Rethinking American Democracy

Author: Gary Hart

Whatever else happens, and “else” in this case is meant to include a second Trump term, American politics has been altered.  How much and for how long remain to be seen.

Counting the ways confounds comprehension and expands almost daily.  The most obvious, if not also the most profound, is the gap that is becoming a chasm between the Democrats and the Republicans.  There are rare bipartisan legislative efforts, but their rarity illustrates the point.  There have been partisan confrontations in our history, most notably leading to the Civil War.  But ending slavery was epic.  Now there is a partisan divide over virtually everything from judicial and executive appointments, to foreign policy, to trade, to resources, energy, and the environment.

Now the president has declared war on the legislative branch, most notably the House of Representatives.  Principally this involves total resistance to Congressional subpoenas necessary to carry out the Constitutional oversight mandate.  Trump has declared that he alone can decide whether and when to cooperative with a legitimate function of the legislative branch.  This is a giant step toward autocracy and a unilateral denial of the checks and balances system of government bequeathed by our Founders.

The Trump administration has without precedence decided to conduct American foreign policy in secret, most notably where Russia is concerned.  Though it is difficult to imagine, there might be exceptional international security reasons for doing this where the British, French, or Germans are concerned.  But not with a former Cold War competitor and current antagonist.  Such conduct is made many times more suspicious given the hand-in-glove relationship between Trump, Inc. and the Russian government during and after the 2016 national campaign.

Further, Trump foreign policy, like virtually his entire domestic policy, seems to have but one central organizing principle: overturn anything and everything carried out by the preceding Obama administration.  Other than blatant hatred of Barack Obama (because he is a Democrat, or because he is black?), no reason has been given for this massive effort to eradicate any memory of the previous administration.

Then there is the voter suppression campaign, itself propelled by a racial undercurrent.  Under Democratic party leadership in the 20th century, massive national and local efforts have been made throughout the country to encourage much wider-spread voter participation, participation as the foundation of democratic government.  This is democracy in regression, once again a hallmark of autocracies.  We will decide who gets to vote, is the motto.  Despite proclamations to the contrary, wide-spread voter fraud simply does not exist.

This administration now has a cabinet almost totally composed of acting Secretaries.  This avoids embarrassing hearings about lack of qualifications or special interest conflicts even before a Republican Senate.

Further, there is no precedent in modern history of presidential leadership aimed almost exclusively at a particular “base”.  An election, in this case a minority election, produces a president of all the people, not some fans.  In more than two years, and a year before that, there is no instance where the current president personally addressed a cross-section of Americans.  The only possible exception is the Inauguration and one doubts there were very many citizens outside the “base” that bothered to attend that.  Rather, history will categorize the incumbent as the “twitter president”, comfortable only in a cocoon inhabited by his children, current wife, Mar-a-Lago and Sean Hannity.

Having shattered all norms for conducting the presidency, Trump seems perpetually angry that well over half of the American people, save for Fox all the press, and scholars of American history and government find his conduct disgraceful.

And to all this, add disdain for diplomacy, vacant ambassadorships, partisan favoritism in Israel, rejection of the two-state solution, destructive trade tariffs, privatization of the nation’s public resources, attempted privatization of the public school system, subtle support for white nationalism, dismissal of scientific evidence across the board, appointment of lobbyists and industry hacks to positions of public trust, a massive effort to tilt the entire judicial system to the right, obsessive attention to a dysfunctional border wall, and, beyond all that and more, congenital commitment to lying against all evidence to the contrary.

One might fervently wish our nation would return to traditions of pursuit of the national interest, communitarianism, honesty, decency, respect for the opinions of others, collaboration with democratic allies to solve collective problems, stability, humanitarian immigration policies, and integrity in government in the aftermath of Trump.

But there is no guarantee of this.  Instead, one Trump might follow another.  The nation may have made a more or less permanent turn down a different path characterized by all disruptive and unprecedented actions outlined here and much more.

If so, it will not be the America most of us have known and revered throughout our lives and which we have sought to perfect even more.  Despite false leaders, each generation must renew its Constitutional mandate to “seek a more perfect Union.”  Whether we choose to do so is genuinely a test of our patriotism toward the democratic ideal and our nation.

4 Responses to “Rethinking American Democracy”

  1. Paul G Says:


    A well-researched article by the director of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University, former reporter and secretary of state, Phil Keisling, offers an appealing “twin solution” to our host’s sad citing of the ALEC-rejuvenated (pre-Trump) win-at-all-costs colonial-era gerrymandering:

    “[V]ote-at-home ballot delivery and ranked-choice voting, would be especially powerful, promising to vastly boost turnout while yielding far more insight into voters’ true preferences. Taxpayers would save millions. Voters wouldn’t need to brave the elements, or be sidelined by sick kids or conflicting work schedules, to go stand in line at a polling place. Instead, they could sit at their kitchen tables, carefully pondering all the candidates to decide who they think might be best, good enough — or utterly unacceptable — as our next president.”

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>>>>One might fervently wish our nation would return to traditions of pursuit of the national interest, communitarianism, honesty, decency, respect for the opinions of others, collaboration with democratic allies to solve collective problems, stability, humanitarian immigration policies, and integrity in government in the aftermath of Trump.

    I’m about to stray away from what I believe are the sound traditions of this blog and support out loud someone who has been my choice, such as it is, for US president for as long as I can remember.

    I mean that sincerely – I’m not trying to be facetious here.

    One wouldn’t have to worry, day in and day out, about the damage and havoc that one president can wreak and about how to get back to the normal pursuit of the great promise of America if the next POTUS is Joe Biden.

    Doesn’t it almost feel like we’re in the midst of the general already!? 🙂

  3. Michael Says:

    It’s not just Trump, but the entire Republican Party that is complicit in this march toward authoritarianism. They, too, are aiming at exclusively at the Trump base without regard to the rest of the electorate. One shudders at the thought of where we would be now if the Democrats had not taken the House last year. The threat to American democracy will not go away with Trump as long as the Republican Party panders exclusively to his base voters. It will only guarantee one demagogue after another looming over the American body politic.

  4. Paul G Says:


    “When they deny the God-given humanity and the human rights of individuals and then stack the courts to protect themselves and their power and then put pornographic sums of money into the political structure in order to dominate it. I can tell you, Caesar still lives.” – Rev. William Barber (NC)

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