand activists attended the People’s Summit. They focused on “seizing power into their own hands through a new wave of progressive candidates, as well as continuing to keep their people’s revolution alive through demonstrations and disruption on the streets.” (See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/12/peoples-summit-vows-transform-resistance-power.) As keynote speaker Senator Bernie Sanders exclaimed to the roaring crowd, “…when we stand together, there is nothing that can stop us.”
Are you ready and willing to unite and meet the awesome challenge to restore our democracy?
If anyone had any doubts that the Trump administration is bringing fascism to our country, last Friday’s news should put an end to that uncertainty. In a strong-arm attempt to punish the media, the White House barred several major news outlets from attending the February 25 White House press briefing with Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary. The New York Times, the L. A. Times, USA TODAY, The New York Daily News and CNN were among the news media blocked from covering the press briefing.
This extraordinary, vindictive step by President Trump, which was probably Steve Bannon’s idea, is much more than the latest missile in the administration’s feud with the media. Rather, it is an effort to further Trump’s claim that the media, or at least that which he calls “fake news,” is the enemy of the American people. Of course, any news criticizing Trump automatically becomes “fake news” to his way of thinking. And, since a great deal of the news has been critical of him, Trump denies much of it as “fake.”
One of the tenets of totalitarian regimes is that the government has a monopoly on the truth. Labeling all dissenting views as “fake” is a deliberate strategy to discredit the media and destroy a vital protection against authoritarian rule. At the same time, the media becomes a whipping boy for Trump’s ardent supporters to rail against. It’s a means of diverting attention from issues that really matter, such as, did Trump collude with the Russians to steal the election. Or, is Trump violating the public trust by not releasing his tax returns and the Constitution by using the presidency for his private gain? Nevertheless, to his loyal followers these questions hardly matter. Trump has saved them from Hillary Clinton and the Establishment, and he will “make America great again.” To them, he can do no wrong.
Another tenet of totalitarian regimes is they target scapegoats to blame for the people’s hard times. Just like Hitler used the Jews as his scapegoat, Trump has targeted the “bad hombre” Mexicans and Muslim immigrants. These foreigners also become whipping boys for Trump’s ardent supports as they chant, “America First.” It’s all part of Trump and Bannon’s strategy to establish authoritarian control through a white national populist message.
Then today (February 27), the White House apparently was caught trying to ruin a reporter’s reputation, another tactic of totalitarian rulers, for writing a story about Press Sectary Spicer’s attempt to discover the source of leaks coming from the White House. POLITICO’s editor Carrie Budoff Brown “accused the White House of planting a story to smear (its reporter, Alex) Isenstadt, after they were pissed off with claims made in his original story.” As much as Trump condemns “fake news,” the White House seems fine with employing it as a weapon against a reporter they don’t like. And, that raises the question: who is the real purveyor of “fake news”? See http://bipartisanreport.com/2017/02/27/white-house-caught -trying-to-ruin-politicos- reputation-in-shadiest-way-report/.
I believe we ignore these clear signs of authoritarian rule at our peril. Trump and Bannon are laying the foundation for the United States to become a fascist state. The longer we try to deny this reality, the more likely they will succeed.
Consequently, it is up to each and every one of us: Are we going to stand by and allow Trump’s fascist regime to destroy our democratic way of life, the heart and soul of America? Or, are we going to come together as patriotic Americans, Republicans, Democrats and Independents; build a grassroots, mass movement to overcome this horrendous threat to democracy; and restore our right to self-governance?