While I cheer Biden’s victory in the presidential election, I lament the state of the union Trump is leaving behind. Sadly, Biden’s victory has not been a repudiation of Trump, as he received more votes than any Republican candidate before him, which shocked millions of Americans. Why? Trump is a creature of our own making. He may be seen as an aberration, but he is not. Unless we pay more attention to the tens of millions who voted for him, among many other despairing Americans, and address their grievances and frustration, a hypocrite just like Trump will rise and feed on the public discontent—another rebel in Trump’s image who appeals to the masses sickened by being ignored, another demagogue who personifies Trump and thrives on hatred, division, and contempt.
Our democracy is broken, as faith in our constitutional system and culture that guided us has been all but shattered. If we continue to ignore this reality, a very ominous future will await this nation. We are witnessing the rise of bald-faced authoritarianism and if an increasing number of Americans cease to embrace our revered democratic norms, our Republic as we know it will cease to exist. It will be replaced by an authoritarian regime that will rise by a popular vote and gradually stamp out our democracy and revoke the will of the people.
The betrayal of the Republican party
The danger to our democracy comes chiefly from the Republican Party. Trump is the product of the Republicans’ fantasy that only they should rule, which is befitting a party that has long since lost its moral compass. The Republicans are terrified of losing their ability to rule because of the steadily-increasing diversity of America, the continuing evolution into a minority-majority country, the expansion of liberalism throughout the country, the growing disenchantment of women with their policies, and the disillusionment of the youth with the stubbornly growing extreme Republican conservatism.
The Republicans did not shy away from resorting to any sinister scheme to hold onto the levers of power. They have aggressively pursued voter suppression, fought tooth and nail to keep gerrymandering in place, viciously clung to the Electoral College, stacked the courts with conservative judges, and catered to white supremacists. But when all has failed to change the outcome of the fairest and freest elections, they follow their self-possessed leader claiming that the election was fraudulent, stolen, and rigged.
They refuse to validate the result of the election, knowing full well that nothing is more injurious to democracy than defying the will of the majority and preventing the peaceful transfer of power. The majority of top Republican officials still refuse to acknowledge Biden’s victory, delaying the transition (which prevents Biden from accessing vital information, especially in connection with the pandemic) while thousands continue to die; every single death during this delay is on their hands.
This is the party whose leaders bask in conspiracy theories. To them facts do not matter; they believe in magic and miracles while disparaging scientific truths, belittling political opponents to cover for their innate political hypocrisy. Worst yet, they have surrendered to a would-be dictator who has his claws around their neck and is determined to dismantle the fundamentals of our democracy, and who has brought the nation to the precipice of disaster.
Restoring the values of our democracy
If nothing else, the election has proven that America is in desperate need of an expansive re-education in civility and responsible citizenry to instils and cement the values that have sustained it in the past. We need to reform the electoral systems and legislative processes. We must prevent political polarization and mismanagement of our constitutional democracy on which demagogues like Trump can thrive, and restore our global leadership role.
Regardless of how misguided Trump followers’ belief in him may be, they and millions of other Americans do have legitimate concerns and needs that must be addressed. Biden is facing monumental tasks, starting by tackling the coronavirus (as economic recovery is closely tied to controlling the epidemic). Our democracy, however, will remain vulnerable to the same morally debased elements of Republican politics that nearly tore our democracy apart.
If we are to survive the onslaught of disinformation, demagoguery, falsehood, inequality and treachery that Trump perpetrates, which is cheered by his Republican sheep, we must shut tightly the cave in which demagogues like Trump hide. We must diligently undertake the needed socio-political and economic reforms to prevent an imposter like Trump from returning in four years and ravaging once again our democratic way of life, plunging us anew into ominous social and political strife.
Biden’s victory provides us with a small window of opportunity to repair some of the damage that Trump and the Republican party have inflicted on our democracy. Indeed, democracy can be the breeding ground that allows of demagogues like Trump to rise. To save our democracy and prevent that from happening and deny the Republicans minority rule again, we must develop an inclusive social and economic agenda to meet the needs of the people.
Repairing America’s socio-economic erosion
Democracy cannot be sustained when the gap between the rich and poor grows ever wider, when thousands of small towns and villages are crumbling, especially in rural areas, when more than 12 million children go to sleep hungry and when a half a million people are homeless roaming the streets.
Democracy rings hollow when tens of millions of citizens live in abject poverty and have no healthcare, when Blacks and Latinos are the victims of discrimination and inequality, when schools are decaying and teachers are underpaid, when dropouts from school are multiplying and jobs are scarce, and when two and a half million people are languishing in jails and prisons, the majority for non-violent offenses.
Democracy fails when drug addicts are incarcerated instead of being treated and healed, when 40,000 American are killed by firearms every year, when the judiciary is becoming increasingly biased, when climate change is wreaking havoc on the country from coast to coast and people are displaced, when police brutality is commonplace.
Over the past four years in particular, the Republicans wrote one of the darkest chapters in American history. History books will recall how their moral bankruptcy allowed them to sacrifice the well-being of the nation and betray the most principled experiment in democracy in human history. Their defeat in this presidential election may well be the harbinger for worse days yet to come.
As for me, I still have strong faith in the American enterprise. We have fought civil and world wars, faced depressions, corrupt administrations, social unrest, and costly foreign misadventures, but then, we have emerged stronger and an inspiration to other nations.
As long as we remain committed to the democratic values that we have cherished and for which we have sacrificed so much, a brighter and better future will await us.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.