America’s Lukewarm Relationship With Democracy

in Politics by
   

Over the course of a month, a significant number of Americans, on both sides of the aisle, have openly questioned fundamental aspects of our democratic system. And that should concern you.

This problem flared up in earnest during the presidential debate, after Donald Trump responded to moderator Chris Wallace’s question about the importance of the defeated candidate conceding the election by saying that he would “keep you in suspense, OK?” Well, no, not okay; as Hillary Clinton correctly pointed out, the peaceful transition of power and acceptance of the winner’s legitimacy are crucial to keeping a democracy. However, rather than being turned off this rhetoric, Trump supporters seemed to coalesce behind this concept of “rigged elections.”

Yet following Trump’s surprising victory, the tables suddenly turned. Clinton supporters took to protesting the result, and some students even burned American flags. A petition to have Trump’s Electoral College delegates vote for Clinton garnered over 4 million signatures, claiming the popular vote is all that should matter (similar to saying the Cubs and the Indians each scored 27 runs in the World Series, so the Cubs did not really win.) Many others have called for abolishing the Electoral College altogether, calling it “anti-democratic” and “archaic.” Trump, of course, called for abolishing the Electoral College in 2012 when the system favored President Obama.

For clarification, the Electoral College ensures that a new president will have meaningful support across the country rather than simply running up the score in a few high-population areas, a requirement that is no less necessary today given the significant divisions that still exist across the country. Americans, however, are proving their tendency to support democratic systems when it helps them politically, and oppose democratic systems when it does not.

Another example of this is President Obama’s infamous declaration that he had “a pen and a phone” that he would use to push his agenda on immigration and energy through executive orders that entailed an unprecedented expansion of executive power. Already, some on the left have expressed concern at the powers that Trump will have as president following President Obama’s tenure in office. And the chances that many of the same critics of executive overreach under Obama are silent when it comes from a Trump presidency? Probably high.

The problem lies in the fact that partisanship is both intense and increasing. Many Americans care first and foremost about advancing their party’s interests, and concern for the stability of our democratic republic is only secondary. In thinking this way, they miss the very lessons they should have been learning over this election cycle. Adherence to the Constitution and respect for our democratic traditions are the only things keeping someone from trampling over your rights. No matter how intense our disagreements, or how much we want a policy enacted, there must be enough of a bipartisan majority that criticizes politicians who consider themselves exempt from democracy and Constitutional restraints. The alternative is the abrogation of our republic and Constitutional rights in favor of the tyranny of the majority.

Andrew Wilford is an associate policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He graduated from American University in 2016 and is a Young Voices Advocate.