Categories
Comment

In American democracy, Trump’s antics are nothing new

Two years ago, the United States of America witnessed an attempted coup as Donald Trump’s armed followers stormed the Capitol. Demanding an overthrow of the 2020 election results, Trump encouraged his followers and the rest of the Republican party to deny a basic principle of free and fair elections. In the aftermath of the recent U.S. midterms, we can see that these beliefs have not been dispelled as election deniers ran and won seats in law-making bodies around the country.  

Liberals have justifiably condemned the election denial movement as a threat to democracy and the nation. In his commemorative speech for the first anniversary of the January 6th riot, President Biden condemned Trump and other election deniers as un-American, stating: 

“[Trump] has done what no president in American history…has ever, ever done: He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people. 

[China and Russia] are betting America…is a place for the autocrat, the dictator, the strongman. 

I do not believe that. That is not who we are. That is not who we have ever been. And that is not who we  should ever, ever be.” 

Despite President Biden’s claims, this is not the first time that an election has been challenged by a President. During the election of 1800, Virginia’s governor James Monroe threatened to send the state militia to seize the government if  Thomas Jefferson lost the election. In 1824, Andrew Jackson claimed that the election was stolen in a series of ‘backroom bargains’, which he used to mount his successful campaign in 1828. Then, in 1860, the country broke itself into two as the South split away and declared itself the Confederate States of America weeks after President Lincoln’s victory.  

Of course, the U.S. has not lacked a history of authoritarian behaviour from its leaders. Despite freedom of speech being heralded as a core principle of American values. John Adams passed the Sedition Acts of 1798, which enforced imprisonment, deportation, or fine of anyone who spoke ill of the President in the press. Despite a constitutional guarantee to a fair trial in front of a body of your peers, Abraham Lincoln suspended the ‘writ of habeas corpus,’ which prevents the illegal imprisonment of citizens.

We cannot deny this history. American democracy has consistently been threatened by  Presidents who challenge the rule of law. American values were threatened by the very people who made them. Maybe those ‘patriots’ who storm the Capitol, challenge valid elections, and suppress voter rights are trying to reinstall the original version of America as the Founding Fathers had pictured it: one where power and ‘freedom’ is concentrated in the hands of the privileged and the few.  In this light, we see that Donald Trump is not a new threat in American history; he is a manifestation of old ones.  

While this is a bleak view, there are many more reasons to be hopeful and proud of what the country can achieve. Even though the recent midterm brought countless election deniers and people who threaten the very foundation of democracy, it also included one of the most diverse arrays of candidates in American history. Massachusetts and Oregon elected the first openly lesbian women to serve as governor. New Hampshire, Montana, and Minnesota voted the first trans people into state legislatures. Arkansas and Massachusetts became the first states to ever have women serving concurrently as governor and lieutenant governor, and there were countless firsts for racial and ethnic minorities elected to government positions across the nation.  

So yes: American democracy and liberal values are under attack. They always have been and will continue to be. Although, the difference between now and then is that the country is starting to elect the people whom the system was not designed to acknowledge, let alone represent. That is the beauty of the American experiment; despite countless attempts to oppress, exclude, and overthrow, progress, even in its smallest forms, is achievable.

Image “American Flag” by JeepersMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0