The Trump White House is in crisis, and the current state of the executive branch is unsustainable. A corrosive mix of hubris, ignorance and corruption, the president is a pathological liar and a walking conflict of interests. Trump mocks the presidency and undermines its integrity. As he eschews the rule of law and flaunts his disdain for tradition and proper procedures, his white supremacist advisers channel hate into public policy and dismantle the government.
With the apparent implosion of the administration underway--amid reports that the president and numerous advisers have ties to Russian officials-- Donald Trump will eventually leave office, whether through impeachment, criminal conviction or other means. Americans should ensure their political system does not produce future presidents like him, as we cannot afford another such threat to democratic governance. If the nation hopes to prevent this from happening again, it must learn from the flaws in our political systems and the shortcomings in our civic life.
However shocking to the conscience his conduct in office, Trump is uniquely American and required decades to create. His success speaks to years of white identity and race card politics by the Republicans, and a legalized corruption scheme allowing unlimited financial influence—anonymous and unaccountable—to infest the body politic.
Republicans must consider how they became a vehicle for white supremacy and plutocratic greed, the party of racial gerrymandering and voter suppression, of science deniers and alternative fact peddlers. The Southern Strategy has caught up with the GOP, the result being a nearly exclusively white, revanchist party in opposition to multiculturalism and civil rights. Given America’s demographic realities, such as party is unsustainable, short of political repression or autocratic rule. In the short run, the GOP must fish or cut bait, and decide whether they are a center-right party, or the party of Trump—an extremist, white nationalist party like France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party or the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom.
In contrast, the Democratic Party should ask how the onetime labor stronghold drifted away from working people, opting for milquetoast equivocation and Wall Street benefactors. With the loss of the presidency, Congress and a thousand state-level offices in 2016, the Democrats spent over $1 billion with little to nothing to show for it. After neglecting their base for years, Democrats need to reevaluate their overemphasis on the professional class, and overreliance on focus groups, consultants and data-driven campaigns, embracing an unabashedly progressive agenda with down-to-earth messaging and appealing narratives.
Society has a role to play as well. A civically disengaged citizenry lacking in critical thinking skills enables Donald Trump, making his ascent possible. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the U.S. 138th in voter turnout globally. Meanwhile, recent studies have shown that many students cannot distinguish between real news and fake news, and fail to develop critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.
“I don’t believe there is any problem of American politics and American public life which is more significant today than the pervasive civic ignorance of the Constitution of the United States and the structure of government,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter in 2012, bemoaning that two-thirds of Americans are unaware the U.S. government has three branches. “And the day will come when somebody will come forward, and we and the government will in effect say, ‘Take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do.’ That is the way democracy dies. and if something is not done to improve the level of civic knowledge, that is what you should worry about at night,” Souter added, seemingly predicting the rise of Trump.
Citizens are discovering democracy is not for armchair spectators. Outright assaults by the Trump regime on civil rights, civil liberties and cherished freedoms have triggered an outpouring of activism. People who never engaged in politics are getting involved on the local level, running for office and joining organizations, forming new groups and placing themselves directly in the political process. Activities such as the Women’s March, and Tea Party-esque town hall meetings cropping up in red districts indicate that something positive is brewing in the country. But this level of civic engagement must be sustained if real change is to come.
Ultimately, America needs a revamping of the two-party system to include vibrant, new voices and break the monopoly on political participation. America must remove the influence of money in its politics, and reject the system of legalized bribery to which the nation has grown accustomed. Automatic voter registration and compulsory voting would increase civic participation. Finally, the U.S. must divest itself of gerrymandering and voter suppression measures that dilute the votes of people of color, the poor and the disenfranchised, and unduly amplify the voices of the former Confederacy. Only then will we prevent new Donald Trumps from rising again in our midst.