Trump Is What Happens When Democracy Decays

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

December 14, 2016

You can argue all you want about the tactical and messaging mistakes that Hillary Clinton made, and the outside interference from Wikileaks and the Russians and FBI Director James Comey, and the role of the media in creating this Frankenstein, and the pernicious role that racism and sexism played.

But something else was at work in the election of Donald Trump.

Fundamentally, we got here because for decades now, capitalism has been devouring our democracy.

Athenian Monument in Ruins

The advanced stage of capitalism that we’re now in no longer provides good jobs at good wages for the vast majority of Americans, and this breeds resentment.

And it has so accelerated the concentration of income and wealth at the very top that the super-rich and the corporations can easily buy off our politicians and purchase our public policies. This breeds resentment, too.

As former President Jimmy Carter put it to Thom Hartmann last year: We no longer have a democracy in our country. What we have now is “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”

And the oligarchy gets what it wants—and the people don’t.

A couple years ago, two political science professors, one from Princeton and the other from Northwestern (Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page) studied almost 1,800 different policies over a 20-year period—and this was even before Citizens United -- and what they found was startling: “It makes very little difference what the general public thinks…They have little or no independent influence on policy at all… In our findings, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Understandably, people feel that they have no voice, and so Donald Trump exploited this, saying, in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, “I’m your voice.”

And here he was in West Bend, Wisconsin, on August 16:

“Aren’t you tired of big media, big businesses, and big donors rigging the system to keep your voice from being heard?... I am going to give the people their voice back.”

Understandably, people aren’t happy with their lot, so they look for someone who will solve their problems.

And so Donald Trump came along and exploited this, too, saying, in his acceptance speech, “I alone can fix” the problems of the country.

Enough people in enough swing states bought that.

And since the corporations and the wealthy and the media have reduced electoral politics to a mere spectator sport, enough people were willing to go with the most novel and most outrageous performer.

But millions of people simply stayed home. The election saw a turnout of about 55 percent of eligible voters, the lowest in 20 years. And the United States has had a sickly turnout rate for decades. By comparison, Belgium, for instance, has a turnout rate around 87 percent, Turkey 84 percent, Sweden 83 percent.

Trump is what happens when democracy decays.

Beware: We are in a fascist moment!

Trump has more generals in his cabinet since the days of Ulysses Grant.

He has larded his cabinet with billionaires and rightwing ideologues.

He expresses a disdain for democracy when he says that people who burn the flag should not only be arrested—they should lose their citizenship. He doesn’t care that the Supreme Court has already ruled that this is protected under the First Amendment.

He expresses a disdain for democracy when he trashes the media, most recently denying the Washington Post press credentials because he doesn’t like their coverage.

He expresses a disdain for democracy when his transition team asks for the names of everyone in the Department of Energy who is working on climate change.

He expresses a disdain for democracy when he goes on his “Victory Tour” and says, “We’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again.”

His very being – his narcissistic personality disorder, his strutting and puffing and bragging – smacks of the strongman, the caudillo, the dictator.

It’s not as though we weren’t warned about this.

In 1980, Bertram Gross wrote a book called Friendly Fascism, and in his 1982 preface, he warned of the “slow and powerful drift toward greater concentration of power and wealth in a repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership.”

In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, and ever since, he’s been sounding the alarm.

And earlier this year, Robert McChesney and John Nichols dropped what they called “the F-Bomb” in their vitally important book, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy. In it, they wrote presciently: “The anti-democratic raw material for a fascist surge certainly exists in America.”

Fending off Trump and Trumpism requires the revival of democracy.

We can’t remain spectators.

We must speak up, today, against the threat to democracy that Trump poses.

That means protesting, nonviolently.

That means planning, today, to shelter those Americans who are in his crosshairs tomorrow.

That means forming circles of resistance locally, with friends and in places of worship.

That means forming united fronts, as broadly as possible, with organizations and individuals of goodwill.

That means pressuring our elected officials, of both parties, not to go along with the anti-democracy measures that Trump is intent on imposing.

That means registering millions of people to vote and persuading millions more that we should not go down the fascist path.

Together, and only together, can we block Trump from destroying our democratic system of government.

Together, and only together, can we then make the changes necessary so that our democracy can function properly – and not be so vulnerable to a Trumpian takeover.

WDC Executive Director Matthew Rothschild
Matthew Rothschild
WDC Executive Director

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