There are literally dozens of fact-based arguments that should provide enough evidence to convince a rational person that Donald Trump is singularly unsuited to be President of the United States. As sociologist Robert Altemeyer and Republican attorney and author John Dean have outlined in their new book “Authoritarian Nightmare,” the problem is that the people who make up Trump’s base don’t care. It isn’t that they realize that Trump has done things they disagree with but that there are policies that outweigh his crudeness and his cruelty. In fact, according to Altemeyer and Dean, Trump’s followers score very high on the “Right-Wing Authoritarian” scale. One of the characteristics of RWAs is that their ideas are highly “compartmentalized”: A polite academic way of saying that they lack the introspection and logical faculties to see that some of their ideas contradict other ideas they also hold. They are incapable of seeing the illogic in their beliefs.Along with the fact that hard-core Trump supporters have insulated themselves in a hermetically-sealed informational and epistemological bubble (Fox, OAN, Breitbart, and Limbaugh), this makes them all but impossible to debate constructively.
So this brief essay is not meant for them. We’ve had Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWAs) with us throughout American history (the Confederates, the KKK, the John Birch Society, etc.). Their influence has waxed and waned. However, time and again, the majority of Americans who aren’t RWAs have (eventually) democratically overcome the worst anti-democratic impulses of the worst intentioned of our citizens.
There is, however, at least one argument that doesn’t require one to believe anything about Donald Trump but his own words, a line of reasoning so damning that no decent American can fail to be persuaded by it. It is predicated on the idea that democracy is, in and of itself, a central characteristic of what makes the U.S.A. the country it is. Many people don’t realize how fragile democracy is. One more term with Donald Trump as President, and we will no longer be a first-world democracy.
Trump has told us since before he was President that he has no respect for democratic institutions. The central themes of his 2016 election (that he would lock up his opponent and that he wouldn’t commit to respecting the outcome of the election) should have been sufficient to convince those well-versed in the conventions of democracy that Trump would act in ways that were antithetical to the office he was seeking. However, the four intervening years have proven beyond all question that a second Trump term would damage democracy in the U.S. beyond salvation. This view doesn’t require anyone to believe anything from the dread “mainstream media” or “deep state,” but to take Trump’s own words seriously.
As expressed in his own words, Trump’s views contradict the principles that the founders outlined as indispensable for our republic to endure. The three principles that define the American experiment, based on the Constitution and interpreted by writings of the founders, particularly in the Federalist papers, are:
- Respect for the rule of law and the equality of everyone under the law
- Respect for the rights of everyone equally, regardless of who they are
- Respect for the will of the people.
Trump has been anti-rule-of-law since well before he became President. The most egregious chant of his 2016 rallies (and beyond) was “lock her up!” In the U.S., everyone, even political opponents, is afforded the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. Being a political opponent of the President, or even of the government, does not strip one of one’s constitutional rights. Throughout his time as President, Donald Trump has tried to use his office’s power to persecute (and I use that word advisedly) those who are his political opponents. Luckily, it wasn’t until he found an authoritarian fellow-traveler in Bill Barr as Attorney General that he could act on some of his worst anti-democratic impulses. There are many examples of actions that would have landed any other president on the wrong side of impeachment and removal: Barr’s mischaracterization of the Muller report (for which a federal judge appropriately reprimanded him), the dropping of charges against Trump’s allies (the Flynn case, which is still under review by a federal judge), the assumption of a private civil suit against Trump by the Justice Department, and the unilateral (and legally meaningless) declaration of cities run by Democrats as “anarchist jurisdictions.”
The Justice Department is meant to treat all citizens, including the President, equally. With the Justice Department acting as both Trump’s defense firm and prosecution-service-on-demand, it has been perverted to represent the opposite of that intended by the Founders. This behavior is that of a dictator of a banana republic, not a modern democratic state. If Trump and Barr are allowed to continue in this vein for another four years, we can expect not just blameless children in cages, but anyone who challenges Trump in the political sphere in a jail cell. Without the check of re-election, we can expect Trump and Barr to prosecute opponents for “political crimes.” Trump keeps claiming he wants to fire his FBI director and occasionally even Barr himself for not carrying out his political persecutions.
According to his own words, Trump has always had an antagonistic relationship with the idea of equal rights. As what scholars called someone with “Social Dominance Orientation,” from well before the time of his full-page advertisements against innocent black teenagers advocating capital punishment, he has been resolutely at odds with the idea that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” His rallies are celebrations of the desire to strip rights from out-group members, be they Muslim, liberals, immigrants, protestors, the elites, scientists, etc. He’s well known for using his financial power to litigate his way out of situations that would land other, less affluent people in jail or, as he has, paying massive settlements for his wrongdoing. Trump has used the American system that assumes fairness to an unfair advantage for his entire adult life and, according to his book “The Art of the Deal,” it’s one of his proudest achievements.
Trump’s most anti-democratic views involve voting. The most important of these is the fact that he won’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power. It can’t be overstated how destructive to democracy this is. Trump is the first president in history not to make a prior commitment to respect the will of the people. His easily disproved conspiracies about mail-in voting and his Justice Department’s full-court press to keep as few ballots as possible being counted expose him for the dictator he wishes to be. Trump doesn’t care who wins the election. In fact, he knows that the more ballots that are counted, the lower his chances of winning the election. He rushed Judge Barrett from being a junior federal judge to the highest court in the land because he expects that her religious authoritarianism (which she shares will Bill Barr) will enable his political authoritarianism. His only interest in staying in power.
If you don’t believe in democracy, you shouldn’t be running to become the chief executive of the world’s oldest democracy. This is as true of left-wing authoritarians as right-wing authoritarians. For example, Marxist-Leninists don’t believe in democracy, and I would argue as vehemently against them as I do against Trump’s right-wing authoritarianism. But we don’t have any Leninists or Maoists on the ballot this year (despite Trumpist fever-dreams to the contrary). We’ve got an incumbent president who has proven himself, again and again, to be an aspiring dictator and to hold profoundly anti-democratic beliefs. Suppose we want to emerge from this perilous period in our country’s history with democracy uninterrupted. In that case, Trump must be turfed out of office so convincingly, so overwhelmingly, that the 35% of our nation that supports him, that holds right-wing authoritarian beliefs will crawl back into their racist, xenophobic, anti-democratic holes and realize their ideology not only isn’t patriotic or pro-American: it’s everything the funders feared when Ben Franklin said: “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.”
We are days away from possibly losing our democracy forever. If you believe in the founders’ vision, the people should rule themselves, not be governed by a minority or by a narcissistic egomaniac with an inferiority complex. In that case, it’s time to leave it all on the field. We must do everything we can to save our country from the existential threat called “Trump.” We must use every democratic tool at our disposal to ensure the Donald Trump, as well as his enablers and supporters, are consigned to the dustbin of history.