Sydney Gidman Staff Writer
President Trump has been knee deep in scandals, ranging from tax fraud to sexual assault, since his 2016 campaign. Over the past few years I have noticed a few common reasons people voted for him. Some people were put off by the Clinton name, others thought there would be no way for him to win, and young people, as a joke. Republicans appreciated his business oriented mindset, and lack of political ties. People were searching for any kind of change, and they certainly got it. Back then, the consequences of his presidency were only, “what ifs”. We could only imagine the impact of his divisive and derogatory rhetoric, his lack of empathy, and inability to admit fault. Looking back four years later, the worst case scenarios have come true. The United States is in economic, social, and political turmoil. Although it may not yet be apparent in our everyday lives, the future of our democracy hangs by a thread.
As President Trumps’ term has progressed, his policies and power grabs have become increasingly more harmful. This has become particularly clear in 2020, as his antics have strayed us further from democracy, and toward authoritarianism. It isn’t his behavior that surprises me, rather, it’s the lack of outrage that is stunning. Over the past year, President Trump has repeatedly neglected the U.S. Constitution and has endangered American lives countless times.
Trump’s campaign strategy has been focused on casting doubt in the integrity of the election. Over the past few months he has spread the notion that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud and is doing everything in his power to invalidate the safest form of voting. In an interview with Fox News on Aug. 13, Trump admitted to withholding federal funds from the United States Postal Service to ensure they would not have the resources to handle the influx of mail-in ballots. Trump stated, “Now, they need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots…If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money…That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.” The President is willing to hinder a public service that millions of Americans rely on for his own political gain. He is willing to influence his supporters to vote in person during a pandemic for political gain.
On Sept. 9, CNN released audio tapes of 18 interviews that Trump did with Bob Woodward, a Journalist who broke the Watergate story. In the interviews, which were conducted between January and March of 2020, Trump admits to downplaying the severity of COVID-19, including the effects the virus can have on young people, and its ability to spread by air. Carl Berenstein, a reporter who worked with Bob Woodward during the investigation on Nixon said, “The facts here are even graver than Watergate”. When over 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the story seemed like a smoking gun that would prevent him from being reelected. Instead, it was just another headline that seemed to be forgotten within days. Somehow, Donald Trump managed to be caught on tape lying to the American people about a global health crisis, and still has the support of almost half the country.
In the afternoon of Sept. 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after a battle with cancer. The influential women’s rights activist was not even buried before plans were made to fill the vacant seat on the court. There was no time taken to mourn, instead, it was time for Trump to nominate a new Supreme Court Judge. The night of her death I watched Fox News commentators discuss plans to overturn Roe vs. Wade with her picture on the screen. Now, the death of one Supreme Court Judge should not stir up the fate of democracy, but it has. If Trump successfully fills Justice Ginsburg’s seat before the election, this will be the third Supreme Court Judge he has nominated since becoming president. The Supreme court will be stacked in his favor, with six republican nominated Judges, and three democratic nominated Judges. This will be the most conservative court in modern U.S. history. This means that any war waged against him in the Supreme Court will be ruled in his favor, including the results of the Presidential election.
On Sept. 16, a reporter asked Trump if he would commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election. At any other time in this country’s history, this wouldn’t have even been a question, considering free and fair elections are the basis of U.S. democracy. Instead, Trump decided to turn a corner and formally try his hand at authoritarianism. He restated his concerns over mail-in ballots, “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very … there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.” What do the American people do when a president suggests he won’t leave office? He has the power of the Senate. He has the power of the Judicial branch. The House of Representatives cannot do this job alone. The checks and balances put in place to ensure an even distribution of power have failed.
If Trump were doing worse in the polls, I’d be more optimistic about the fate of our democracy, but anytime I go online, I see his supporters relentlessly defending his honor and spreading misinformation. How can they proudly fly flags in his honor when there’s proof of his many egregious actions readily available? Here lays the issue: No matter what Donald Trump says or does, his supporters will embrace it. To identify the reason for this, we can point to psychology. Cognitive Dissonance is a phenomena where a person holds two beliefs that are inconsistent with one another. This causes psychological stress that motivates the individual to justify the stressful belief to ease the inconsistency. So when someone has consistently supported Trump and they see that, for example, he admitted to downplaying COVID-19, they will find a way to make themselves believe that it was because he didn’t want American citizens to panic. We seem to have a false sense of security in this country, a sense that we are, and always will be a relatively stable society with a functioning government. This year has shown us that this is not reality. America is vulnerable, and always has been. The success of our political system relies on the integrity of a handful of powerful individuals who influence the individuals below them. As we’ve seen, it does not take long for lies to spread until there is no clear truth left to see, and no clear path forward. I hope that people begin to see that this is not a normal election. This is not Republicans versus Democrats, but authoritarianism versus democracy.