Living in Philadelphia, only blocks from Independence Hall, reminds me of Americans’ astonishing good luck in our founding fathers, and in the institutions they devised. My awareness is magnified by travel to countries where people struggle for a fraction of the rights we take for granted.
So is it really possible that we’re en route to squandering this unique heritage? Could a majority of voters possibly choose a man who demeans our constitutional system in language that sounds as if it came from the Kremlin?
Can a man who encourages racism, sexism, and religious intolerance (including anti-Semitism) become the president of the world’s foremost democracy?
I still believe that our institutions are stronger than they seem at the moment – and that Donald Trump will be defeated. Hillary Clinton’s email problems are small beer compared with the risk Trump presents to our republic and to our security. (And FBI Director James Comey’s latest cryptic statement about newly discovered emails, coming only days before the election, smells of partisan politics.)
But Americans will have to reckon with the damage Trump has done no matter who wins.
The threat to our system is more obvious if Trump is victorious.
His version of democracy – his threats to pursue judges and media he dislikes and to jail Clinton if he wins – is more in tune with Vladimir Putin than Thomas Jefferson.
Trump constantly praises the Kremlin czar as a “strong leader.”
Envying Putin’s power to act without limits, the Donald says he sees no need to consult anyone but himself on foreign policy, because he knows best about everything – including nukes.
What is the Putinesque style of leadership that Trump so admires? The Russian leader runs a system described as “managed democracy.” This means the president ignores a tamed parliament, strong-arms the judiciary, jails opponents, and silences any critical press. Trump has taken note.
Example: You sense the Donald’s instincts toward critical media when he urges fans to attack them, or proposes unconstitutional libel laws to bankrupt them. Or when his social-media adviser threatens Fox News’ Megyn Kelly for her slapdown of Newt Gingrich’s disgusting sexist remarks to her on air.
Mercifully, the Donald would not have the full powers of a Putin. True, he has pledged to bring lawsuits against judges and newspapers, but the courts would no doubt dismiss them as unconstitutional.
That is, until the Donald manages to pack the Supreme Court.
Moreover, Trump’s vindictiveness toward opponents will further damage a political system already corroded by ugly partisanship.
No student of history, Trump seems unaware of the tough political compromises that our founding founders had to make to reach consensus on the Constitution. He says he’s not a reader, so he’s probably never perused Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia (or similar academic studies), which describes this so well.
Those grand bargains in Philly foretold the kind of political deals still needed to make our government function. But the kind of compromises that produced our founding document would be anathema to Trump’s GOP.
When the Donald was asked by biographer Michael D’Antonio whether he examined history to better understand the present, his lack of interest was evident. “I don’t like talking about the past,” he said. “It’s all about the present and the future.” With apologies to George Santayana, those who ignore the past will doom our nation to disaster.
A Clinton win would, at least, check the direct Trump threat to democracy. But it won’t halt the political maelstrom his campaign has already unleashed.
Clinton understands the miracle in Philadelphia. She wants to reach out to supporters of Trump who are legitimately upset by the economic changes wreaked by technology and the globalization of trade.
She has also pledged to consult GOP legislators to try to end the gridlock that has paralyzed the government. Given her reputation in the Senate, she is likely to be much better at such bipartisan efforts than was President Obama.
Yet Trump (echoed by Tea Party Republicans) has vehemently rejected bipartisan outreach.
Contrary to any candidate in memory, the Donald attacks the credibility of our election system, insisting, without evidence, that it is rigged against him. If he loses, he will no doubt urge his followers to reject the results.
A possible Trump TV network, alongside alt-right pro-Trump social media, will whip up protests against a Clinton presidency and call for her impeachment.
And Trump’s hint to Second Amendment fanatics to take out Clinton invites an assassination attempt.
Equally shameful, GOP stalwarts are already pledging to continue paralyzing Congress if Clinton is elected. Sen. John McCain (whom Trump viciously insulted) has vowed that Republicans will block any Supreme Court nomination made by a President Clinton.
That would mean four more years of an eight-justice court, effectively destroying our constitutional system of checks and balances. A frozen system will spark more discontent, which Trump followers will blame on Clinton and their ethnic enemies.
If Trump loses, the entire Congress should be required to take a field trip to Independence Hall to remind it of the compromises on which our country was based, with a special mandatory session for Tea Party diehards. I know I’m dreaming. Yet, unless the Trumpsters learn to respect America’s history and its founders, they will take our democracy down.