Is American Democracy Really in Danger?

Many people believe American Democracy is in danger of dying or collapsing.

Headlines warning us about the decline of democracy scream out across the media. For example, Robert Kagan warns of ”Our Constitutional Crisis” in The Washington Post. Kagan writes: “The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.”

Are Kagan’s writings a legitimate warning, or fear-mongering clickbait? My answer to both questions is yes. America faces a crisis of democracy and a Constitutional Crisis, but not the one Kagan describes.

Is Trump a Threat to Democracy?

Like many intellectuals, Kagan views former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) as the problem. Amusingly, Kagan knows Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024.

How? Does he own a time machine or know how to predict the future? If knows the future, why isn’t Kagan making a fortune from the stock market or sports betting?

In reality, Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. That’s far from being the nominee. Remember, Jeb Bush (R-Florida) was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015. I wonder where old Jeb is now?

Conversely, Kagan correctly identifies Trump’s childish stop the steal lies about vote fraud as a threat to democracy. To explain, Trump increases cynicism, distrust of the system, and encourages violence with the lie that elections are a fraud.

Unfortunately, Trump did not start this lie. Instead, Trump takes a process that has been building for the past 20 years to its logical conclusion.

Questioning Elections

To elaborate until 2000, the rule in American politics was “do not question election results. Accept the election results no matter how suspicious you are of them, and move on to the next contest.”

For example, there are allegations that vote fraud drove John F. Kennedy’s (D-Massachusetts) razor-thin victory in the 1960 presidential election. To explain, Kennedy won the popular vote by just 112,000 votes or 0.2% of the electorate of 68 million people. Yet, JFK won the Electoral College by a margin of 303 to 219.

In 1960, there were many allegations of vote fraud. For instance, critics claimed Chicago Mayor and Democratic Political Boss Richard Daley stuffed ballot boxes in Illinois. Similarly, some critics accused JFK’s running mate U.S. Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas) of stuffing ballot boxes in the Lone Star State.

Many Republicans wanted their nominee Vice President Richard M. Nixon (R-California) to challenge the election results. Instead, on 9 November 1960 conceded the election to Kennedy. When he asked why he conceded by journalist Earl Mazo; Nixon reportedly said, “our country cannot afford the agony of a constitutional crisis.”

Mazo even killed a series of articles about voter fraud at Nixon’s request, the Constitution Center reports. The Center describes Mazo as a friend of Nixon’s. However, political operatives and journalists forgot Nixon’s wise example after 2000.

On 7 November 2000, TV networks called the state of Florida for both George W. Bush (R-Texas) and Al Gore (D-Tennessee). Instead, it took several weeks to count the votes which showed Bush won.

Both Democrats and Republicans challenged the results. In 2000, Democrats, like Trump followers today, demanded intensive recounts. Conversely, Republicans, like Democrats today, wanted the election results declared final.

Eventually, the US Supreme Court ended the recounts by declaring Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes and the 2000 presidential election. Sensibly, both Gore and Bush accepted the Supremes’ ruling and moved on.

However, a segment of the Democratic base did not. Instead, the belief that Bush was an illegitimate president put in power by a corrupt Supreme Court became an article of faith.

The dangerous fantasy of stolen elections became part of American politics. Mainstream politicians ignored the nonsense, but it spread on the political fringes. For example, I remember seeing yard signs about voting machines rigging the 2004 election in favor of George W. Bush (R-Texas) in Denver. Hence, Democrats created one popular Republican conspiracy theory, the fixed voting machines mythology.

Russiagate to Stop the Steal

The political mainstream’s attitude toward vote fraud myth changed after the election of 2016, when some Democrats became obsessed with the Russiagate fantasy. Russiagate was that Conspiracy Theory that Russian President Vladimir Putin had somehow fixed the election to help Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) win.

Russiagate gained tremendous credibility because of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Eventually, Mueller’s investigation exposed Russiagate as nonsense, after years of damage.

Russiagate was damaging because there was no evidence behind it. Yet they widely publicized the theory as credible throughout the media.

