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Can democracy survive Trump?



Democracies are rare in history—the anomaly, not the rule. America was the first great one in modern times, and has been the model for much of the world. But some powerful countries—Russia and China, among them—and many emerging powers—Iran and Saudi Arabia, among others—are not democracies, and scorn the idea as wasteful and impractical.

Count among the scorners the Republican Party and its latest manifestation, Donald Trump. They may claim to believe in democracy, but what they really long for is one-party government, unsaddled with such clumsy accoutrements as the universal ballot and a bipartisan legislature.

That’s because the various elements that make up the modern Republican Party are themselves among the most un-democratic institutions. Rightwing Christians, whether evangelical, Catholic or Mormon, subscribe to a top-down approach to government—a theocracy—that has no use for democracy. Another element on the right is the white male, gun-toting, rural, nationalistic, anti-intellectual type (think Steve Bannon), which similarly scorns democracy as a hybrid-mongrel mess. They hate the notion of colored people, immigrants, the poor and ex-felons voting. We see the pernicious effects of this element in Republican attempts to undermine voter rights.

All of this is why Donald Trump is the ideal leader for the modern Republican Party. He sees himself as an authoritarian figure, after a lifetime of running a giant company in which he issues the orders and everybody else obeys. Like Hitler, like Stalin, like Mao, like the Ayatollahs of Iran, like all dictatorial leaders of one-party states, he believes that one-man power is the only efficient way to run a company or a country. Debates are a waste of time; they deplete the ability of the organization to move quickly, to take advantage of opportunities, to protect itself from assault.

In a profound way, such a point of view is understandable. Each of us has an instinctive sense that, if we could just run everything by ourselves, we could solve problems that seem intractable in a democracy. But a part of us—call it common sense—understands that even if we were to miraculously find ourselves in undisputed charge of the world, ruling it would not be so simple as snapping our fingers. We understand, too, that there’s something fundamentally unfair about placing absolute power in the hands of one man or one party. Democracy may make us uncomfortable, and force us to live in peace and cooperation with people with whom we disagree, and may not even like; but we have the moral sense that we have an obligation to do so.

This is, I think, the fundamental difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. The GOP has always inclined towards authoritarian governance; racist, xenophobic, sexist and plutocratic strains have long infected their politics; they have little tolerance for restraining elements, such as courts and legislatures, unless they control them. Democrats, on the other hand, have it in their DNA to be inclusive. We understand that democracy can be infuriatingly clumsy and frustrating. But, we ask ourselves, what is the alternative?

For the truth of the matter is, America is the most diverse country in the world, and holding it together under a single flag is perhaps our greatest accomplishment. Other countries with so many racial, ethnic, religious and cultural differences have tended to succumb to civil war and dissolution (the old Soviet Union is a good example). America has endured.

Can it continue to endure? I am convinced that, if Republicans seized total control, and Donald Trump were to realize his ambition of one-man absolute power, our country would dissolve into a second civil war. For there simply are too many Americans who would not want to live in that kind of country–patriotic freedom-lovers who would fight to preserve the democracy our founders bequeathed us. I know I would; I suspect you would. This is why the current battle over RussiaGate and the Mueller investigation is bigger than it seems on the surface. It’s not just about whether Trump colluded and obstructed justice. It’s about whether our democracy can survive in a world that is increasingly hostile to democracy, a world in which Donald Trump has power.


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