Democracy in Peril

Author: Gary Hart

Across several weeks our colleague Michael has raised serious questions about the future of democracy in America and elsewhere.  The questions he has raised and arguments he has made deserve equally serious consideration.

Increasingly the media are focusing on the rise of disinformation in campaigns, the challenge to factual narratives by false ones, the erosion of truth itself, and the use of social media to undermine and replace traditional reporting by “fake” media.

All this may or may not be “populist”, but it is most certainly authoritarian, the acquisition and concentration of power in the hands of the few by undermining the world of facts and truth.

There are many examples of this process throughout history, but none better than Germany and Italy in the 1930s.  Uncouple political narrative from truth and the train of authoritarianism is well down the track.

This process is enabled when there is widespread distrust of government, encouraged by anti-government political media, demonization of immigrants, replacement of reliable democratic alliances with dictator friendships, distrust and even hatred toward domestic political opposition, perversion of elections, dismissal of public ethics and morality, and replacement of necessary public information by propaganda.

Whether the U.S. national election of 2020 will prove to be a hinge of history remains to be seen.  But it is not too soon to worry about this and its consequences.  Once eroded, democracy is difficult to repair and recapture.  And the forces of erosion are closing in.

The authoritarian pattern further rejects the empirical world of science, thus leading to denial of climate change even as destructive evidence of it mounts daily.  But if you believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, you will believe anything.  And once that pattern begins, there is no end to it.  The Authority can and will tell you preposterous lies and you cheer him onward.

The Authority high jacked an entire American political party.  Where is the limit?  Can an entire nation be highjacked?  Twentieth century world history proves yes.  And tens of millions of people died.

If Donald Trump loses re-election narrowly next fall and refuses to leave the White House, claiming election fraud, do not be surprised if Fox News broadcasts his call for support from the “base” and tens of thousands surround the White House.  The Secret Service does not have the manpower to manage such a situation.

Who has the authority under the Constitution to request, if not command, military assistance?  The current Attorney General, now a full-fledged presidential assistant, will not seek a court order for military intervention.  But even if he did, there is no guarantee the current Supreme Court would uphold it.

Scenarios such as this can and will be dismissed as darkly pessimistic speculations of a profoundly concerned American.  But it has happened before, thankfully not in America, and it can happen again given how much has changed in the past three years.

After all, we do have a president and presidential supporters for whom their motto is: “Who are you going to believe…me or your lying eyes?”


12 Responses to “Democracy in Peril”

  1. Brian McCarthy Says:

    Senator, with the British polls predicting an 80+ majority for Boris Johnson and the Tories tonight, I am not optimistic about our own upcoming election. The British PM, analogous to Trump in his populism, disregard for law, constitution, and decency, and avoidance of any form of media that is not in his back pocket, is heading for a huge win tonight across the pond. [Lorenzo Cherin, email me if you want to complain to a kindred soul.] This, despite his blatant and repeated lying to the electorate and even to the Queen!

    No US President who has been impeached (or almost impeached) has ever been removed from office, and Trump won’t be either when he is inevitably impeached in the next few weeks. However, neither Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon*, nor Bill Clinton won a national election AFTER being impeached (*or resigning to prevent same), and DT may. May. Depends on whom the Dems nominate and if it’s someone who can win back PA, WI, and MI. But in a normally functioning republic, there would be no question that such a man does not get renominated by a major political party or come close to reelection in either the popular or electoral vote.

    Mr Johnson’s win today in the UK is instructive, and it’s not favorable to Constitutional government, rule of law, truth in politics, or any of the ideals most of us who read this blog tend to gravitate towards. It’s really, REALLY bad news.


  2. Michael Says:

    I don’t think Senator Hart’s scenario is merely “dark speculation” at all. I think it is likely under those circumstances. And given our history of close presidential elections over the past couple of decades, there is no reason not to expect one next year. After seeing the angry, self-righteous performances of the Republicans on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees during the impeachment hearings I don’t think there is any doubt that they would stay united behind Trump should such a scenario play out. But we should remember that Trump didn’t turn the Republican party into authoritarians; the Party has been displaying authoritarian tendencies for many years in its blatant disregard for the truth; in its extreme gerrymandering of congressional districts; in McConnell’s stealing of a Supreme Court seat and in their ramming through judges even the ABA describes as wholly unqualified. When they get the opportunity, Republicans ram through policies that move more and more wealth upward to their wealthy donors at the expense of everyone else, all while being ruthless in their willingness to use any tactic, no matter how divisive or destructive, to maintain power. So we may well be on the cusp of a constitutional crisis not seen since the Civil War. And the only thing that can stop it is a massive repudiation of Trump and the Republicans at the polls next year. It is truly a republic only if we can keep it.

  3. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    There was no Profiles in Courage that appeared for the last two days in the House Judiciary Committee! What we witnessed was a foreboding held by the founding fathers when drafting the Constitution.The Republican members represented what the founding fathers were most fearful of. They feared that political parties would become so entrenched in their own dogma and loyalty to party that they would betray their oath to uphold the tenets of the Constitution! That fear has come to fruition in 2019!

    It will happen again in the Senate when the Republican controlled Senate relinquishes their Constitutional role as a separate branch of government to a President unworthy of the title! Between then and November, 2020 a critical struggle will commence for the soul of this Republic!

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    How do you (generic you, that is) go about the business of changing the way people think? Solve that, and democracy will be safe and secure in America.

