Boston University Rollins College

Overreaction to Trump Has Distracted From The Real Issues by Sam Hanna; A Response to ‘Trump’s Southern Wall is Eroding America’s Democracy’ by Megan Kalili

On the thirteenth of February, 2019, Megan Kalili of Boston University published, “Trump’s Southern Wall Is Eroding America’s Democracy,” (http://democratic-erosion.com/2019/02/13/trumps-southern-wall-is-eroding-americas-democracy-by-megan-kalili/).  In her post, she identifies United States President Donald Trump as a prominent reason for democratic backsliding in the United States of America.

Kalili presents Trump’s nationalist policies as examples of populism, and even fascism.  She also asserts that a significant portion of the supporters for Trump’s southern border wall are motivated by xenophobia and white-nationalism.  These claims, however, are largely unsupported speculation.  Firstly, the idea of nationalism is not married to populism or fascism.  A love for one’s country, and the esteeming of it over all others is a very desirable quality — more affectionately known as patriotism.  Is the leader of a country not expected to put his own country first?  The United States, currently $21.974 trillion in debt (according to CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/03/politics/trump-us-national-debt/index.html), is hardly in a position to be handing out favors to the rest of the world.  Patriotic policies are to be expected from a leader, and should not be considered a source of democratic erosion.  Secondly, although the media reports many examples of racist Trump supporters, one should not become caught up on these stories and assume that they represent a norm. The vast majority of perfectly reasonable voters in the US simply do not get media coverage because they don’t draw attention to themselves, and one would not expect to see a CNN headline highlighting a group of perfectly normal individuals who support Trump. There is no reason to assume that supporters of a southern border wall are motivated by anything even remotely immoral, not to mention racism.  The desire to have a secure border is as rational as the desire to have a secure place of residence; furthermore, it isn’t as much about keeping people out as it is about knowing who is coming in.  Just as, I suspect, the reader of this post would not allow any and all persons free, unrestricted access to their place of dwelling (and would want a secure boundary so that individuals with malicious intent could not sneak their way in), many of Trump’s supporters (from Arizona, Texas, Florida, etc.) feel unsafe with the current state of the southern border.  One need only look to the tragic death of Kate Steinle to understand the discomfort — “that could have been my daughter, that could have been me!”  The Center for Immigration studies also reports that “21% of those convicted of non-immigration crimes were non-citizens,” (https://cis.org/Camarota/NonCitizens-Committed-Disproportionate-Share-Federal-Crimes-201116).  (It is worth noting that the simple act of crossing the border without permission is, in fact, a crime, and a blatant disregard and disrespect for the law.)  Of course, statistics rarely tell the whole story, and the figures regarding the southern border situation are often distorted or manipulated on both sides of the issue.  However, it must be understood that there is a tremendous and significant difference between hating immigrants and wanting to keep tabs on who is entering and exiting one’s country.  The desire for a southern boundary should not be painted as anti-immigrant or anti-foreigner, and Trump’s desire to construct a southern border wall is not the least bit threatening to the democracy of the United States.

Trump is accused by Kalili of being a direct threat to the democracy of the United States, because he exhibits populist tendencies.  While the democratic republic of the United States is, indeed, undergoing a difficult shakeup, Donald J. Trump is far from the epicenter.  Moreover, the concerns that Trump’s exhibition of so-called “populism” threatens the democracy he currently leads are wildly overblown.  Call it what you want, but Donald Trump plainly exhibits characteristics of a good politician.  Hillary Clinton tried to rally support by painting Trump as an oppressor of women, and his supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”  Similarly, Trump rallied support by exposing vast corruption within the government and the press (tremendous threats to democracy), belaboring the ways in which the US was being economically mistreated by other countries, and adopting an attitude of patriotism and putting America first.  Trump’s pungent and boisterous manner has offended many, and his lack of humility sometimes triggers embarrassment; he is far from a moral role-model and is often flat-out wrong about things.  However, critics’ festering aversion to the mannerisms of the president and the endless pouting from those who will not accept the results of the 2016 election have grown way out of proportion and caused a miscalculation — the forest has been overlooked for the trees. The negative aspects of Trump’s presidency are not the causes of democratic erosion, but symptoms!

The actions of the current president have received an unprecedented amount of negative criticism, and it is out of control. There are reporters whose jobs, at this point, consist solely of picking apart his latest action (whether it be declaring a national emergency or ordering an extra scoop of ice cream at dinner when nobody else thought to do so). Not only does this unnecessary amount of negative press divide our nation, eroding its democracy further by promoting disunity, but it also misses the point entirely. The reason politicians of late have exhibited qualities labeled “populist” is because the electorate they are campaigning for the votes of is more divided than it has ever been. Deep moral issues now divide the populace — issues on which compromise is not an option. One side holds the view that killing babies (or “fetuses”) is an acceptable practice, and the other considers the idea unthinkable. One side believes that surrendering the Second Amendment and allowing only the government and those rich enough to hire private security to have access to “military grade” weapons are necessary to stop mass shootings, while the other believes that further infringement on the Second Amendment will lead to genocide and spell the death of democracy for future generations of Americans. There are no compromises on such deep and moral issues, and it is this lack of compromise that has been sand in the gears of the US democracy. Trump is not a destroyer of democracy, but the operator of a wounded machine that is running too hot, with too much friction in its workings and between its parts.

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