Levitsky and Ziblatt present what appears to be a transparent strategy to protect a democracy. We the people, and actors in appointed positions have the power to essentially control who exits and enters our government. This test, known hereinafter as the “Litmus Test”, presents a strategy to predict and prevent the breach of a democracy and the rise of a tyrant or totalitarian regime. Some leaders in other countries were not aware of this test and did not acknowledge it, which is why leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Hugo Chavez had the opportunity to rise to power.
Though technically a Republican, our current commander in chief displays authoritarian ideologies and actions. Trump has not verbally announced this position, but his actions are speaking for him. This has led me and some political scientists to believe our democracy is at risk. Trump is now in a position to transition our regime. Levitsky and Ziblatt lay out a blueprint to prevent such. Our current President of the United States (POTUS) is the result of America not following this test. This Litmus Test is as follows:
The first step highlights whether there is a rejection or weak commitment to democratic rules of the game. That is, does the candidate suggest a need for antidemocratic measures, or take extra constitutional means to change the government? The second step is, the denial of legitimacy of political opponents. Do they suggest their opponents are foreign agents, or do they describe their rivals as a threat to National Security or the prevailing way of life? Third, does the politician tolerate or encourage violence? Do they tacitly endorse violence by their supporters by refusing to ambiguously condemn and punish? Have they praised other acts of political violence, either in the past or other places in the world? Lastly, does the candidate exhibit readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media? If a candidate meets these criteria, he is an authoritarian, not a party member in a civilized democracy. “A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern” (L&7 pg. 22). One by one we are going to discuss these steps and reveal our POTUS’s involvement in each. At the conclusion one will realize we have voted an authoritarian as our commander. Thus we must face the question, is Trump going to actively damage America’s democracy?
Before we begin, one must understand that the likes of Adolf Hitler and Hugo Chavez both exhibited these authoritarian characteristics. Hitler once led a failed putsch, which is a violent attempt to overthrow the government. Chavez led a failed military uprising. He was subsequently held in prison. In 1994, President Caldera dropped all charges against him. In 1998, Chavez ran and easily won the presidency. The leaders of these respective regimes ignored huge red flags. What the two share is they rose to power because established politicians overlooked the warning signs, thus literally handing them power.
Now we begin with President Donald Trump. Does our current commander in chief show any signs of rejection of democratic rules of the game? That answer is yes. Donald Trump is being chronicled as he continues the erosion of democratic norms in America. For many, the president’s achievements to undermine the justice department and the Mueller investigation embody a threat to democracy. An article done by Tom McCarthy of The Guardian suggests that the norms governing the justice department are being tested severely. In fact, in interviews two former assistant attorney generals, law professors and analysts from across the political spectrum used recurring words to describe Trumps assault on justice: “dangerous”, “alarming”, “high-stakes” [ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/02/trump-department-of-justice-robert-mueller-crisis ]. Some analysts warn that national security has also been endangered. Trump has undermined public trust in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and intelligence agencies whose work is often conducted in secret and who therefore depend uniquely on such trust to function.
Our president is additionally known for bashing his political opponents. This has occurred on at least two separate occasions. He first questioned the birthplace of our former president Mr. Barack Obama. He repeatedly made statements claiming our former POTUS was not a native of the United States. This was followed by several requests of Obama providing his birth certificate. These were early signs of him being radical. Second he questioned the integrity of his then opponent, Hillary Clinton. He made barbaric claims that Clinton intentionally deleted personal emails that contained her involvement in a cover up [https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/trump-accuses-hillary-clinton-colluding-russia-crowd-chants-lock-her-n918836]. He believed Clinton’s uncovered emails could have involved illegal acceptance of undocumented large sums of money. These claims were never proven to be true. However, though this is still and ongoing investigation, it has been discovered that the POTUS was involved with a Russian scandal during his run for office. The FBI investigation uncovered that Russians infiltrated the 2016 presidential election.
Our third point brings us to Trump’s support and encouragement of violence. In his most recent act, Trump gave support to Greg Gianforte, a republican. In 2017, Mr. Gianforte received backlash for body shamming a local reporter. Mr. Trump gave support of Gianforte by saying, “any guy who can do a body slam, he is my type!” [https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/18/politics/trump-rally-gianforte-my-guy/index.html]. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders denied that Trump encourages or endorses violence even though many of his supporters act aggressively toward reporters at rallies [https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/back-trump-comments-perceived-encouraging-violence/story?id=48415766]. “The president does not support violence against anyone or anything,” said Sanders. Trump offered no apology for his comment. He simply stated he had no regrets. In another story, Trump was heard eluding to acts of violence if Republicans lost the midterm.
Last but not least we must discuss civil liberties. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, protects citizens against state infringements of the right and liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. There is no secret the animosity Trump has towards reporters and media outlets. Trump dubs one major news outlet, Fake News. This is a shot at CNN. Trump continuously attacks the media, diminishing the accuracy of their stories. He nationally made negative comments to NFL players protesting equality and police brutality. The players exhibited peaceful protest. Instead of acknowledging the ongoing issues or developing a strategy to jointly solve these issues with players, the president suggested they should be fired and out of a job.
I attended an off-campus event that included members of the upcoming mid-term national election. The region being campaigned is the 3rd congressional district. While I have met several candidates of this district, this was my first time meeting the incumbent, Clay Higgins. His attire consisted of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. Apart from his appearance, he was very headstrong in his speaking. He highlighted his willingness to use hard power to protect our border at all cost. His energy is a reflection of the man who endorsed him, our very own Donald Trump. Their personalities match. Higgins is already in office, one of our “gatekeepers”. A continuation of these personalities increases our chances of being less democratic.
So if you refer back to the title question, yes, our democracy is clearly at risk. Our president Donald Trump is very transparent with his actions and what he believes in. He is not hiding his beliefs. Also take note this is not your local community leader, or the mayor. This is our president. His actions affect the nation. Moving forward, in order to keep and protect our democracy, we must use this Litmus Test to guard our regime and weed out all potential threats.