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Elizabeth always has a way of reducing complexity to its essence. As a long-time political practitioner, I don’t know the answer. Back in the day, it used to be reliance on facts, experience, and evidence to alter convictions. We now have entered an era where facts don’t seem to matter, at least to one-third of the electorate. Persistence is all that is left. Pat is right to say the struggle is for the national soul. Michael is also right to point out that Trump found a willing audience, the base for a new political party. And Brian is also right to fear the British election as a bell weather. Soldier on. GH

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Well, Senator Hart, I don’t know what the answer is, either but, it’s going to be very complicated!

    I think it will have something to do with reviving the art of persuasion to fit the era and the ability of political leaders to effectively communicate.

    I can say that I don’t hold out much hope that the art of persuasion or effective communication are attributes that many pols today have in their repertoire, even with regard to people who I greatly admire like Senator Biden.

    Which reminds of a golden opportunity squandered. To date, when Senator Biden is asked about Ukraine and the president’s allegations he answers in some degree of anger to say that no respected journalist has uncovered any evidence of wrongdoing on his or his son’s part. Very. Weak. Response.

    Biden could have turned all of this into a teachable moment and I am so surprised that he hasn’t. He could have explained in detail what the US and allied policy was with regard to Ukraine and how that policy was oriented to mitigate if not eliminate corruption in Ukraine. He could have taken a page or two out of Fiona Hill’s testimony to explain, ad Bidenitum, how President Trumps actions set back US policy to check Russian influence and aggression and to protect democracy at home and abroad as he has so eloquently spoken about when he was senator and chairman of the senate foreign relations committee.

    Biden could have (and still can) use this moment to explain why he is a persistent advocate for the state department and the diplomatic class who the current president couldn’t care less about. He could have demonstrated strong leadership with effective communication and a consistent effort to persuade.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    You know what I would love to see, and soon!? Senator Biden on a stage making a persuasive speech about how people should think about the future of democracy and what it will take to protect and preserve American ideals and what role the American people should play in that effort.

    That would be a good start in changing how people think.

  8. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Although I am of an age less in years than Senator Biden, but not many, I must ask you. Why do you seem to put all of your hopes in Senator Biden to bring about the restoration of decency, ethics, and morality to our democratic republic. Why not bring forth some of the younger lights of the Democratic Party, who have fresh ideas. Our moderator was once such a light when he ran for the Presidency. We need these fresh ideas and points of view, instead of the regrind of the same ideas that lead to the defeat of the previous Democratic candidate in 2016.

  9. H Patrick Pritchard Says:



    We don’t know the full story of Russian and Trump collusion in 2016 because data and records were destroyed or rendered unattainable by Trump staff and supporters and his refusal to release his previous tax records!

    We don’t know the full story of Trump’s obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report investigation because of Trump’s and others refusal to testify under oath.

    We don’t know the full story of the Trump directed plot to force the Ukraine government to investigate and find dirt on his potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election because Trump refuses to allow the House to fulfill its oversight function of the Executive Branch as stated in the Constitution and withhold testimony of key witnesses and documents germane to the investigation. The documented record shows that he directly invited Ukraine and China to investigate his potential 2020 opponent in the upcoming election in violation of the Constitution.

    These are the facts and they remain undisputed despite what his Republican enablers say. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is not a question of fairness because the record shows all parties had ample opportunity to question witnesses and present evidence. The real issue is whether or not we uphold the law under our Constitution.

    You took an oath to protect the Constitution. Do your sworn duty! You will take an oath to be a fair and impartial juror. Do your sworn duty! Serve the country not a political party!

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Youth is no guarantee of innovation.

  11. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    H. Patrick Pritchard,

    Excellent missive for all members of the Senate, since the republican members of the House have already shown their true allegiances. I am sending a copy of your missive to the two senators from my state of Kentucky. However, considering who they are, I am adding the following to the final sentence of your version: “. . ., the Russian Federation, or Vladimir Putin.”

  12. Edward Goldstick Says:



    Our democracy may well be in peril, but there are inspired individuals on the conservative and/or Republican side of the ledger of ideas and policies who have found the courage to speak up whether due to recent events, at the very beginning of Trump’s arrival on the scene, or even long before though perhaps in more ambiguous tones whether under the guise of bipartisanship (read: “No Labels”) or behind the smokescreen of libertarianism (read: “The Freedom Caucus”).

    Here are a few “practical” questions that I wish to pose as we turn on the last lap towards a bunch of plebiscites during the next 313 days and nights:

    – How can we best acknowledge those Republicans who are finally recognizing their error in enabling Trump? Is “too little/too late” justified or just too harsh?

    – If Republicans are prepared to support Democrats running against those most responsible for their destructive Faustian bargain, should Democrats support GOP challengers to Trump supporting incumbents in those districts that are essentially unwinnable?

    – Why can’t the Democratic Party again have an openly conservative wing on those issues of conscience and/or policy that can otherwise lead to consensus?

    – Is a Democratic majority of historic proportions conceivable if these degenerate and despicable influences remain potent on the barely recognizable Party of Lincoln and its misguided converts from among the general population?

    There are many other forms to these questions. Only time and the courageous convictions of leaders *and* followers of both moral and intellectual integrity will pave the way to a positive outcome. Only then will the truly urgent issues of our times be adequately addressed, climate change above all else but also the complex challenges of human society in the modern world where many people still cherish their traditional origins.

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