How Much of a Threat to Democracy is Donald Trump?

Alan Zendell, January 22, 2022

2021 was a torturous exercise in having to be patient at a time when our national identity crisis appeared to require immediate action. Anyone who understands how our Constitution structured our government knows that momentous decisions take time. Leaving out scenarios like responding to an attack from another country, knee jerk responses during crises are almost always a mistake.

Throughout the year, we witnessed ever-growing threats to our democracy. Former President Trump spent it promulgating his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen and rife with fraud, despite the fact that every audit and investigation, even by members of his own party found no evidence of problems that might have affected the outcome. He has done everything possible to undermine the nation’s confidence in his successor and threatened every Republican in Congress with brutal retaliation during this year’s primaries if they do not oppose every initiative by the Biden administration.

At the same time, Republican-controlled legislatures passed more than thirty state laws that use every imaginable tactic to suppress the votes of traditionally Democrat-leaning populations, specifically those dominated by nonwhite voters. The double-barreled opposition to two new federal voting rights bills, from both Trump loyalists and traditional Republicans seduced by the dream of holding on to power indefinitely, is a bald-faced ploy to give those states time to complete their redistricting based on the 2020 census, which we have already seen elevates partisan gerrymandering to unprecedented levels.

A third issue that may eventually be the deciding factor in the future of our democracy is the composition of the Supreme Court. Trump’s three appointments, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, established a 6-3 Conservative majority that, based on the ages of the new Justices, is likely last for decades. Trump has openly demanded loyalty from them, hoping to compromise the integrity of the Court and coerce them to support his activities. But predicting how Justices will rule is problematic. Chief Justice John Roberts is a perfect example. His extremely conservative past views convinced observers that Roberts would be a right-wing hardliner, yet he has subjugated his ideology in favor of common-sense rulings that were in the best interests of most Americans. Might that be true for the three new conservatives as well?

All three describe themselves as originalists who believe in a literal reading of the Constitution and the Founders’ intentions. If they were to approve state laws clearly designed to subvert the Constitution’s guarantees of universal suffrage and cave in to Trump’s attempts at insurrection, it might well spell the end of what Americans hold most dear. We must ask: just how much of a threat to democracy does the former president pose?

The Court’s performance so far has been interesting. It permitted Texas and Mississippi to ignore fifty years of legal precedent and make abortion nearly impossible for many of their citizens. It acted twice to overturn President Biden’s mask mandates, first, as it applied to large corporations, and second to federal employees, though the latter decision may not be final. But on the key issue of loyalty to Trump, they did what most legal scholars hoped they would. They threw out his request to block transfer of working papers and White House communications concerning the January 6th insurrection from National Archives to the Special House Committee. Knowing in advance, from the testimony of several witnesses that those materials would likely be very damaging to Trump, they allowed their release, demonstrating that there are clear lines they won’t cross to support him.

That will enable the House Committee to tighten the noose around Trump’s involvement in the insurrection. The fact that the committee has asked Ivanka Trump to testify tells us they are very close to determining whether to recommend criminal prosecution of the former president by the Justice Department. Fulton County, Georgia prosecutors have convened a grand jury to investigate whether Trump violated state and federal laws when he attempted to pressure Georgia election officials to “find” him 11,800 votes. The New York Attorney General and the Manhattan District Attorney are nearing the end of long civil and criminal investigations into fraud and racketeering activities of the Trump family and their business.

How much of a threat is Donald Trump to our democracy? Surely not the threat he wants us to believe he is, and not nearly as dangerous as the hype on social and traditional news media make it seem in their competition for relevance. Our system is finally beginning to show its resiliency. As momentum builds, we’ll see rapid progress. As more indictments are handed down, and Trump’s attorneys continue to be dissed by judges and courts, as Trump himself appears in greater danger of being charged, his influence will wane quickly.

Trump’s most rabid supporters, racists, white supremacists, hatemongers, and ignorant people who are easily led by the nose will continue to support him. But there aren’t enough of them to subvert the nation or the Constitution. The people who will make the critical difference are those who voted for Trump for any number of other reasons, who since awakened to his true nature. They won’t turn into Progressives, but they will act to preserve our nation.

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