A version of this was published in the Winter Park Times, Jan.1, 2021
American democracy was at the crossroads in 2020. Democracy won but it was a close call. Will it be at the crossroads again in the future? It is likely. In November, 81 million voters made a choice of Biden's route, but 74 million had hoped for the other one. With our votes in November, whether we were conscious of it or not, we were choosing between Trump’s autocratic, tyrannical model of governing by fear of his wrath, use of his presidential powers to take revenge on those who displeased him, and demanding loyalty to him personally instead of to the rule of law. In late December he rewarded those loyal to himself by issuing pardons to a long list of those pleading guilty or convicted of breaking the law on his behalf. The more democratic traditions we have tried to follow for years have been continued at least for the next four years. The other road, the losing one, would have given Trump four more years to consolidate dictatorial powers with purges and replacements in the judiciary and military with those loyal to him. What this portends is that Trumpism will be a force for some years to come because the numbers supporting his approach and Trump -the- person are significant. He is a media master and he will find ways for his voice to be heard.
Democracy will be in jeopardy in the near future from those who do not care if democracy survives because they have other priorities. A September poll conducted by Yale political scientists found that most Americans say they care about democracy, but only 3.5% would change support of a candidate who did not support democracy. A portion of Trump’s support was motivated by party loyalty and an economy they liked, including those who wanted low taxes and minimum government regulation. They had faith Trump’s prior economy would re-emerge after COVID 19 was beaten. I get that, but Trump's re-election was not the only way to bring back the economy. Polls were taken just before the election that showed Biden and Trump had equal approval in handling the recovery. Trump's earlier advantage had taken a hit as the depth of the pandemic's damage to the economy deepened. Even Trump's defeat did not change Wall Street's trajectory. In mid-October, both Goldman Sachs and Moody's predicted that the recovery would be stronger under Biden's plan than Trump's. More jobs would be created and Biden's plans for government stimulus would offset higher taxes and more regulation because it would increase sales.
However, hovering over all of those more traditional concerns was something sinister. Trump had exploited racism as no politician had done since George Wallace and the Dixiecrats, using rally dog whistles and praise of neo white nationalists. He launched a single-minded pursuit to throw out the African American vote and overturn the election results. Intimidation, inconveniencing, and a coup by 40 lawsuits alleging irregularities, failed to keep the African American vote turnout diminished and counted. If there were those in his party who objected to his strategy, their silence was deafening they were so obvious.
How much of Trump’s most passionate support in 2020 was driven by racism is hard to measure since those polled do not always tell the truth to a stranger when the truth is not noble and motivations are mixed. Estimates by those who tried to attach a figure to it call it a "significant part of his coalition,." and" more influential than just the numbers". What is a fact is those who have ruled for 250 years as a white majority will see black and brown emerging from minority status to the majority of the population by 2040. Those who fear the change see Trump as the strong man to come to their rescue in many issues, not just white nationalism, In any case, he has melded his touted effectiveness of an autocrat’s fist with the dark side of American history in his attempt to fight off the inevitable nature of demography’s march. Cloaking Trumpism in terms of “populism” as some have called it is too kind. Call it what it is. It is an attempt of one segment of the population to dominate and suppress another in a time of enormous demographic changes. That is a formula for more social disruption.
The democratic road will also not be free of conflict, dangers, and challenges. In 2020, over 51% of the voters supported the traditional democratic path of the rule of law instead of the rule of a person, fairness and equality in a diverse society, and self-governance through the ballot box. What about the future?. With such a large body of voters enthralled with Trump’s persona, will he rise again? Will his movement of Trumpism carry on?
Demography will be the gasoline on the fires of conflict but also it may save democracy. A new generation is ascending into power as the white nationalists and self-serving interests inspired by Trump’s action and words age out of the scene. The younger generations themselves are more multicultural through intermarriage and social integration and they are steeped in the ethics of diversity They are already politically awake. Their vote in 2020 impacted results in several states. Millennials and Gen Xers turned out to vote in 2020 for Joe Biden in greater numbers than for the Democrat candidate in 2016. The youth vote turnout was 53% of those eligible in 2020 compared with 46% in 2016 per a Tuft's University study. I am placing my hope in them for the long term survival of democracy.
In the meantime, those who care have got to keep fighting for democracy and those who did not care need to begin caring. Once the evil genie of a dictatorship is out of the bottle, getting it back in is nearly impossible. Votes in opposition to the Leader are not counted, and the judiciary, media, and the military are controlled by the dictator. The legislature rolls over and plays yes man to the will of the strong man, much as the Senate has behaved now. This is how a minority can control and suppress the majority and the majority can dominate the minority.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-raffensperger-call-georgia-vote/2021/01/03/d45acb92-4dc4-11eb-bda4-615aaefd0555_story.html Tape of Trump trying to get Georgia's Secretary of State to fix the vote
"Nearly all Americans say democracy matters. But how many will actually punish their preferred candidate and withhold a vote when that candidate does something undemocratic?
Graham and Svolik’s answer: About 3.5 percent of voters will defect from a candidate whom they otherwise support, but who does something destructive of democratic norms. Those 3.5 percent come from the right and the left in equal proportions, but they tend to be moderates. (Self-described “independents”—those mysterious, yeti-like creatures who profess to have no political preference at all—vote slightly more like extremists.) If you value democracy, hug a moderate."
From an earlier posting: January 15, 2018 "If Donald Trump is not a racist, what is he? A demagogue?"