Is this Election and President Unique?
For most Americans, it is common knowledge that the United States is a democracy. Technically, this belief is a partial truth. Sure, top government officials are generally chosen through elections, and in many cities, counties, and states, citizens get to vote on some major pieces of legislation. The most powerful person in the federal government, however, is not chosen by popular vote. Many of the most divisive issues in our country are legislated in the courts by appointed judges. In the majority of states, district lines for state and federal elections are drawn to benefit one political party or the other. If you happen to live in a state with a small population, then your vote matters more than someone casting a ballot in a high population state. And throughout American history, much of the population was either outright banned from voting or faced significant obstacles.
In spite of these flaws, I hope that most Americans want to preserve the limited democracy that we have, and I would still choose our flawed political system over most that have existed throughout human history. While there have been plenty of authoritarian personalities in places of power throughout American history, we have managed to avoid outright dictatorship. Division of power and rule of law have managed to keep these dangerous characters more or less in check, and even the most powerful officials in American history have been required to pay some attention to public opinion.
When Donald Trump became president, many people feared that he might be one of those authoritarian personalities. This wasn’t my primary fear. I was mostly worried about him being an arrogant, narcissistic ignoramus likely to make some bad decisions. I assumed that there was enough respect for our constitution within the government and among the general population to prevent him from doing significant damage to the system or amassing too much power. I still hope that this is the case, but the upcoming election has me a bit nervous. President Trump has made it clear on many occasions that he cares far more about himself than for any legal or political principles, and he is more than willing to tear down the foundations of our (flawed and limited) democracy in order to benefit himself politically. In addition to his constant complaints about “fake news,” protestors, and the so-called “deep state,” he has decided that his best path to victory is to get much of the population to question the entire electoral process. If he can convince enough people that the presidential election is riddled with fraud, then maybe he can hold on to power even if he loses. And if he can’t hold on to power, at least he can claim until his dying day that he didn’t really lose.
Ever since Trump decided to run for president, I suspected that it was basically a giant ego trip. Maybe it still is. He may even want to walk away, but he can’t possibly admit defeat. The problem is that this ego trip could potentially do a lot of damage. In spite of the huge amount of lies he has told over the past few years, much of the population apparently still believes in his version of reality. So he may leave in his wake a whole bunch of really angry (and potentially dangerous) people with no faith whatsoever in the legitimacy of the election or in the American political system in general. Still, at this point, this may be the best-case scenario. If he refuses to accept defeat, or if he somehow manages to “win,” then things will get truly ugly. American democracy, such as it is, could really be in trouble.
Or maybe this election and all elections don’t matter very much. Elections may just be empty rituals designed to make us think that we have a say in how we are governed. Political officials, like most leaders throughout history, will just exploit and abuse their power anyway. Leaders come and leaders go, and little ever seems to change.
But on the other hand, there have been times, especially during periods of crisis, when the words and actions of people in power really seemed to matter. So in spite of this nagging feeling that the bad guys usually win and that my voice does not really matter, I will be showing up on election day. And whatever the result, I will try not to give up on this American experiment with democracy, republicanism, mixed government, or whatever the hell you want to call it.