Worse, not a single major Democratic leader denounced Russiagate, or demanded that the media stop spreading the nonsense. Instead, both media and politicians attracted enormous amounts of attention and money with a fake conspiracy.

The media got away with the Russiagate lies by reporting on “investigations” of potential “election interference.” Now self-styled conservative media use the same tactic.

The journalists at outlets such as OneAmerica or MSNBC, do not allege a stolen election. Instead, they report on an investigation of “voter fraud allegations.”

The difference between Russiagate and Stop the Steal. Is that in Russigate, journalists reported on “reports” supplied by shadowy intelligence experts, such as the infamous Steele Dossier. In Stop the Steal, Republicans hold investigations into fraud allegations for journalists to cover. Thus political operatives are manufacturing “news.”

One person who noticed Russiagate’s success was Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). Since his defeat in 2020, Trump has been publicizing various vote fraud investigations and raising money for his own investigations that never occur.

Hence, Trump uses false vote fraud allegations as a fundraising method. The New York Times alleges Trump and the GOP have raised $175 million with false vote fraud claims and spent none of it on “investigations.” The Times speculates Trump and Republicans are saving the money for future election campaigns.

Thus, the media, Democrats, and Republicans share as much blame as Trump does. Indeed, Trump is only adopting the Democrats’ Russiagate play book and adding the twist of public investigations and recounts.

Worse, Trump showed other politicians that vote fraud lies are an effective fundraising technique. Hence, Trump makes the vote fraud scam mainstream by showing that it pays.  

The True Threat to Democracy

The genuine threat to democracy is not Trump. Instead, the threat is the normalization of questioning elections and false vote fraud allegations.

The danger is that elements of the population will believe the stolen election lies and refuse to accept the winner. The inevitable results of four years of stolen election claims from both sides of the aisle was the 6 January Capitol riot in which crazed Trump supporters tried to stop what they thought was Congress’s illegal certification of President Joe Biden’s (D-Delaware) election.

The danger in 2024 is not a Trump victory. The genuine danger in 2024 is a close election in which large numbers of Americans refuse to accept the results and take action to prevent a person they see as an illegitimate president from taking office.

The greatest danger will be if huge mobs, or elements of the military, refuse to accept the new president. For example, hundreds of thousands of leftists marching on Washington to stop the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). In addition, the Joint Chiefs refuse to mobilize the military, leaving Trump at the mercy of the mob, or leading to open fighting between pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces on the streets of the Capitol.  

The worst nightmare here is Trump seeing the lynch mob coming, jumps in the private jet and flies off to exile in Scotland. America could find itself without a President, or a president chosen by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Deeper Problem

I think the vote-fraud allegations mask a deeper problem. The deeper problem with our system is that the US government no longer represents the will or wishes of the American people.

For example, twice in the past 20 years (2000 and 2016) the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral College vote and the Presidency. In 2000, Gore won the popular vote by 543,895. In 2016, Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) won the popular vote by a margin of 65.854 million to 52.985 million. Yet Trump won a clear Electoral College Victory of 304 to 227.

Disturbingly, Daily Kos estimates that 50 Republican US Senators represented 43.4% of the US population in 2020. In contrast, 50 Democratic US Senators represented 56.5% of the US population.

Hence, under Daily Kos’s calculations, the US Senate, one half of Congress, is not democratic. Consequently, Senate Republicans can take actions most Americans oppose, block legislation most Americans want, and win reelection.

For example, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics estimates 83% of American gun owners support universal background check requirements for purchases. Yet the Senate blocks universal gun control measures to appease an extremist minority of rural gun fanatics.

The real threat is a government that does not represent most Americans – not Trump. Trump is a symptom of the problem. The real problem is an anti-democratic system.

Americans distrust elections because they understand government does not represent them. Such distrust breeds fear, anger, and frustration that Trump and other demagogues can use to disrupt the system, and seize power.

America’s real Constitutional Crisis is a national government that is no longer a democracy. If we cannot address that situation, America faces violence and potential dictatorship.