Hi, guys! I am Zubair Zabir, an international student from Bangladesh studying at Rollins College. As someone who has lived outside of the United States of America for almost my entire life, I can affirm that American democracy, especially the presidential election, is very fascinating for me and for the people of my country. Though we do not follow American politics every day, the presidential election holds a special place in our hearts. The sheer joy of seeing the people elect their president of choice and seeing democracy thrive bewitch the citizens of Bangladesh. But the result of the presidential election of 2016 came as a shock to most Bangladeshis. After reading the article Donald Trump and the erosion of democratic norms in America, I got to know about the ongoing crisis between President Trump and the Department of Justice, specifically with regards to the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election (McCarthy). The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the investigation as a “witch hunt” and has called for it to end, while the DOJ has maintained its independence and defended the investigation (McCarthy). The crisis has raised concerns about the rule of law and the independence of the DOJ, as well as the potential political fallout from the investigation’s findings (McCarthy). I believe the president’s efforts to undermine the justice department and the Mueller investigation represent a threat to democracy. In this article I will try to find answers to: Is American democracy backsliding? If so, does President Trump have anything to do with it?
To understand the reason behind Donald Trump winning the election, we must understand what occurred during the tenure of President Barack Obama. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, Congress failed to pass a new energy bill, immigration reform bill, legislation to combat climate change, a nuclear treaty with Iran and many more (Levitsky et al. 143). Though these bills and treaties were later approved by executive authority of President Barack Obama, the public became fed up with the system and thought that the government was not “getting things done.” Trump exploited this public sentiment to attract voters toward his campaign, and it was quite effective, because the American people were losing trust in their government (Beaumont). Again, in the United States, the public was frustrated with the government, since the policies adopted by the government were generally aimed towards the preferences of the rich rather than the majority, i.e., the working class (Inglehart and Norris). Trump utilized the public’s dissatisfaction with governmental policies by affirming that he would work for the hard-working Americans, and that his decisions on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs would be made to benefit American workers and American families (Staff). This made Trump become popular among the hard-working Americans, who feared that their voices did not matter anymore.
The “Koch network” is an organization which coordinates big money funders, idea producers, issue advocates, and innovative constituency-building efforts in an ongoing attempt to pull the Republican Party and agendas of U.S. politics sharply to the right (Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez). This “Koch network” played an important role in the 2016 presidential election, particularly in getting Trump to the White House (Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez). These investors made sure that Trump got the financial and media support for his campaign, which played a major role in Trump securing the White House, given that the Clinton campaign was not backed by such a powerful and wealthy group. Though Trump is not a great representation of Christian ideologies, Christian nationalism did help him to win the presidential election (Whitehead et al.). The majority of Americans had witnessed how the demographics of the United States of America are changing, and they believed that Donald Trump could help preserve what was left of their Christian heritage. Thus, they voted for Trump in high numbers, to save what had been left of their beloved motherland.
Since we have already discussed why President Donald Trump was elected, it is now important for us to investigate whether American democracy is backsliding, and if President Trump has anything to do with it. According to European think tank International IDEA, the United States of America is experiencing a democratic backslide (Sundaresan and Isackson). Younger generations are less supportive of democratic values and institutions, as well as more disengaged in both civic and protest forms of political activism (Norris). Since the present generation is disinterested with democracy, it is easier for a populist leader like Donald Trump to break democratic values and get away with it. Recent events have led to increased intolerance between Democrats and Republicans. This intolerance is further causing polarization, which is aggravating Democrats and Republicans’ ability to work together for the betterment of the country. The Republicans knew how dangerous President Trump could be for democracy, but they did not do anything to contain him, as they wanted to reap the short-term economic benefits of his being in power. As a result, President Trump was able to break the guardrails of democracy and pave the way for future leaders to do the same or even worse (Levitsky et al. 177).
There are several other factors that contributed to democratic backsliding during Trump’s administration. Firstly, when a president directly attacks a judge because of not getting the favored outcome, democracy comes under severe threat. U.S. democracy came under severe threat as President Donald Trump denounced Judge James Robart of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals after he blocked the Trump Administration’s initial travel ban, and later blocked the withholding of federal funds from sanctuary cities (Levitsky et al. 155). Denouncing a judge for doing his job is an example of authoritarianism and thus one of the indicators of democratic backsliding. Secondly, sidelining key players in the political system is another example of democratic backsliding. President Trump tweeted in February 2017 that the media is the enemy of American people (Levitsky et al. 157). He even considered using government regulatory agencies against unfriendly media companies. This is another prime example of democratic backsliding as the media plays an important role in preserving democracy by shaping public opinion on national issues (Levitsky et al. 158). Thirdly, we notice President Trump and his Republican cronies pushing for voter ID laws to make it harder for low-income minority citizens to vote (Levitsky et al. 159). Voter suppression leads to democratic backsliding as democracy is not just the rule of the influential, rather it is the rule of every single individual and where everyone’s voice matters.
As such, we can see people’s distrust in the American government, Trump’s proposal of creating policies based on the preferences of the majority, the influence of the Koch network, and how the influence of Christian nationalism played an important role in Trump getting elected. We can also observe how President Trump’s attack on a federal judge, attack on the media and propaganda for voter suppression led to backsliding of one of the strongest democracies in the world.
Beaumont, Adrian. “US 2016 Election Final Results: How Trump Won.” The Conversation, Politics+Society, 17 Dec. 2016, https://theconversation.com/us-2016-election-final-results-how-trump-won-69356.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Pippa Norris. “Trump and the Populist Authoritarian Parties: The Silent Revolution in Reverse.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 8 June 2017, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/trump-and-the-populist-authoritarian-parties-the-silent-revolution-in-reverse/FE06E514F88A13C8DBFD41984D12D88D.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. “The Unraveling.” How Democracies Die, 1st ed., vol. 5, Crown Publishing Group, New York, NY, 2018, pp. 143–143.
McCarthy, Tom. “Donald Trump and the Erosion of Democratic Norms in America.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 June 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/02/trump-department-of-justice-robert-mueller-crisis.
Norris, Pippa. “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks.” Harvard Kennedy School, Faculty Research, 1 Mar. 2017, https://www.hks.harvard.edu/publications/western-democracy-backsliding-diagnosing-risks.
Skocpol, Theda, and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez. “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 31 Aug. 2016, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/koch-network-and-republican-party-extremism/035F3D872B0CE930AF02D7706DF46EEE.
Staff, Politico. “Full Text: 2017 Donald Trump Inauguration Speech Transcript.” Politico, Politico, 20 Jan. 2017, https://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/full-text-donald-trump-inauguration-speech-transcript-233907.
Sundaresan, Mano, and Amy Isackson. “Democracy Is Declining in the U.S. but It’s Not All Bad News, a Report Finds.” NPR, NPR, 1 Dec. 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/12/01/1059896434/united-states-backsliding-democracy-donald-trump-january-6-capitol-attack.
Whitehead, Andrew L, et al. “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Sociology of Religion, Oxford Academic, 25 Jan. 2018, https://academic.oup.com/socrel/article/79/2/147/4825283.
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