This is a very critical time in the history of the oldest democracy in the world. What sort of a country do we want to become? 

Our founders saw the end of the government they invented coming in the form of a president who would be king. After all they just had a revolution against a king and feared a return.  So they constructed the Constitution as they did, by dividing the government into competing power centers with the ability of one branch to check the other two, and pitting the ambitions of each against the other. In their wisdom, they also attempted to keep foreign governments from making us their satellites through bribery or through manipulating the vote of the people. They had faith the populace would also vote for representatives who were sworn to support the Constitution and the rule of law with which all would comply. Ultimately if the United States’ democracy survives the Trump era, it will depend on its voting citizens. They have that opportunity this year.  They will have less of a chance if Trump in a second term consolidates, even more, control over all branches of government and uses it to gain absolute power unconstrained by Congress and an independent judiciary, courts.or laws.

Losing democracy is an insidious process. It takes time, it transpires bit by bit, and in the end, the governed can only blame themselves because most dictatorships arise through the ballot box. It happens before the governed realize it and then it is too late because the aspiring dictator has already controlled the levers of power.  We have witnessed this time and time again. It was not just in Germany, Italy, or Spain, before World War II, but it is happening post-Cold War, in post-Communist Russia, post-Ataturk Turkey, and in Hungary. 

We have a President who often praises certain countries for their strong leaders. They tend to be those who made the transition from democracy to dictatorship. Top of his list not so coincidentally have been Russia, Turkey, and Hungary. That is his peer group, the one to which he fancies himself a fellow peer.

Here is how democracies have died. If you see any of that happening now, raise your hand. Wannabe dictators use their power to ensure their reelection by keeping those who disagree from voting and favoring those with monetary contributions and who have demonstrated loyalty. Their weapons are using the fear of retaliation, and by praise and rewards for those who support them. Their tools are exploiting and intensifying a sense of victimization by some racial, religious, or economic groups so that many seek relief by a strong man. The longer they stay in power, the more powerful they become because they use the power they have to control the levers of justice and media so it becomes harder for any opposition to revolt via the ballot box.

The rule of law is the first casualty of ascending dictators. They try to control how laws are interpreted and enforced.  Control of the once-independent judiciary could guarantee court  judgments that provide legal justification for their actions so they set about replacing judges with their loyalists.

Does any of this sound familiar? The Senate under control of  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has given priority to the tasks of approving ideologically friendly judges to fill vacancies. with executive action unchallenged by courts It took only two weeks after Trump was acquitted of abuse of power for him, to give the power to his Attorney General Bill Barr to decide which violations of campaign and election laws will be investigated. Free and fair elections are in jeopardy. Trump and Barr then intervened and overturned a justice department policy to help close friend, Roger Stone get less jail time, resulting in dramatic resignations of Department of Justice attorneys in protest and Barr asking Trump to stop tweeting and interventions. Trump has also opened the door for his loyal AG Bill Barr to receive the fruits of Rudy Guiliani’s efforts to find dirt on the Biden’s, carrying on with where Guiliani left off in Ukraine. The irony is that Ukraine was once considered corrupt for investigating and singling out the attorney general’s enemies for prosecution.