Democracy: a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.
Fascism: an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
The United States has operated as a democracy for nearly 228 years, among the longest continuous democracies in the world. Is that nearing its logical conclusion? Maybe. Nations, governments, society and its members evolve over time, and the U.S. has undergone many transitions since the day the Constitution was ratified back in 1788. The rifts between the two political parties have widened to the point that the majority in each party no longer seem to recognize their own ideology. This year’s election seems to be the proof of that.
A vast majority of the citizens of this nation are angry. Although, under President Obama, the country has recovered from the financial crisis of 2008, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) gained 2.4% in 2015, and unemployment is at only about 5%, the nation does not feel prosperous. The majority of people have less disposable income today than they had 20 years ago, nearly 2/3 are in debt, and the average household’s assets has shrunk by 1/3. Yet, America is among the wealthiest nations in the world. So where is the wealth? It is in the bank accounts and investment portfolios of that infamous ‘one-percent’, the handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires whose lives are almost completely disconnected from the rest of us. While it is true that more people are working, they are making less and paying more for goods and services, thus they do not feel as if they are ‘better off’ than two decades ago. To add insult to injury, political candidates are funded by those in the top one-percent, thus once they are in office, they are obligated in ways that lead to laws favoring … again, the top 1%. Thus, the people are understandably angry.
Enter this year’s remaining candidates for the highest office in the land, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is seen as the ‘establishment’, status-quo, same ol’ same ol’. Her previous experience in government more than qualifies her for the job, but many seem to view that as a downside, as just a continuation of that status quo that everyone is tired of. Enter Bernie Sanders. In the beginning, I thought Sanders would fall by the wayside early on, simply because of the label ‘democratic-socialist’. In years past, ‘socialism’ has been a dirty word in this country, with many mistaking it for communism. But alas, in this world of disillusionment and desire for change, seemingly any change, many, especially younger voters, are mesmerized by Bernie’s promises to work toward narrowing the gap between the 1% and the rest of us, expanding social security, increasing wages, new rights for the disabled, lower healthcare costs, and the list goes on. His is certainly an appealing message, his promises lure potential voters, but the problem is that much of it is pie-in-the-sky. Higher taxes on the wealthy and more services for low and middle income families is achievable, should certainly be the goal, but it will not happen overnight, and even with that, the resources of government are, and will always be, limited. If Sanders had been able to present a viable and reasonable plan to begin accomplishing his goals, he might well have become the next POTUS.
Thus we move to the sole remaining republican candidate, Donald Trump. Trump enters the fray loudly playing on the fears and emotions of working class Americans. Like Sanders, his is a message of narrowing the gap between the 1% and the 99%, but the message seems hypocritical when one remembers that he is one of the 1%, and that his deity is money. He riles the masses with promises that, just like Bernie, he cannot possibly follow through with, but he is so loud and energized, so discounting of any who dare to disagree with him, that the crowds fall victim to his rhetoric. One case in point is Trump promising his voters that after he wins the election, his first official act will be to call the CEO of Ford and force him to move his auto plants from Mexico back to the United States within 48 hours, and his vow to force Apple to stop making iPhones in China. We all know that these are empty promises/threats, but it is what people want to hear, and so they believe.
Not one of the three remaining candidates has offered a viable solution to that which ails the nation under the current system of democracy. All of which leads one to wonder if, in fact, democracy is on its way out, to be replaced with a more authoritarian form of government, such as fascism. According to political scientist and historian Robert Paxton, Trump’s promises to build a wall along the Mexican border and to deny Muslims entry into the United States constitute “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners [and] is directly out of the fascist’s recipe book.” He goes on to say that Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” sounds exactly like the slogans of fascist movements, and adds that “a sense of victimhood is absolutely essential” to the rise of fascism, “and I think that’s very strong in America today,” particularly among the white middle class.
While Trump is running on the republican ticket, his ideology seems far-removed from that of the GOP, though much like a chameleon, the rhetoric changes based on the audience at the moment, so it is sometimes difficult to tell. Nonetheless, when so many support a candidate who has blatantly avowed that he intends to curb the freedom of the press, has already cut gashes into freedom of speech at his rallies by having those who disagree with him physically removed and in some cases beaten, we must ask if this is in keeping with our democracy.
An article in Der Spiegel draws comparisons between Trump and WWII fascist leader, Benito Mussolini: “Trump not only resembles Mussolini in the way he sticks out his lower jaw, but also in his speech. His short, blustering sentences sound similar to those used by “Il Duce” in his speeches. Like Mussolini, Trump is masterful at handling large crowds. And even in his contempt for the establishment, he resembles the leaders of revolutionary movements in the Europe of the 1920s and 1930s. Trump isn’t leading a party but a movement, and his supporters are pledging their oath of allegiance to the candidate, not the Republicans.” All of which makes one wonder if, perhaps, Americans are becoming tired of living under a democratic system of government and are willing to sacrifice certain of their freedoms in exchange for a leader who would operate in a significantly more authoritarian manner.
There are other alternatives to giving up on democracy, but it will require many compromises, starting with serious conversations about the causes of dissatisfaction among the people and viable solutions, such as the wealthy being more attuned to the rest of the nation, occasionally coming out of their mansions to look around at the 99% and being willing to ‘do the right thing’. Or being forced to, if all else fails. “Trump’s answer to the crisis is the exclusion of others. But the correct answer should be inclusion — not just of Trump’s supporters, but also that of society’s weakest. There’s much more at stake in the United States right now than the contest between two candidates. This is a question of tolerance, pluralism and the very future of a deeply drained democracy.” (Stark, Der Spiegel, 17 May 2016).
Our democracy may, in fact, be deeply exhausted, but I still believe it is a system that is worth fighting for. I do not know what the answers are, I do not pretend to think that any of the candidates left standing are the ‘right’ person for the job of rearranging the pieces such that the ‘American dream’ can live on for future generations. But I am not willing to trade what we have today for what Italy had 75 years ago. Are you?