February 12, 2020

FOX | Spare a Little Change for Democracy

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If you’re like me, you’re splitting much of your free time between applying to summer internships and hoping that you get one. If you’re above me, you’ve already locked your summer or even post-graduation plans down, freeing up your next three semesters for a fun and stress-free education. But as we buckle down and put our energy into securing our futures, we should remember that our futures will exist in the context of a broader society.

These are not ordinary times we are living in. President Trump’s contempt for democratic institutions has always been obvious, but he has been truly unleashed following his disgraceful acquittal in the Senate. Anti-democratic sentiment and power are on the rise in the United States, and our institutions are proving incapable of holding back this creeping tide.

The Republican Party has been cynically anti-democratic for decades, gleefully attacking voting rights and gerrymandering themselves into nearly unshakable power in certain states. But they have for the most part been able to concede elections and accept them as fair. In addition to Trump’s disdain for our institutions, he has spent years lying about illegal voting practices to sow doubt about the integrity of our democratic process itself and openly promised to continue to do so in this election year.

You’ve probably heard this all before. If you support this national trajectory, I hope you don’t vote in a swing state. If you do, I hope you’re prepared to tell your grandkids why you were complicit in the decay of the world’s first modern liberal democratic experiment, and not even because you were just following orders. And if, regardless of your political leanings, you believe in the moral and pragmatic necessity of protecting the ideal of self-government, the country needs our help.

This election is not like other elections. Without a sweeping victory and a mobilized public, the incumbent will likely find ways to delegitimize the election in an attempt to hold  onto power. Such a constitutional crisis could indeed be worse than a Trump outright victory, which would guarantee more unqualified judges, environmental protection rollbacks and tax cuts for the wealthy. It would be the first election in American history without a peaceful and willing transition of power, and would likely end the era of stable republican society.

Like Hungary’s, our government system would nominally continue to be a democratic republic well after one party cements minority rule. When crisis strikes, we college students will depart from our campuses en masse to flood the streets in popular protest. To avert crisis in the first place, we can play our part. So talk to your family, friends and neighbors. As the election approaches, spend some time at a phone bank. And as soon as you can, chip in a couple dollars.

Yes, I wrote my shortest-ever column calling on us all to donate $15. It’s a couple of coffees or a night out. A simple message calling for sacrifice of a few simple luxuries we will barely notice going without. If half the college students in America invested that sum into tossup congressional races or the Democratic Unity Fund, we could put $120 million behind ensuring there is a free and stable future ready to welcome us into the workforce.

College students living under undemocratic regimes get summer internships too. But in addition to commitment to our values, we are obligated by both self and national interest to set our society back on course, so that we can one day again devote ourselves to career and family without fear for the country those careers and families occupy. For our country’s sake as much as our own, let’s spare a little change for democracy.

Elijah Fox is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at efox@cornellsun.com. What Does the Fox Say? runs every other Thursday this semester.