The 2020 election of Donald J Trump was the result of a democracy that has never worked for all Americans and doesn’t uphold the rights or serve the interests of every American citizen, but Trump’s behavior during elections and the recent impeachment proceedings is a reason for concern that American democracy is continuing to backslide. Historical examples of this disparity date back to the “3/5ths compromise” in which slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person in order to give wealthy slave-owners more power in the electoral college and American democracy, followed by “Jim Crow” laws in which black Americans were legally denied rights and discriminated against in the American south after the abolition of slavery. Currently, our democracy does not work for everyone: a disproportionate number of black Americans are still disenfranchised from voting and participating in democracy via felony disenfranchisement laws, barriers to voter registration and the expungement of voting rolls in certain states (Alexander).
In addition, rural Americans disproportionately voted for Trump but rural America is struggling. Rural Americans struggle with lack of access to healthcare and doctors in their regions, industries like coal and factory jobs are disappearing, and rural American’s have less of a chance of accessing high quality public education. Many rural Americans from areas with depleting industries felt that Donald Trump gave them a chance at regaining economic stability (Kurtzleben). Likewise, American inequality is at its all time highest and high levels of inequality have proven to be detrimental for democracy.
For these reasons, I do not believe that the election of Donald J Trump was the impetus for the erosion of democracy but the symptoms of a country and a democracy that is struggling and has never worked for all Americans. Yet, I do believe that Trump’s recent election and impeachment proceedings provides a concrete example of the slow erosion of American democracy and provides concrete evidence that he is someone who would like to govern like an authoritarian ruler. In order to stop Donald Trump and restore democracy, American elites and citizens should work to stop being complicit toward policies that promote inequality and most importantly stop being complicit in Trump’s undemocratic behavior and work towards a future and a democracy that works for all citizens.
Mutual toleration or the idea that competing parties accept each other as legitimate rivals is one of the key norms of democracy (Levinsky and Ziblatt) Donald Trump has consistently defied this norm from the beginning of his campaign. For example, he consistently painted Hillary Clinton, his rival in the 2016 election as a criminal after Federal Investigations over whether or not the business dealings of the Clinton Foundation in which neither Hillary, Bill nor the Clinton foundation was found to have violated any laws (Cillizza). Despite this, Trump consistently emphasized the need to put Hillary in jail over her “criminal” behavior and regularly chanted “lock her up” at his rallies. Similarly, Donald Trump also questioned the legitimacy of Ted Cruz, Trump’s only republican political competition from the 2016 primary election. He falsely accused Ted Cruz’s father as being associated with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, named him as someone who was even worse than rival, Hillary Clinton (Montanaro). Donald J Trump has contributed to the erosion of our democracy by defying key political norms and has consistently painted all of his political rivals as being illegitimate and unsuitable to hold public office.
More recently, the recent impeachment proceedings of Donald J Trump also exemplifies the erosion of American democracy: there was political retribution for witnesses and political elites failed to uphold democracy and conceded to Donald Trump. As Levinsky and Ziblatt argued: authoritarian politicians reject the democratic rules of the game, deny their opponents legitimacy and tolerate or encourage violence and indicate a willingness to curtail civil liberties of opponents.
According to Levinsky and Ziblatt, political elites are essential in maintaining democracy. During the impeachment process, Mitt Romney was the only Republican senator who broke party lines and voted to impeach Donald J Trump, all other Republican senators stuck to their party lines and did not vote to impeach Donald J Trump. Regardless of political affiliation and party lines, Trump is a threat to the future of American democracy and the well-being of the American people, the Republican senators had the chance to remove a dangerous president from office, and so chose not to do that for the sake of the republican party and their own well being; the Republican senators who voted to let Donald J Trump remain in office are complicit in the erosion of our democracy as they did not vote to remove a president from office after he conspired with a foreign entity, should American political elites continue to behave like this, we can expect to see our democracy further erode.
Finally, Donald Trump further acted undemocratically after he persecuted key witnesses from his impeachment trial. LT. Colonel Alexander Vindman, LT. Colonel Yevgeny and EU Ambassador Gordon Sundland were all fired from their jobs following their involvement and witness testimonies in the Trump impeachment proceeding (CBS News). In doing this, he joined Vladamir Putin, Adolf Hitler and other authoritarian leaders who have persecuted and retaliated against those who oppose them. Sondland and Colonel Vindman were key witnesses in the House impeachment hearings. Sondland, was deeply involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s Democratic rivals. Colonel Vindman, who was on Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, testified that it was “improper for the president” to coerce a foreign country to investigate a political opponent (Baker, Peter et al).” By firing these witnesses from their jobs after opposing him, Trump sent a message that anyone who attempts to oppose him in the future, that there will be retribution and consequences for attempting to oppose the current president.
The 2020 Impeachment Proceedings provide a clear example of American democratic erosion and backsliding through compliance among elite political actors and retribution pointed at key impeachment witnesses. Yet, it should be further noted that Trump did not cause American democratic backsliding – his election is a symptom of a lack of national commitment to democracy and justice for all – but his political actions contribute to American democratic backsliding.
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Baker, Peter, et al. “Trump Fires Impeachment Witnesses Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman in Post-Acquittal Purge.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Feb. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/us/politics/alexander-vindman-gordon-sondland-fired.html?searchResultPosition=8.
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Cillizza, Chris. “How ‘Lock Her Up!’ Just Blew Up.” CNN, Cable News Network, 10 Jan. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/01/10/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-justice-department/index.html.
Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Rural Voters Played A Big Part In Helping Trump Defeat Clinton.” NPR, NPR, 14 Nov. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/11/14/501737150/rural-voters-played-a-big-part-in-helping-trump-defeat-clinton.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Penguin Books, 2019.
Montanaro, Domenico. “From ‘Lyin’ Ted’ To ‘Beautiful’: How Trump And Cruz Found Political Love.” NPR, NPR, 23 Oct. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/10/22/659692611/from-lyin-ted-to-beautiful-how-trump-and-cruz-found-political-love.
“Trump Defends Firing Impeachment Witness Alexander Vindman.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Feb. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51408704.