Much has been said about the risks a Donald Trump presidency poses to America, the world and the continued existence of human life outside of subterranean bunkers. From wrecking the U.S. economy by deporting illegal immigrants (an important source of labor, ironically particularly so for the Republican big business base) and threatening to default on U.S. Treasury bonds to using nuclear weapons against states whose leaders question the length of his fingers, the world would be far worse off with The Donald in the White House. But hey, at least Latin American dignitaries would finally learn just how to properly make taco bowls (incidentally, the only dish with a handy built-in wall).
The Democratic Party, suddenly offered the opportunity to retake the Senate and possibly the House, should use this fear to their advantage in down-ballot elections. Democrats in competitive states like Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania should emphasise the wide latitude that a GOP lock on the executive and legislature (and, most likely, judiciary) would give to Trump in pursuing his racist and illiberal fantasies. While fear-mongering politics should be regarded with suspicion, a Republican-controlled Congress next to a newly built Trump Tower II on Pennsylvania Ave. could do untold damage to the American economy, society and, indeed, the very foundations of this country’s democracy.
Some say that a Republican Congress would not support Trump’s legislative agenda, refusing to fund the giant wall (if Mexico wouldn’t come through on their side of the ‘deal’) and denouncing the much-demanded Muslim registry. Yet one has only to look at the support, grudging or otherwise, that Trump is extracting from members of Congress. The erstwhile Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) left himself an opening to get behind The Donald and numerous senators and representatives are loudly proclaiming their backing for him. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the steel-jawed Vietnam veteran who Donald Trump termed “not a war hero,” has advanced the view that a President Trump (I know, sounds scary) could be a “capable leader.”
Sure, part of this support is just electoral politicking as GOP lawmakers attempt to wriggle out of Trump’s clutches. Much of the maneuvering can be ascribed to attempts at avoiding drawing the ire of Trump’s supporters as The Donald’s allies promise to campaign against politicians who don’t support him (see Sarah Palin’s contention that Paul Ryan will get “Cantor-ed” in his Wisconsin re-election fight). However, the Trump phenomenon is as much a result of the Republican Party’s toxic anti-immigrant and borderline ultra-nationalist rhetoric as it is its neglect of Middle America. The soil in which Trump laid his roots was tilled by years of intolerance deployed to cultivate support for an increasingly anemic GOP. As such, there is considerable evidence that a Republican Congress would play ball with this short-fingered authoritarian.
Over the past year, Donald Trump, in a fashion akin to that mould growing above your showerhead, has continually eaten away at the societal norms that form the bedrock of American democracy. His demands for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the U.S. until we “figure out what is going on” have corroded ideals of equality before the law and religious freedom (the latter, despite southern governors’ protests, being the correct usage of the term). Further, Trump’s views of women as mindless automatons beholden to the whims of menstruation threaten to retard progress in those norms and transport large segments of America back to a time when women were effectively chattel.
It’s not only Trump himself that threatens these norms but also, indirectly, the opposition to him. Standards like civilian control of the military are threatened when officials say that they will refuse to carry out Trump’s orders to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Barry Goldwater’s contention that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” remains as untrue today as it was 50 years ago.
The vulnerability of societal norms is inherent to democracy —without that risk no truly representative and accountable government can exist. Despite this, democracy remains the most resilient form of government and the only legitimate way to govern free individuals with diverging needs and desires. Donald Trump’s ascendance represents the greatest threat to this country’s faith in democracy, a faith that rests upon ideas that constitute an evolution in organising human societies. The importance and validity of those ideas remains as true today as in America’s youth — it is only their image within our minds that may be dulled.
We cannot rely on a blind hope that this too shall pass and Justice will restore America to glory, for America means nothing without those who uphold her ideals and spirit. Let us not fall into the temptation to which humanity has too often succumbed of particularizing our universal values. Let us instead fight against the demands of the few who seek to divide Man from Man along meaningless lines and continually strive toward a more perfect union.
Alex Davies is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have I Got News For You? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.