When Democracy Teeters (OPINION)

Nov 19, 2020
1:54 PM
Originally published at AZ Mirror

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, early Wednesday, November 4, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this opinion piece appeared in the AZMirror.com

PHOENIX — On Election Day, our democracy teetered.

To deny how close this country came to the brink of disaster is to ignore the obvious.

When nearly 74 million people vote for a man who has so brazenly abused the authority granted to him by the electorate of the most powerful nation on the earth, all Americans should worry.

This isn’t to say that every Trump supporter prefers dictatorship to democracy, most probably don’t, but I believe that’s precisely what his reelection could very well have produced.

To be fair, President Trump doesn’t act like an autocrat because he’s a Republican, though the party’s leaders have done almost nothing to constrain his behavior. He acts that way because he is fascist by nature.

I know his kind. I covered them as a correspondent based in Mexico City in the waning days of Latin America’s fascist dictatorships. This one is no different.

To insist as the head of government that you always get your way, as Trump does, even if it means violating every ethical norm and standard —and sometimes even the law— is the very definition of authoritarianism.

By now, we should all be familiar with Trump’s autocratic streak, but here’s a few reminders of just a few of his worst anti-democratic tendencies:

  • Trump has routinely described our free press, in his words, as “the enemy of the people,” no matter that the right to “freedom of speech, or of the press” is guaranteed by our Constitution. His incessant claims that anything reported by the news media that he doesn’t agree with is “fake,” apes Adolf Hitler’s use of the term lügenpresse (lying press), which the dictator weaponized as a propaganda tool to discredit his critics in 1930s Germany before eventually shutting down his media critics altogether. On more than one occasion, Trump has threatened journalists with whom he disagrees with jail time, a common practice among dictators.
  • The president has routinely disregarded the rule of law and our government’s system of checks and balances. For instance, Congress, he has falsely argued, had no authority to investigate alleged wrongdoings in his administration, including whether he tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into fabricating political dirt that could derail the political ambitions of now President-elect Joe Biden.
  • Trump fired then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from a Justice Department investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 election, and repeatedly attacked the head of that investigation, Robert Mueller III, as well as anyone who testified against him.
  • The president solicited help from Russia in defeating Hillary Clinton by publicly asking them to release damaging emails and more recently, according to his former National Security Advisor, John Bolten, implored Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win reelection. And Trump claims Biden is a communist?
  • And for years, Trump has told his supporters the only way he could lose the 2020 election was if his opponents committed massive voter fraud. Interviews by the New York Times with election officials in all 50 states uncovered no evidence of mass fraud anywhere in the nation.

Last week, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security responsible for monitoring and preventing election fraud, the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) Executive Committee, found, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.” This week, Trump fired Christopher Krebes, the man at the GCC who dared to contradict the president’s false claims about election fraud. It’s common practice for totalitarian leaders to discredit free and fair elections, especially when they lose.

The good news is that Trump’s despotic dream of christening himself king of the world’s newest monarchy has failed.

As disturbing as it is to me that nearly 74 million people still wanted him reelected, I’m heartened that more than 79 million Americans still believe enough in our forever flawed if always aspirational system of government to pull us back from the precipice.

Our democracy is far from perfect. Sometimes it’s a goddamn mess.

But unlike Trump and many of his supporters, I still believe in the idea that we all have an equal right to help shape this country’s future, to speak freely, to gather and organize peaceably, to practice a religion (or not), to love whomever we want, and to openly criticize, whenever necessary, our leaders without fear of retribution.

I am also heartened, and, yes, incredibly relieved, that on January 20, despite Trump’s best efforts and worst inclinations, the American experiment will live another day.

And I understand, now more than ever, that unless we —as in “We, the People”— stand forever vigil, forever engaged, forever resistant in the face of tyrants, this experiment can and will teeter again.


James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant based in Phoenix, AZ, the editor and publisher of the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America, and author of the upcoming book “Vanguardia: The American Latino Renaissance & the Future of Our Nation.”