If you told me five years ago that we would be anywhere other than in the safe embrace of a Hillary Clinton presidency, I would ask who your dealer was and how much. Alas, here we are in the throes of cable news connoisseur and combover aficionado Donald Trump’s presidency where established norms come to die. Over the course of two years, we have seen, what amounts to an erosion of the ideals that have made America a bulwark of democracy and stability the world over. Trump has made attacking the press and the very idea of the rule of law, shticks of his “On the Run: ……From Mueller” rallies (sorry Beyoncé). Without impunity, Trump traverses the countryside trying, often successfully, to convince downtrodden white Americans that “up is down or that The Apprentice was worthy of an Emmy.”
Nevertheless, not everything is terrible. Since his election, civic engagement has increased tenfold across the country. Anger over this administrations mistreatment and mishandling of issues important to racial minorities, women and the LGBTQIA among others has inspired a wave of activism that promises to reshape the image of America. Women, for example, are on track to shatter electoral records in this year’s midterms, with a number of them running for offices with odds in their favor. None of this would be possible without Donald J. Trump, but not because of his ally-ship or awesomeness, but rather because of the unprecedented disapprobation and buyer’s remorse that American’s have with that fateful decision that was made on November 8th of 2016. Citizens sense a malignancy in our politics, and they are searching for a remedy. Whether in Virginia or Alabama or Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, Americans have shown a willingness and ability to course correct when they see fit. It is in these elections that my optimism about American democracy springs eternal. Those who have studied the phenomena of democratic backsliding, all concur that civic engagement is vital to determining whether democracy will thrive or die. I argue that if civic engagement in 2018 is any indication, American democracy will be just fine.
According to Ozan Varol (2015) “Without participation by broad segments of the population, the opposition movement runs the serious risk of being disregarded as an unrepresentative fringe faction.” This, Varol warns, is a precursor to the inevitable backsliding of democracies. In the 2014 midterm elections that saw the Republican Party regain control of U.S Senate and thus both houses of Congress, it was simultaneously reported that turnout was the lowest it had been in 70 years. In 2016, although turnout remained relatively similar to that of 2012’s, it was significantly lower than the 63% turnout seen in the 2008 election. Even the 2008 turnout figures underpin the abysmally low turnout rates that the U.S posts in comparison to the rest of the developed world. So, it is almost unsurprising that we find ourselves in this current predicament. Donald Trump was not elected by a majority of Americans, not even close. Donald Trump is the second individual in the last five presidential elections to win the office without securing a majority of the public’s votes. Despite this and ominously similar to the words that Varol wrote, Trump has “disregarded” the millions of Americans who voted for Secretary Clinton over him as “unrepresentative” of the country. He has suggested that his loss in the popular vote was because of “millions of illegals” who crossed the border to sabotage his candidacy. He subsequently established a “Voter Fraud Commission” that by its core mission, sought to disenfranchise and discourage voters by their ethnicity and political affiliation, signs of potential backsliding.
Despite all of this, the events that have unfolded since the 2016 election have shifted the public sentiment from apathy to activism. The unprecedented alleged corruption and lawlessness from the Trump White House have inspired civil resistance, one that has placed those aligned with Trump on their toes. Using social media as a means of communication and organization, people across the country have taken to knitting “pussy hats” and making clever signs all in opposition to the abnormality of this current administration. The Women’s March held the day after the Trump inaugural, was the largest single-day protest in American history. Rallies and marches held since have all boasted high turnouts and highlighted failures of the administration on topics from environmental protection to gun safety. Ultimately, it is this activism, coupled with actually voting in elections that will save our democracy. There is no reason to believe, from the events of the past two years, that we are incapable of doing so. America is an exceptional nation that has weathered far worse than what we are currently facing. Americans as Winston Churchill famously put it “can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Well, with Donald Trump as President, it is safe to say we have exhausted all other possibilities. Now, it is time do the right thing, and on November 6th of 2018, I believe the American people will do just that. The people will save our democracy.
Photo by Brett Sayles, Pexels.