We Left the Key to Democracy Under the Mat

Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved

We are lucky that Donald Trump was the first president to crave authoritarianism. (Nixon loved dressing up guards and he had some interest, but he did not have the burning desire of Trump.) Trump clearly longs to emulate the muscular posturing of Vladimir Putin or demand the reverence of the people a la Kim Jung Un. His authoritarian desires have been on frequent display in his political rallies where he lambastes his perceived opponents with veiled and not-so-veiled threats of imprisonment. Like many authoritarians, he would like to use the instruments of the state to lock them up.

But we are still lucky. That’s because of Trump’s psychopathology — his inability to get out of the way of his own ego. If he had a smidgen of the discipline of Bill Barr to consistently bend the implementation of the law to gain power or the scheming talent of Stephen Miller to look for chinks in the armor protecting our liberties, we would be in far worse shape than we are.

Not convinced? Let’s take a recent example. If Trump had organized a half-way competent response to COVID-19, he’d be waltzing to re-election. If he had managed to prevent half the deaths and the cratering of the economy, he’d be burnishing his shield against Biden’s attacks. The BLM uprising would have hurt, but his base is blind to systemic racism, and he still could have spun the occasional violence as a threat to peace and stability. (Imagine how Bill Barr would have worked the protesters if he had free reign.)

Trump’s switchbacks on policy and message, his pathological lying revealed to all by Bob Woodward, and his lack of governing vision beyond himself in charge may have saved the American experiment in democracy — for the moment. What his presidency has revealed is that we left the door keys to our democracy under the mat, where any thief might steal them and use them against us. The protections of the Supreme Court have been largely nullified by Mitch McConnell and Congress is divided: One-sixth of the government in opposition is not enough to stop a would-be dictator.

It’s past time to wake up and start protecting our democracy. The issue goes beyond party and partisanship. It is fundamental to the idea of the American experiment––that the people are sovereign and grant their leaders power to govern at their behest. The path to preservation of the Republic begins with voting, but cannot stop there.

We, the people, are responsible for the protection of democracy and republican government. We need to lift up the mat and grab those keys to keep them safe.

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David Potenziani

Historian, informatician, novelist, and grandfather. Part-time curmugdeon.