Julie Schneyer: Trump Is What Democracy Looks Like

Trump Is What Democracy Looks Like

Julie Scheyner, November 5, 2016

When President Obama delivered his acceptance speech after winning the 2008 election, he was savvy enough to understand that while he stood there addressing a crowd of adoring fans, there were also millions of Americans in real distress on the night of his victory. Being Obama, he was also sensitive enough to address them, assuring opponents that “I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices…And I will be your president, too.” Compassion may have motivated this statement, but it was also a subtle assertion of dominance: a gentle reminder that the case was indisputably closed, and no matter how scared and angry some people were, they would just have to get over it.

Eight years later, they are still not over it; and now they have a candidate who, well-versed in the art of deal-making, is happy to help them re-negotiate the terms of the Social Contract. It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump has broken the political taboo against suggesting that election results can be challenged, because authoritarianism is the substance of Trump’s candidacy and campaign — not merely its preferred idiom or signature style. In fact, the better part of Trump’s rhetoric and associated political theater hint at a place just beyond democracy’s horizon, where a Presidential command instantly moves armies and erects walls, the judicial branch can be ordered to jail political opponents and journalists, the press need not be free, and it is acceptable to literally fight to win (as long as the fight isn’t against him; see above: authoritarianism).

Far from alienating his base, comments that allude to the acceptability of — or outright need for — political violence have only rooted Trump more firmly in his supporters’ hearts. This is because for Trump and his supporters, taking “no” for an answer is being weak and being a loser: anathema. Trump is not a brilliant strategist; he just doesn’t care about rules (in this case, the rules of democracy), and his primary accomplishment was to figure out early on what his opponents appear incapable of grasping — despite a mountain of evidence so high you could climb over it to cross the border even after The Wall is built — which is that a significant number of [primarily white] Americans don’t actually care about democracy or rules either. Like Trump, they just want to win, and keep winning.

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