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U.S. Nears an Epic Historical Moment
Something in the intensity with which Windrip looked at his audience, looked at all of them, his glance slowly taking them in from the highest-perched seat to the nearest, convinced them that he was talking to each individual, directly and solely; that he wanted to take each of them into his heart; that he was telling them the truths, the imperious and dangerous facts, that had been hidden from them…
—Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are all but set for a rematch of the 2020 United States election. A consequential general election campaign lies ahead.

Despite his self-coup attempt on January 6, 2021, Trump has taken a big step toward regaining the White House. To many outside the U.S., Trump’s being in a position to regain the U.S. Presidency is a surreal development.

The stakes are enormous. Should Trump prevail, he will likely govern ineffectively and chaotically, but he could do far worse. Europe could be caught between an expansionist Russia and an indifferent United States. In the U.S., Trump would be positioned to free the January 6 insurrectionists, impose restrictions on news organizations, exact vengeance on his political rivals, and even extend his term in Office.

Counterarguments that the Constitution bars such acts or that the courts would block him would be theoretically correct but potentially defective. The impotence of the legal system to hold him accountable for the events of January 6 highlights the practical limits of those arguments. Without willing people and healthy institutions capable of enforcing the Constitution’s terms, the Constitution would become little more than a piece of paper stripped of its vitality and drained of its substance.

If Trump is a genuine authoritarian threat, how is it possible that he has a chance to regain the Presidency? The secret to his political success is that Donald Trump is a charismatic and seductive demagogue. He is skilled at building and sustaining a fanatical following while dividing his opposition.

Despite a fragmented and disjointed speaking style, he mesmerizes his crowds, transports them to an alternate reality, nurtures among them an intense thirst for power and instills in them a burning craving for vengeance. He persuades them that he, alone, is both national prophet and savior. They believe him. They embrace him. They love him. They are willing to do just about anything for him. They are his “army” in a nation awash in firearms.

With diminishing prospects that the U.S. legal system possesses the vigor necessary to hold Trump accountable for his earlier acts, the electorate may well be the last “check” to block his return to the Presidency. Even electoral defeat might not be sufficient to deter him from rejecting the outcome, much less to discourage his followers from attempting to restore him to power.

But a Trump win would be devastating. A Trump victory almost certainly would have damaging consequences for an American democratic system that has already been weakened by years of constitutional retrogression and jolted by Trump’s 2021 self-coup attempt. Perhaps that self-coup attempt will become the American historical equivalent of Pompeii’s AD 62 earthquake that preceded Vesuvius’ catastrophic explosive eruption of AD 79.

If one looks at the global picture, one finds that democratic governance is under challenge far beyond the United States. Hungary has taken on increasingly undemocratic characteristics. Illiberal elements are ascendant in parts of France. The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2040 report observes:

Key democratic traits, including freedom of expression and the press, judicial independence, and protections for minorities, are deteriorating globally with countries sliding in the direction of greater authoritarianism.

With the rushing anti-democratic currents sweeping the globe, one might be tempted to conclude that democracy in America has already seen its day in the sun. One could be resigned to the fatalistic conclusion that the 2024 election will take place in the deepening twilight that lies between the disappearing sunshine of democracy and the coming darkness of autocracy.

Fortunately, that grim outcome is not a certainty. At least, not yet. The American electorate can still avert that tragic outcome. Americans have not yet become helpless bystanders capable only of witnessing the passing of U.S. history and world events. They still retain the ability to shape the course of their nation’s events, but only if they choose to act.

Acting is still a choice. It is a choice that must be made. Complacency or, worse, passively waiting to see what will happen can only court disaster. As Abraham Lincoln explained, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." Anti-democratic elements are 'hustling.'

With renewed commitment to maintaining the pursuit of a “more perfect union” and continued determination to “secure the blessings of liberty,” U.S. voters can turn aside the latest challenge that confronts them. In doing so, they can prolong the life of the American Republic much as past generations have done at previous pivotal moments in American history.

5 comments

Tanja - Loughcrew said:

Du beschreibst ihn sehr gut Don…wir haben Angst vor ihm…früher haben wir ihn vielleicht belächelt, aber seit dem Sturm auf das Kapitol muss man als Europäer Angst vor einer weiteren Amtszeit haben….ich hoffe, ich verletzte niemanden mit meiner Einschätzung aber ich weiß, dass es den meisten Menschen hier in Deutschland genauso geht!
Danke für diesen Beitrag und alles Gute Dir, Don!
2 months ago ( translate )

Don Sutherland replied to Tanja - Loughcrew:

Many Americans, myself included, worry immensely about the dangers of Trump's return to the U.S. Presidency. We will do what we can to ensure that he is defeated, but the outcome remains uncertain and fluid.

Another Trump Presidency would be devastating geopolitically. Europe would need to rapidly accelerate its integration to have its best chance at ensuring its security, achieving economies of scale efficiencies in economics and in defense, and dealing with the fallout from an unstable and unreliable U.S. The U.S. would likely see increasingly illiberal acts. Canada and Mexico would have an unstable and perhaps less-than-friendly neighbor capable of inflicting significant economic and social dislocation. Global efforts to address climate change would all but be shattered. Authoritarian states and would-be authoritarian actors would gain significant leverage against free and democratic societies.

Trump's provincial and selfish worldview has no place in a modern, connected cosmopolitan world. His unilateralism is a rejection of the benefits that flow from multilateral collaboration and cooperation. It's the antithesis of what the world needs in the 21st Century.
2 months ago

Schussentäler said:

Deine Worte drücken ganz deutlich aus, in welchem furchterregenden politischen Zustand die Welt ist.
Danke für diesen Beitrag.
2 months ago ( translate )

Don Sutherland said:

You're welcome, Schussentäler. Hopefully, there will be better news from the American political scene, particularly on or after Election Day. There remain vast opportunities to pursue a better, more connected world. Europe is making increasing progress on its end. The United States has become more of a question mark right now.
2 months ago

Pat Del said:

Whatever the results of future US elections, there will be many issues that will need to be resolved by the President.
2 months ago