Editorial: A sustained assault on democracy
In the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, there were widely circulated rumours of a dossier of compromising material on him. Such rumours were neither here nor there, one would have thought. Considering what the US public already knew about Mr Trump when they elected him, it was hard to imagine what a dossier that would actually discredit him could possibly look like.
This was why, going into this November’s US election, there were no grounds to be confident that he would fail to win a second term. Any argument along the lines: ‘They couldn’t possibly re-elect someone who did that,’ seemed much the same as saying they couldn’t have elected him in 2016; and they had.
Many of Mr Trump’s supporters argued that his private life was irrelevant (though it positively appealed to many others). And perhaps they had a point, up to a point. Who should lead a powerful country is an important and complex question, and the integrity of each candidate’s private life may matter, but it is far from the most important factor.
Controversy has surrounded the Trump administration’s policies too, from the unfriendly but ineffectual wall-building programme to the separation and penning of undocumented migrant families. Again, these do not seem enough to make Mr Trump an unprecedentedly bad president, considering the record of his recent predecessors over Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition.
The reason that I bid Mr Trump an unqualified good riddance is that his presidency has been a sustained assault on democracy. The attacks on the free media as liars and enemies. The undermining of independent judiciary. The blatantly false statements – and the outraged accusations of fabrication against those who correct them. Mr Trump’s personal contempt for the dignity of his office. The erosion of all the unlegislated understandings on which the political system depends. And lately the misrepresentation of the result of an election and the attempt to overturn it.
The Bible calls government that gains unrestrained power over its people ‘the beast’, and condemns it to hell. It is the responsibility of every generation to engage with its governments, to hold them to account and to stand against their worst impulses, to strengthen what is healthy and try to heal what is sick. Mr Trump’s administration was not an aberration but the symptom of a problem that is only worsening: a profoundly divided society, in the UK as well as the US, whose citizens are ferociously committed to vastly different values. The most helpful thing in such circumstances, it seems to me, is not having dirt on our enemies but being able to communicate with them.
This article was published in the December 2020 / January 2021 edition of Reform