OP-ED: Saving Democracy

Published 12:18 am Monday, September 28, 2020

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Mel Gurtov

Friends call it “impotent rage.” I share it. How is it possible that the president of a democratic country can get away with announcing, well in advance of an election, that he will not accept defeat at the polls, will not promise a “peaceful transfer of power,” and will throw the election to the Supreme Court, which he has stacked with supporters?

We learn from early childhood that our country is held together by common acceptance of certain norms and rules, among them that elections follow a constitutional process to determine winners and losers, who agree to abide by the results and a nonpartisan decision if the results are challenged. Never could we have imagined that this and other foundations of a democracy could be so easily undermined by a leader with dictatorial ambitions.

Let’s be clear: Trump’s aim is to make November 3 irrelevant. He knows he is going to lose the popular and electoral college vote, and so he has declared the results invalid beforehand.

Discussion of national issues is sidelined; his continued rule is all that matters. That’s exactly how dictators behave.

Trump seems to have identified the Achilles heel of our democracy: We don’t have an agreed-upon way to respond, forcefully and convincingly, to such open defiance of the rules—no court that will condemn it, no military that will intervene, no bipartisan panel that will demand his resignation.

So I ask: Where is the outrage? Democracy matters, and Donald Trump has openly dismissed it. Why is he not the object of massive demonstrations outside the White House and in every city right now? Why does the media treat his treacherous defiance of the rules and criminal behavior as newsworthy—and nothing more?

Folks, we are witnessing the theft of an election in broad daylight, engineered by Republican flunkies in state legislatures, right-wing election “monitors,” Trump-appointed judges, soldiers and police under control of the attorney general, and Trump loyalists in the electoral college. Who is going to stop them?

The responses I’ve seen and heard so far are hardly encouraging: talking heads worrying, Democratic senators criticizing, former national security officials writing open letters, newspapers publishing editorials.

Where’s the action plan? How much more threatening does Trump have to be?

The only path that makes sense to me is mass resistance. “Mass resistance to coups wins by using walk-outs and strikes, refusing orders and shutting down civil society until the rightful democratically-elected leader is installed. For mass movements to succeed against coups, they should refuse to do violence to the other side.” Even then, why wait for a coup to happen when it is already underway?

 Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.