Opinion: Democracy in Shambles

Mackenzie Evans , Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: Part I of this article was written before the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Part II was written in response to the violent events of that day.

Part I

Democracy, according to thefreedictionary.com, is “[a] form of government in which power is held by the people or exercised on their behalf by elected representatives.” It is clear that the state of democracy is not what it used to be. Specifically, within the last few years, we have seen a major shift in the political dynamics of not only our country but the world as a whole.

The most prominent example is the soon-to-be-outgoing U.S. president, Donald Trump. He has lived up to the definition of “power. . . exercised. . . by elected representatives,” but it can be strongly argued that he has used too much power for too long. A man who went from reality television personality to 45th president of the United States has now led the country into chaos. You might be thinking to yourself, “How can a person who once started as a television star create such a mass political following?” And to that I say: Twitter. The use of technology to sway a person’s beliefs has been one of the most persuasive tactics of the 21st century. Trump has demonstrated this, tweet after tweet, follower after follower.

Not only has Trump’s following subscribed completely to his use of social media, it has embraced his political ideals as well. All across the United States, there are people who have heard what Trump has said, and despite his sexist, racist, homophobic, and other remarks, many people still feel that he can “make America great again.” There is more hatred than love in the United States going on at this moment. From the debate over Black Lives Matter, which shouldn’t be a debate to begin with, all the way to LQBTQ+  rights (which, again, shouldn’t have to be up for discussion but still manage to be in 2020), Trump has reshaped the political discourse. The man has, at times, attacked almost everyone except himself. Portraying himself as “never to blame, never at fault” is extremely damaging to our country and makes the United States look like it is in shambles.

Of course, the United States is not physically in shambles. We are still a leading power economically, which many Trump supporters deem as the most important reason why Trump is a great president. But in the sense of morals, it sometimes seems that we can go no further in the wrong direction. Democracy is all about valuing people, and arguably the people have been overlooked for many years. Morally, that is wrong. It makes our democracy weaker. A strong democratic state should value the participation and input of all its citizens, and that has not been the case. Granted, Trump has valued Republican citizens’ participation, at least in terms of his admiration of large rallies and determination to carry on through the pandemic, but that is not enough.

Speaking of the national pandemic, it is a safe bet to say that a stronger democracy would not allow countless lives be lost to a virus that could be better controlled if people just wore a mask. Is it a coincidence that some of Trump’s followers don’t believe in the reality of COVID-19, and the nation is now seen as having a weak public health response? I believe that there is a direct relationship. First off, wearing a mask should not be a political debate. The virus itself should not be a political debate, and yet Trump has successfully managed to convince one too many people that it is somehow up for discussion. People’s lives are at stake, and at one point Trump suggested that they inject bleach, which of course could have deadly consequences. Whether that was sarcasm or not, a president should not toy around with potentially harmful words, which, once again, is something that a strong democracy would not even contemplate doing.

Given these developments and many others during Trump’s presidency, I think that I can fairly say that we’re not living in a strong democracy. We might be on the brink of no democracy at all.

Part II

The state of democracy is not where it should be in the United States. It has not even reached the bare minimum in recent years; exceeding our expectations of what a democracy should look like sounds like a fairytale at this point. After all, I’m writing after the events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021.

The situation is getting worse with every passing day. Trump’s first term is almost up, and at this point the conditions of the United States are worse than when he started. It has gotten so bad that processes like invoking the 25th Amendment have stirred up some discussion, even within his own party. The 25th Amendment states that if the president becomes unable or unfit to fulfill the duties of the presidency, the vice-president, in combination with a majority of the Cabinet, can step up and replace the president. Whether Mr. Trump was ever fit for office is probably something that people have decided for themselves, but these past few days, there is actual discussion about whether he is psychologically capable of carrying out the rest of his term (about 9 days). To understand why, we have to look at the events of last Wednesday.

Earlier that morning, Trump delivered a speech at the White House, which may have provoked his followers to raid the Capitol building shortly thereafter. Trump said, “We are going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness; you have to show strength and you have to be strong.” Right after delivering that speech, his followers stormed down to the Capitol building and did just as he said: they showed their strength, mostly in numbers. This is where the 25th Amendment comes into play. How can a president openly tell his followers to do such a thing when he knows that many of them might take it literally?

Beyond that, this event was not a simple protest. It quickly turned from a non-masked crowd holding “Make America Great Again” flags into a full-blown terrorist attack that breached the Capitol. Now you might be thinking, how can this be considered an act of terrorism? Well, Oxford Dictionary defines terrorism as “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” It is undeniable that the violence at the Capitol had a clear purpose: to call the validity of votes into question and sway Congress’ decision to certify the election results. The perpetrators thought that if enough of them swarmed the Capitol, their numbers would lead to intimidation and a change in the history of the election. Once a person realizes this, it is not difficult to say that an act of terrorism occurred.

Furthermore, the rioters took steps above and beyond entering the Capitol. They damaged and stole anything that they could, including but not limited to podiums, laptops, and private information in the possession of government officials. It was also not a quiet entrance, considering the fact that windows were broken in the process. Then there was what these people actually did once they reached the offices of members of Congress. They smiled, sat in office chairs with their feet on the desks, and took selfies. I can only wonder what they were thinking about at that moment. Were they reflecting on their “accomplishments”? They seemed proud of the terror that they caused, but did they think that it was enough to change the election results? There are more answers than questions at this point.

I’m worried that there didn’t seem to be any feelings of sorrow or remorse among the perpetrators. The absence of any such feelings shows just how far democracy has fallen in the United States. It was truly a sad day for people all across America and made us look like a joke to other countries. What little respect we still commanded has shriveled away. The nation’s political future seems in doubt. One can only hope that things are corrected as soon as possible, but it will take time for anything to be done. Donald Trump leaving office would be an effective start. Still, fixing our democracy won’t happen overnight.