When our democracy teeters, we must stand vigil




Donald Trump
President Donald Trump in a shadow at a February 2017 ceremony in North Charleston, S.C., recognizing the first Boeing 787-10 produced. Photo by City of North Charleston | Flickr

On Election Day, our democracy teetered.

To deny how close this country came to the brink of disaster is to ignore the obvious.

When more than 72 million people vote for a man who has so brazenly abused the authority granted to him by the electorate of the most powerful nation on the earth, all Americans should worry.

This isn’t to say that every Trump supporter would prefer dictatorship to democracy, but I believe that’s precisely what his reelection could very well have produced.

To be fair, President Trump doesn’t act like an autocrat because he’s a Republican, though the party’s leaders have done almost nothing to constrain his behavior. He acts that way because he is fascist by nature. 

To insist as the head of government that you always get your way, as Trump does, even if it means violating every ethical norm and standard —  and sometimes even the law — is the very definition of authoritarianism.

By now, we should all be familiar with Trump’s authoritarian streak, but here’s a few examples of his worst anti-democratic tendencies:

  • Trump has routinely described our free press, in his words, as “the enemy of the people,” no matter that the right to “freedom of speech, or of the press” is guaranteed by our Constitution. Trump’s claims that anything reported by the news media that he doesn’t agree with is “fake” apes Adolf Hitler’s use of the term lügenpresse (lying press), which the dictator used as a propaganda tool to discredit his critics in 1930s Germany. On more than one occasion, Trump has threatened journalists with whom he disagrees with jail time, a common practice among dictators.
  • The president has routinely disregarded the rule of law and our government’s system of checks and balances. For instance, Congress, he has falsely argued, had no authority to investigate alleged wrongdoings in his administration, including whether he tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into fabricating political dirt that could derail the political ambitions of now President-elect Joe Biden. Trump fired then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from a Justice Department investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 election, and repeatedly attacked the head of that investigation, Robert Mueller III, as well as anyone who testified against him.
  • For years, Trump has told his supporters the only way he could lose this year’s election was if his opponents committed massive voter fraud. This week, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security responsible for monitoring and preventing election fraud, the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) Executive Committee, found, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.” Likewise, interviews by the New York Times with election officials in all 50 states uncovered no evidence of mass fraud anywhere in the nation. It’s common practice for totalitarian leaders to work to discredit free and fair elections, especially when they lose.

The good news is that Trump’s dream of turning our democracy into a dictatorship failed.

As disturbing as it is to me that more than 72 million people wanted him reelected, I’m heartened that some 78 million Americans still believed   enough in our system of government to pull us back from the brink.

Our democracy is far from perfect. Sometimes it’s a mess. But unlike Trump and many of his supporters, I still believe in the idea that we all have an equal right to participate in shaping this country’s future, to speak freely, to gather peaceably, to practice a religion (or not) and to openly criticize our leaders without fear of retribution.

I’m also heartened, and, yes, incredibly relieved, that on January 20, despite Trump’s best efforts, the American experiment will live another day.

I also understand, now more than ever, that unless we — as in “We, the people” — stand forever vigil in the face of tyrants, this experiment will teeter again.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.