4 min read

American Democracy Is Committing Suicide

American Democracy Is Committing Suicide

How do democracies die?

“President Biden on Friday delivered his first campaign speech of this election year, attempting to define the 2024 presidential race as a battle for the future of American democracy and portray former president Donald Trump as its chief antagonist.”

This new approach. Is it going to work? Probably not, sadly, as necessary as it is. Why not? For a very simple reason.

We all already know. And…who cares? Not enough Americans do, certainly. Nobody in America can claim not to know what happened over the last few years. Abuse of power, soft coup attempt, hard coup attempt, conspiracy, right down to the imposition of martial law and overturning an election, no less. The world witnessed all that. Many Americans are in denial, true, and yet that’s perhaps entirely the point. Can you really warn a nation embracing Trump about the dangers of…Trumpism? A “warning” tells people to beware of dangers they don’t know of. But can you warn people about what they already full well know…and appear to perversely want? For junkies, the deadlier the warning, the harder the desire. The high is all that counts.

How do democracies die? In America’s case, they commit suicide. We’re watching something surreal, spectacular, incredible, and historic happen. In other words. Democracies die in many ways. Power’s seized, tyrants rise, history offers an endless litany of disaster. Democracies are strangled, suffocated, pulverized. But it’s not often that democracies embrace oblivion, and willfully commit suicide. Yet that’s what’s happening in America.

Trump’s not just open about who he is and what he hopes to do—he flaunts it. Being a dictator become a campaign slogan. Right down to the absolutist rhetoric of elimination, of “vermin” and “invasions” and endless threats against everyone from political opponents to judiciary to journalist and on and on, ad infinitum.

And it’s not even that that’s easy enough to witness. It’s that we were all there for January 6th. The committee hearings afterwards were of course public. We all watched the Capitol be stormed, and before that, we were all there for the manifold abuses of power, from kids in camps to scapegoating, intimidation, and fanatics appointed to high office. The entire world watched this unfold, as did, of course, Americans.

We all know exactly who Trump is, and what he wants. None of this is in the slightest a mystery, in any way veiled, hidden, obscured—if anything, it’s magnified, amplified, broadcasted, and shouted, in the way that all demagogic movements are made.

And yet.

And yet America’s embraced Trump. After all this. Nobody can claim innocence, naïveté, or ignorance now. And that’s what makes this moment so chilling, and so historically rare, too. You see, democracies die, most often, at the hands of demagogues who promise people all sorts of things, to tempt them. But this? This is different. This is the open proclamation of dictatorship, in the literal voice of the demagogue, who’s flaunting authoritarianism. There are no illusions being sold here. There’s no con game left to play. This is as naked as the sunrise.

Think of how ugly and surreal this moment really is, at least if you’re on the side of democracy, as laughably pathetic as that is , for the dwindling number of us who still count ourselves in that corner.

Trump’s support cuts across every single social group in America. Including those who are at risk from demagoguery, hate, and authoritarianism. Trump’s resurged across social groups. To the point that even young people support Trump. Really stop and think about that for a second. There’s scarcely a social group in which Trump’s support hasn’t grown.

Let me say that again, so you get it.

There’s scarcely a social group in which Trump’s support hasn’t grown. What does all this mean? It means that a society is embracing a demagogue as in a) his support cuts across social groups, and that’s after b) his worst abuses of power c) not just despite but because of his authoritarian promise and d) his absolutism and eliminationism.

It beggars belief, but here we are. This is a wholesale, full-throated rejection of democracy.

How do democracies die? In America’s case, they commit suicide. It’s hard to put what’s happening any other way.

By now, Americans should know better. They’ve seen everything from their Capitol stormed, to their symbols desecrated, to their law trampled—again, why recite the list? By now, basically, they’ve seen it all, as far as the authoritarian playbook’s warm-up goes. And they’ve heard it all, too. How much more explicit does it get than “vermin,” really? And yet there they are, not rejecting the figure at whose hands all this took place, and still does—but embracing him.

There’s not much to say beyond that, sadly, though I suppose I should make a weak attempt to keep trying. Let me offer some final observations.

When a democracy is tempted with illusions and lies, perhaps that can be stopped, by pointing out the truth. But what’s happening in America is now very different—in fact, completely the opposite. When a democracy, instead, embraces its own undoing, despite all the evidence, having seen with its own eyes who a demagogue is, and what he’s capable of—when it roars its approval of all that…can anything really stop it?

Biden’s new appeal is all but sure to fall on deaf ears, then. Because Americans, enough of them, at least, have made their choice, already. Democracy? It’s values of equality, justice, truth, freedom? These don’t matter. What more evidence could convince them? To embrace Trump at this point is to say that none of the above really matters, and never did, because of course, if it did, one might care to have reservations, to put it mildly. If Americans don’t care about anything from Jan 6th to the plot to overturn the election…why would they care about Biden’s warnings now? Their decision’s already been made. Their ears and eyes aren’t just closed. They have turned away from democracy.

That’s not “all Americans,” of course. But it is enough of them that if the election were held today, then Trump would win. He wouldn’t have to seize power, even. And in that sense, American democracy is in the rarest and strangest of positions. It isn’t being murdered, or being strangled, or being suffocated, which is how democracies usually. It’s committing suicide, and that, my friends, is an astonishing thing to behold—because that choice is deliberate.

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