OPINION: The Darkest Hour: America’s democracy hangs in the balance

4 dead, Congress evacuated, National Guard activated after pro-Trump  rioters storm Capitol
A pro-Trump mob storms the U.S. Capitol on January 6th while the counting of electoral votes is in process. The riot left 5 dead with considerable damage done to the property. Photo courtesy of NBC News.

Donald Trump’s presidency has been unmistakably characterized by defeat.

In 2018, he lost the House.

In November, he lost his chance to serve a second term.

In January, he lost the Senate runoff.

And now America, too, has something to lose: their democracy.

As pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on January 6th, to many their violence and blatant disregard for law enforcement was not a surprise; it was inevitable. To many — after years of divisive rhetoric and unbridled attempts to undermine our cornerstone institutions — this attempted coup d’état was simply a culmination of what we’ve seen unfold over the past four years. 

And for all of us, this insurrection serves as a reminder that our democracy has undergone fundamental changes — undeniable, unbecoming changes. 

Since the start of the presidency, Americans’ needs have consistently been met with a bigoted president who has refused to assume the responsibilities of a leader. Time and time again, the American people have found themselves bending over backwards for a president who finds amusement in their contortion. 

And it’s no secret that Trump is not a president of the people. From his push to cut funding for Social Security, lack of stimulus checks during the pandemic, and reduction of granted visas, Trump has reinforced the aristocratic power structure.

On the world stage, the United States has established itself as a land of equitable and abundant opportunities, escaping persecution under the British themselves. But in light of Trump’s actions, opportunity crumbles like a cookie in the hands of an unusually orange child. Those fleeing war and poverty in their countries for a life where they can afford to dream are met with travel bans and dehumanizing tweets that have dropped immigration rates by 13%, State Department data indicates. People of color face increased racism and insensitivity in the workplace, with hate crimes at their second highest in the past 25 years as per a Social Sciences Research Network study

Trump’s America is no longer the land of opportunity and liberty that it used to be. 

Policies that suppress the freedoms of marginalized communities and limit their socioeconomic mobility are fundamentally un-American. When the founding fathers penned those fateful words that “all men are created equal,” it is self-evident that the president is to be a voice for all of his constituents — equally. It is predatory to the freedoms and livelihoods of millions to have a man in the Oval Office that attempts to disenfranchise people of color and uses his platform to push an agenda of hate.

And for much of his presidency, Trump’s divisive rhetoric has been a critical medium to pry at the existing divides within our society. Although he may not always succeed in turning his fascist agenda into legislation, his use of social media like Twitter ensures that the damage is dutifully done. 

From berating non-white congresswomen, dehumanizing Latinx immigrants, and publicly insulting those that leave his administration, Trump fans the flames of a racist, sexist, xenophobic fire — one that shows no signs of letting up. In fact, when asked by a reporter in July of 2019 if he was concerned that people call him racist for his tweet telling four Democratic women of color to return to “where they came from,” his response was not too far from the truth: “It doesn’t concern me because me because many people agree with me.”

And, indeed they do.

While in Federalist 10, James Madison wrote about the inevitable development of factions — “a number of citizens, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion” — this behavior certainly does not amount to a mere belief. 

What we are seeing is not a natural part of democracy; it is a direct consequence of bigotry. 

America today is divided on the fundamental question of what it means to be American. Are we a country built on immigration that should work collaboratively to embrace our diversity? Or are we a predominantly white power structure who’s threatened by each additional visa we grant? 

Unfortunately for us, Trump has made the obvious choice a lot more convoluted.

What we are seeing is not a natural part of democracy; it is a direct consequence of bigotry.

But not only has Trump ignored the fundamental values of our country, he has simultaneously taken to undermining the democratic processes that govern us. Trump’s vocal coverage of the election was riddled with superlatives and gross lies alike — with phrases like “most fraudulent,” “unchecked cheating,” and “most inaccurate election in history” making the rounds since election night.

And it was because of this belligerent treatment of our democractic processes — of our right to have a say in our government  — that his supporters have become blatantly disillusioned. From mail-in voting fraud, to a lack of Republican poll-watchers, to votes from the dead, after talking with his devotees, you might find yourself scratching your head as to how an entire country coordinated such an elaborate scheme.  

But arguably the most alarming aspect of this growing disillusionment is the way that Trump responds to his supporters. Instead of denouncing their violent and baseless threats, he incites violence — emboldening them by pitting them against our government. And for what it’s worth, Trump’s band of mobsters has made one thing crystal clear: they were never pro-America.

Surely someone who is anti-immigration, anti-equality, and anti-democracy cannot — in good faith — call themselves American, right? Well, just take a look at the Oval Office and you have your answer.

In 2016, America elected demagogue into office. And now, they’re paying the price.

January 6th was simply a culmination of un-American ideals that we have let pervade our country for far too long. So when Trump abetted his supporters from the safety of the White House by saying, “Walk down to the Capitol. You will never take back our country with weakness,” was anyone truly surprised? 

I, for one, was not. 

But the time has come for Americans to rise to the occasion and renew our democratic purpose — to dispel the notions of fraud and to denounce the Republican hypocrisy. Our work has just begun: we cannot sit back and relax when threats of violence on Biden’s inauguration day are once again nipping at the heels of our democracy. 

The presidential election, hopefully, was the first step of many in restoring the true America. Clearly, enough people have been compelled to fight for change. More people showed up to vote than ever before in this election, making it the largest expression of democracy in our history. And for Trump to call it a fraud is extremely dangerous; for a sitting president to try to silence the voice of his people, undermine his country’s institutions,  and abuse his power is utterly repulsive.

Our democracy is not fraudulent.

But it is fractured.

And on January 20th, we’ll find out if it’s broken.

Aryav Bothra is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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