One silver lining of Donald Trump’s recent election to the U.S. presidency is that it has united many Democrats and Republicans around a common goal: preserving and defending American democracy for future generations.
President Trump’s gestures toward anti-democratic populism have been well documented by liberals and conservatives alike (see here, here, and here, e.g.). In response, many groups have recently formed with the non-partisan goal of educating the public about the importance of liberal democratic norms, traditions, and institutions as well as making a plea to defend them wherever possible.
Perhaps the most prominent example is “Stand Up Republic,” a group recently formed by former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin and running mate Mindy Finn. At present the two are most publicly active through their Twitter and Facebook accounts, where they regularly identify the ways in which the Trump administration is weakening liberal democratic norms but especially aligning with anti-democratic authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin. This is especially notable given that the two are conservative Republicans who ran for president specifically to repudiate Donald Trump’s claim to the “conservative” brand and to provide an alternative for principled Republicans.
On the other side of the aisle, the “United to Protect Democracy” group was recently organized by lawyers from the Obama Administration. According to their website, their goal is to: “monitor, investigate, report on, organize and litigate against any action taken by the Executive Branch that could erode the rules, practices and freedoms that underpin our ability as a self-governing people to hold our leaders accountable.” They have already begun submitting Freedom of Information requests on ethics violations of the Trump Administration and hope to quickly expand their operating budget and staff.
In contrast to these two more elite-focused organizations, “Democracy Unite” is a grassroots citizen group seeking to build a movement of volunteers and organizers who, according to co-founder Peter Beaupre, can help “bend the nature of the dialogue in a way that returns us to values of democratic norms, institutions, and the Constitution.” I spoke with Beaupre recently and he shared his vision for the group that he recently started with co-founder Greg Christiana.
As Beaupre sees it, the election of an anti-democratic charismatic leader like Donald Trump was enabled in large measure by the slow but constant breakdown of communication between liberals and conservatives in the public over the last several decades. “When you lose the ability to respectfully debate and compromise, you get a strongman,” he said. His solution? “If patriots on both sides of the aisle could agree and find common ground on the pillars of democracy, institutions, and norms, we would be able to unite to resist authoritarianism and remove those elements from our government.”
To that end, Democracy Unite’s website provides resources, largely produced by the group’s volunteer leadership team, that provide a concise and no-jargon explanation of the difference between liberal and illiberal/authoritarian democracy. The website also features a catalog of the “The Three Pillars of Democracy: Constitution, Institutions, and Norms” which documents specific instances of actions that the Trump Administration has taken that threaten each of these norms. Perhaps most useful is a 14-page manifesto outlining the organization’s motivations, goals, and specific actions that can be taken for those who want to join the cause.
Beaupre said that the group’s immediate goal is the formation of local chapters around the country that foster conversations between Democrats and Republicans. If people from opposite ends of the spectrum start talking to each other again they may more easily be able to identify and remind each other of the common commitment that they share to the foundations of our liberal democratic form of government as well as a mutual interest in strengthening and defending those institutions. Not only is this an excellent reminder for all engaged citizens, but it also happens to be supported by political science research that shows that sincere, respectful one-on-one conversations are effective at changing hearts and minds as well as increasing tolerance and mutual respect for those we disagree with.
Those worried about the anti-democratic gestures routinely being given by President Trump often ask themselves: “what can I do?” Supporting bipartisan and nonpartisan organizations like these would be a good place to start.
Stand Up Republic: sign up for email updates and donate at standuprepublic.com.
United to Protect Democracy: sign up for email updates and donate at unitedtoprotectdemocracy.org.
Democracy Unite: sign up for email updates, volunteer to help build the organization, or start a local political dialogue chapter at www.democracyunite.com.