Newsletter N°2 - November 2017
Donald Trump has threatened American democracy. He also has inspired it.
The threats are easily seen and impossible not to hear. The American president has lashed out at democratic institutions – the press, the courts, legislators, and elections themselves. He has made racist and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim appeals, and criticized women and members of minority groups for expressing their views. His government has convened a commission to restrict voting rights.
But such statements have also galvanized democratic action. Media organizations are doing more to reach Americans and to challenge the federal government. Judges have risen to defend the constitution. Election administrators have bluntly challenged the Trump administration and its restrictions. And citizens have engaged and protested in numbers and with a ferocity rarely seen in modern U.S. history.
Trump has exposed the American system, for better and for worse. That system relies not just on laws or the constitution but on norms of behavior. Trump has trampled those norms, and exposed the system’s weaknesses. But his behavior also has highlighted its strengths. The most democratic parts of America do not reside in Washington D.C. or the federal government. Local and state governments retain considerable power, and democratic connections to the people.
Those governments have led the way in opposing Trump’s anti-democratic blasts. They have sued the president. They have erected new protections for their people, notably immigrants, that Trump has targeted. And they have raised questions about Trump’s democratic legitimacy, given that he took office with fewer votes than his opponent, in an election whose particulars and methods remain the focus of intense investigation.
Which Trump will triumph – the threat to democracy, or the unintentional inspirer of democracy? It is too soon to tell. And the ultimate answer will not be up to Trump. American citizens themselves will determine the outcome in how they respond to the president. Will they take this opportunity to rebuild and strengthen our democracy? Or will we, both via support and opposition to the president, act in ways that tear it down? In this month’s newsletter, we’ll look at the United States, one year after the election of Donald Trump.
Member of the board of Democracy International