University of Memphis

Donald Trump is a Threat to Democracy by Erica Garcia @Memphis University

Trump is a Threat to Democracy

Could Donald Trump be the end of American Democracy? Only time will tell if the elected president’s term in office has in fact weakened the democracy of the United States. However, for analytical purposes one could analyze current and recent events to better understand why democracies backslide. So, for now one must consider the evidence that is presented to us by Donald Trump’s actions and their results.
Donald has been testing the strength of the U.S.’s democratic government since before he was elected president. The author of Under Trump, the United States has joined the sad roster of backsliding democracies, Aziz Huq, states that “shortly after the Trump inauguration, he made the case that US politics displayed troubling echoes of the democratic backsliding other nations have suffered in the past decade”. For example, countries that have received democratic backsliding all have in common the fact that a populist leader swept in and claimed the vote of the majority. Democratic backsliding as seen in other countries is gradual. It tends to begin with the emergence of a populist leader. This is how Trump won office. He rose to power using populist/ undemocratic tactics in order to gain popularity among the majority. As a result, this has led to the current democratic backsliding that the US has experienced with Trump in office.
Donald Trump resorted to non-democratic tactics in order to win the presidential election of 2016. He strategically used populism in order to gain the largest number of voters. I say strategically because populism is known for appealing to the majority. This allowed him to set himself in a position where he made his opponent the ‘other’. Stating claims that he knew what America needed to be great. His slogan being “Make America Great”, suggests that there is a problem and that he knows how to fix. As a result, people voted for Trump because they were tired of nothing being done to fix the problems that affected them. Populism has a negative exclusionary effect that divides and excludes those who are considered to be against the people’s will. This is bad for democracy because a democracy is supposed unite the American people. A democracy requires a pluralistic view in order to find a harmonious way for everyone to coincide with the diverse citizenry found within the country. Therefore, an idea that argues against pluralism and towards a single common goal among the ‘same’ people is a contradiction to democracy. It is a dangerous contradiction “because populists do not just thrive on conflict and encourage polarization; they also treat their political opponents as “enemies of the people” and seek to exclude them altogether” (What Is Populism. 8). It is evident that Trump used these undemocratic tactics to win popularity during the presidential election of 2016. He resorted to name calling and sometimes even threatened his fellow competitors. For example, many are aware of the hostile encounters between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the presidential debates. Donald Trump for example, has referred to Hillary as ‘the devil’. He also referred to Hillary Clinton as ‘crooked Hillary’ when the scandal of her emails came to light. Even though there was an investigation already taking place in regard to the scandal of Hillary’s emails, Donald Trump tried to take matters into his own hands. He handled the whole situation in an un-democratic way because he attempted to intervene by suggesting that she was guilty in order to help him gain the results he wanted. These results include putting Hillary in a less favorable position among voters and putting her in jail. He suggested doing so regardless of the work that was already being done by the FBI. He very clearly attempted to be above the law by quit literally pointing the finger towards Hillary. When the FBI was unsuccessful in finding Hillary guilty, Trump claimed the system was rigged. He called into question the democratic process of the criminal justice system, by stating that ‘Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it. The FBI knows it.’ He did not stop there, he went on by stating that Hillary was ‘being protected by a rigged system’. However, he must have not considered the 14th amendment which reads, ‘everyone is innocent unless proven guilty’. So, by suggesting that she be put in jail, he was avoiding the democratic standards established in the US constitution that have a long played a role in the United States democracy.
Donald Trump repeatedly used undemocratic tactics to rise above his opponents during the presidential election. For example, he used populism to help him secure the presidency. He also put into question the democratic way of conducting an investigation by disregarding the 14th amendment. He further questioned the current efficiency of the government by stating that Hillary was benefiting from a rigged system.


Muller, Jan-Werner.What Is Populism? Penguin Books, 2017.


1 Comment

  1. Willie Wells

    April 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Erica
    You did an excellent job on your blog post. Your lead-in question is very relevant to the times in which we live. Your post is very informative and definitive as it relates to Populism and the attributes of a Populist leader.
    Your post reminded me of the Central American, quintessential populist, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I was reminded of how he would conduct those outside public meetings with the populace and berate his cabinet level appointees in the presence of everyone, including the news media. Your post illustrates in grand fashion how President Trump’s leadership tactics mimics those of a populist leader. Thanks for pointing out that Trump’s treatment of his opponents in the Republican Presidential Primaries and his unethical and unscrupulous treatment of Hillary in the Presidential debates demonstrated an excellent example of a populist who thinks that he alone is right and everyone else is either wrong, guilty or crooked. You pointed out that his populist tactics are ” undemocratic”. I would certainly agree with your assessment of his tactics. Do you think that Trump went beyond the 1st amendment rights of guaranteeing and protecting free speech when he lambasted the FBI investigation and called the voting processes rigged? That certainly was another classic populist tactic of attempting to prove that everybody is wrong but him. So far, his tactics have not been challenged in a court of law nor has he been found guilty of committing any crime. As a response to your lead-in question, “is our democracy in danger?”, I will leave you with this quote by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, “American democracy is not in any imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency. It is less clear, however, how democracy would fare in a crisis. In the event of a war, a major terrorist attack or large – scale riots or protest – all of which are entirely possible – a president with authoritarian tendencies and institutions that have come unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy”.

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