Whether or not President Trump wins reelection in November, those of us who call ourselves Spirited Reasoners can thank him for teaching us a few lessons.
Here’s a sampling:
Our republican democracy is far more fragile than we thought. As children, we learned about the prudence of our Founding Fathers. They feared, among all other things, the agglomeration of power in the hands of a single monarch. To prevent that from happening, our Constitution provided a number of mechanisms we learned to call “checks and balances.” For example, we learned that our government had been divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. If one branch was given slightly more power than the others, it was the legislative branch. Thus, it was itself divided into two branches: the Senate and House of Representatives.
What no one expected at the time of our nation’s founding is that a corrupt presidential candidate could gain access to the confidential campaign plans of his or her opponent via the assistance of a foreign power. That same person could use the power of that nation’s intelligence apparatus not only to disseminate propaganda during the election, but, once elected, to subvert and punish anyone courageous enough to speak out against it.
Nearly half our fellow citizens are just fine with overt racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and cruel remarks aimed at those suffering from disabilities. There was a time when a person campaigning for president would be instantly disqualified from the campaign trail by making even one of the remarks we hear weekly from the mouth (or Twitter account) of our president. Now, to the horror and disbelief of Spirited Reasoners, such remarks are not only tolerated, they draw cheers from passionate crowds. Who would have believed so much hatred was hiding in among our friends and family just below the surface?
Powerful people of courage and principle do, indeed, still exist, but they are fewer and farther between than ever before. During the Watergate Hearings, it was impressive to watch a handful of senators from President Nixon’s own party demanding answers. Names like Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, and even Barry Goldwater come to mind. In fact, it was a delegation led by Goldwater who finally convinced President Nixon it was time to resign. During the Trump impeachment hearings, the number of Senators possessing the courage and principle to vote against the president could be counted on one finger: Mitt Romney.
Our entire presidential electoral system stinks from top to bottom. Donald Trump was elected not by a majority of American voters, but by a majority of votes in the Electoral College. In those swing states he carried by razor thin margins, he received not a razor thin majority of the electoral votes, but rather 100% in each of those states. Fast forward to the year 2020, and we are witnessing the insanity of opposition Democrats being forced to campaign first here (Iowa), then there (New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina), all the while raising a gazillion dollars for advertising in Super Tuesday states. There are regional solutions to these problems—perhaps a schedule of four to eight regional primaries that rotates every four years—but no one appears to be doing anything to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, the lessons described above might not mean a whole lot if President Trump maintains his grip on power for another four years. He is currently one small step away from securing all the powers of an absolute monarch: the willingness of our military leaders to dismantle the legislative and judicial branches. Spirited Reasoners still have enough faith in those generals to refuse a direct order from the Commander-in-Chief that would endanger our constitutional system in that manner. But when one sees administration official after administration official sacked for their unwillingness to bow the knee to Trump’s unreasonable demands, one worries how long it will take before he finds just the right combination of generals willing to round up any member of the Democratic Party, mainstream media reporters, honest judges, and any other patriots whom Trump chooses to label as “traitors to our great nation.” America experienced a hint of this during the McCarthy Era of the early 1950s. Much worse could happen if we dare to allow it.