Updated: Oct 16, 2021
Former President Trump is commonly known for his outlandish rhetoric and shameless offenses, but few of his actions are more damaging to the future of America than the anti-democratic precedent he set. Trump hardly fits the description of a participative leader. Over his tenure in office, he went to extreme lengths to maintain his power and encourage division within the country. His words revealed his disrespect for democracy and the American people.
Although the former president did eventually concede, agreeing to an “an orderly transfer on January 20th,” he weaponized social media for weeks to convince supporters that the results of the election which indicated his loss were fraudulent. While he released the public information of his self-proclaimed “orderly transition,” he maintained that “I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out.” In doing so, he refused to fully acknowledge that the results were just, effectively leaving ardent supporters with doubt. Such refusal to accept results of an election is fertile ground for baseless protests.
In addition to spreading subversive rumors over the media, Trump has acted in highly polarizing ways, passing legislation that excludes populations solely because of their race or religion. The country has witnessed Trump’s endorsement of such conditions on multiple occasions. On January 27th, 2017, for instance, he signed an executive order implementing a travel ban from 7 predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern countries. The 2018 Politics and Presidential Greatness Survey studied responses of both Republican and Democratic experts to gauge how polarizing all American presidents were. Unsurprisingly, President Trump was the agreed-upon single most polarizing United States president.
Trump revealed his disrespect for democracy when he refused to comply with the transfer of power after Biden’s election. Trump, when asked if he would commit to “a peaceful transfer of power”—what seems like a question with a clear answer—did not say yes. Rather, he answered with a chilling “Well, we’ll have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster.” In one sentence, Trump spread fear and delegitimized mail-in-voting. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. The ballots are a disaster … Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a peaceful … there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation,” he said.
While it was unclear what he meant by “the ballots,” it is to be presumed that he was referring to the mail-in ballots that played a pivotal role in getting tens of thousands of citizens a chance to vote safely. Trump is well aware that many who benefitted from the mail-in voting system voted for President Biden. It is likely that he created a mental link between those who do not support him and adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols. The concept of mail-in voting has increased the range of accessibility to voting rights to thousands of Americans that would have otherwise not had a voice. Mail-in voting is a fundamentally democratic concept because it increases the scope for voices to be heard in domestic affairs. Thus, hindering it is naturally anti-democratic.
After Trump lost the election, he prompted his supporters to violently protest the results in a call to “fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” In Washington D.C., University of Washington professor and one of the lead researchers of the Election Integrity Partnership, Kate Starburn, describes “anti-democratic actions” as “pre-delegitimizing” the voting system in place.
To demonstrate to the American people that such behavior is inappropriate, more extreme action must be taken in response to his anti-democratic rhetoric. Talk of invoking the 25th Amendment circulated Congress before Biden’s inauguration. After Georgian Senate Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff beat Republican incumbents, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Trump was impeached a second time in his term.
President Trump has behaved in ways that no other U.S. president has. The country has survived two world wars and major economic depression, while upholding the standards of democracy, including the peaceful transition of power. Trump has falsified elections, spread lies, and encouraged protests in his favor. The only thing the nation can do to reverse his dangerous precedent is to ban him from public office. Even symbolically, it is crucial that the American people understand that his behavior is not a new norm but a deviation from the norm.