An Authoritarian U.S.A.

Trump Taught Us What It's Like to Live in an Authoritarian Country

Credit: Christopher Weyant, The Boston Globe, MA

As we live through the stress of the countdown to 270 Electoral College votes, we need to understand that Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States; Donald Trump is a very disturbed person who has damaged our democracy; and that a substantial number of the more than 69 million Americans who voted for Trump will believe the election was “rigged.”

At this writing, it’s clear that Vice President Biden will carry Pennsylvania and Arizona, and is likely to carry Georgia and Nevada. He will have more than the requisite Electoral College votes to occupy the White House and lead our nation. It is equally clear that President Trump will continue to lie and characterize the election as somehow stolen by the Democrats, probably not concede the election, and continue to pursue spurious law suits while engaging in re-counts. What is critical to understand is that it was American democracy which was at stake in this election. What happens after the election will determine its strength. Each of us has a role to play in repairing the damage Donald Trump has done to it.

Donald Trump’s post election behavior is an exacerbation of the attack on American democracy he engaged in throughout his presidency. His attempt to convert our democratic institutions into Trump institutions was an attack on the way we carry out the work of our democracy. His relentless campaign characterizing this election as “rigged” was, and continues to be, unprecedented in the history of the American presidency. However, it’s his post election behavior, and the way his base is responding to it which is the most troubling.

Trump’s post-election behavior can only be described as disturbed. Watching him give his “I won” White House speech, while in the next breath saying he wanted voting stopped was bizarre. The fact that he continues to say he won in the face of numbers which show him without a path to 270 Electoral College votes is the same as his ignoring that more than a quarter million of us have died from COVID-19. This insistence on denying reality has severely damaged American democracy.

Trump’s claims of a stolen election clearly have no basis in fact. He has never offered evidence to support them. To the contrary, he did everything he could to subvert the most precious part of our democracy, which is the vote. Without any evidence, he repetitiously characterized mail-in ballots as fraudulent. He hamstrung the post office, so ballots would not be delivered on time. Being aware that because of the pandemic there would be a high volume of vote by mail, he directed his base to vote in person so he could claim victory on November 3; before all the votes were counted. The fact that we are witnessing his base support his false claims of a fraudulent election is a severe blow to our democracy. It has to be repaired.

Granted, the way states are handling the counting of mail-in ballots suggests that democracy is working. However, this has been a very close election. More than 69 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. It was this base of support which created him. They’ve been there, mostly out of sight, for a long time. They were waiting for someone like him to come along and lead them. Because Trump’s campaign was based on: racism, xenophobia, isolationism, “fake news”, a deep state, out to get him, a disregard of facts and denial of science, it’s logical to believe that his base believes in these things. Their support for his post election behavior means we have a dangerous threat to our democratic way of life. This has to be addressed, and repaired. We all have a role to play in this work.

It’s going to take more than four years to heal the damage Trumpism has done to our democracy. Having a President Biden at the Bully Pulpit, supporting our democracy, will help immeasurably. Transparently restoring fact based leadership to our institutions will be an antidote to Trumpism. Nevertheless, Trump taught us that we cannot take our democracy for granted. If we don’t stay politically involved, he proved we can lose it. A healthy democracy requires that: we the people communicate with our elected representatives; stay involved in local politics, and vote in every election, not just presidential ones. Most importantly, it is going to require that we defeat the tribalism which has infected our country.

Everyone knows someone who voted for Trump. Our national healing begins by recognizing that these folks should not be seen as the enemy. They’re fellow citizens whose feelings are as vital to them as ours are to us. This is going to be hard work. It can begin by asking our elected representatives to set up focus groups which bring both sides together, with a facilitator, to discuss the hard topics: racism, a woman’s right to choose, climate change, police reform, a free press, the importance of government institutions in running American Democracy. Be friends with Trump voters regardless of political beliefs. Listen to what they have to say.

Donald Trump taught us what it’s like to live in an authoritarian country. We must internalize this lesson and work to ensure it never happens again.


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