Democracy in America: On the Brink

Donald Trump may be the embodiment of what ails American democracy, but he is surely more manifestation than cause. While the liberal industrial complex of media, entertainment, and Democratic Party officials delights in the simplicity of making everything about Trump, it risks letting its Republican opponents continue to escape culpability for his rise. Perhaps worse, Democrats risk creating the very cult-of-personality they fear. But before they succeed in bringing their own worst nightmares into being, Democrats might instead try to redirect their ire on something their own size: the Republican Party. It is the Republican Party and its conservative ideological allies, not Donald Trump, that have led our democracy to the brink.

Donald Trump’s election may not represent a system rupture the way, say, the Civil War did, but it certainly constitutes a massive fissure. His rise is a manifestation of what is now a widespread conviction among the American people that neither major party represents their interests. Democrats may careen between feelings of remorse, denial, and contempt when confronted with that fact, but it is true all the same. And while Democrats do not deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this state of affairs, they are, of course, not blameless. The Democratic Party has, undeniably, been compromising its New Deal legacy for many years at the expense of working Americans. Democrats have, indeed, had an unfortunate tendency to level charges of racism at their political opponents (and their prospective supporters) as a first rather than a last resort. Still, these failings are more failings of tactics (how do we win elections? how do we fight racism?) than of values. As such, the path back to power for the Democratic Party lays not in abandoning its values but rather in changing its tactics; it lays in drawing a clear distinction between what and whom it stands for and what and whom the Republican Party stands for.

Democrats believe all Americans should have health insurance; Republicans do not. Democrats believe voting rights should be protected; Republicans want to see traditionally Democratic constituencies denied the vote by any means possible. Democrats believe the scientific community’s opinion should carry significant weight on matters of climate change; the Republican Party believes it knows better than the scientists and the entirety of the international community (and would risk our grandchildren’s lives that they are right). Democrats refuse (sometimes not enough) to play games with the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants already in America largely at the nation’s implicit invitation; Republicans demean such people as criminals and want to aggressively deport them. The Democratic Party does not believe the tax code should be used to line the pockets of wealthy individuals and corporations; the Republican Party believes this is the primary purpose of tax reform, and justifies its position based on arguments about economic growth that have been thoroughly discredited. Democrats believe in free speech and a free press; Republicans are more concerned about protecting Ann Coulter’s hateful speech and thoroughly discrediting the press. And Democrats believe that commonsense gun control laws should be passed — perhaps more as an expression of values and hopes than out of any real conviction that senseless gun violence can be meaningfully reduced. House Republicans are 2nd Amendment zealots.

One could (as many have) easily go on, but the simple fact is that Democrats and Republicans do not share the same values. Our values are no less irreconcilable than they were in April 1861 when the South struck the first blow in its war to preserve slavery. Though less pernicious than slavery to be sure, the Republican Party’s efforts to take away people’s health insurance, deny climate science, and dehumanize immigrants are similarly matters with life and death implications. On these matters as well as the economic challenges faced by America’s workers, Democrats must fight and draw constant attention to the Republican’s Party’s dishonesty and fundamental lack of good faith. This is, unfortunately, the only course for successfully taking on a Party unable to step back from a Trumpian future that threatens us all.