The lofty words belong to election days, so let us start by saying: the eyes of the whole world today are turning the Atlantic completely deservedly.
The United States is the oldest democracy in the world – at least if the list qualifies as continuous, liberal, modern ones. Its democratic constitution came into force in 1789, after which the system has survived civil war, pandemics, world wars, hurricanes and stock market crashes.
That alone is a remarkable achievement.
Throughout these twists and turns, we humans have had a unifying factor: the need to emphasize the uniqueness of our time. We journalists, too, have always saved our time in dramatic phrases when emphasizing our role as a lifeblood of democracy.
Who wouldn’t want to say they lived at a turning point in history: the sustainability of the United States, too, has been fatally suspected many times, but the federation is stepping forward.
And yet, in admitting all this, over the past four years, I have often had to stop and ask myself: does it really survive this?
And in doing so, you are not even alone. For example, over the weekend, more than 80 scholars familiar with authoritarianism around the world warned in an open letterthat “the democracy we know has already become endangered”.
When it comes to the state of democracy in the United States, the reason for many critical assessments is, of course, Donald Trump.
Trump has conspired with foreign powers and threatened his opponents in prison.
Trump has urged not to trust the media and experts and presented himself in public for less than four years more than 22,000 lies.
Trump has incited his citizens against each other and instilled distrust in his country’s electoral system.
Trump has rocked his country’s democracy perhaps more dangerously than any of his 44 predecessors – and yet this text shouldn’t really talk about Donald Trump.
According to the oft-repeated proverb, Trump is not a cause but a consequence – a consequence of a nation that has lost confidence in politics. Above all, Trump’s supporters believe in a dishonest president because they want to believe in change.
Indeed, Trump has voiced the voice of protectionists, proud nationalists and a strong line of immigration critics – groups that have a strong presence in Europe as well. It is important to understand: their cry for distress was to elect a man as president who called himself the “voice of the people”.
And some of the promises he made to them have been fulfilled by Trump. He has tightened trade policy, appointed conservative judges and restricted migration. Supporters have worshiped his president, although tax cuts, considered his great achievement, for example, have helped a relatively small number of wealthy people. Many of his promises that affect the daily lives of ordinary citizens, such as the reform of the health care system, have been left halfway.
The problem has been the way Trump has reformed: at no point has the “voice of the people” even pretended to be the president of the entire people. By acting against all the rules of the system, Trump may have accomplished things, but has further eroded confidence in politics and democracy.
And that seems to have been Trump’s mistake. New York Times as many as 76 percent of Americans fear the loss of U.S. democracy, according to Gallup released on Sunday. It is an exceptional figure even in the long run, even though crises have been seen before.
It is telling that less than half of the respondents to the same survey are worried about losing their job or falling victim to a crime. Both Trump and Joe Biden have been talking about the economy and security for a month, but that may not matter for the outcome of Tuesday’s election – because this election is not about Trump or Biden.
These are perhaps really bigger things now.
Both Trump and Biden still have every chance of winning Tuesday’s election, but whoever was elected president, a rocky road awaits him. In any case, the broken system of politics will not be repaired in four years, because the development that led to the present time did not happen so quickly.
About 85 percent of Americans still believesthat it is possible to restore people’s trust in governance and in each other. It requires transparency, structural reforms, better leadership and cross-party cooperation, they say.
Despite winning the election on Tuesday, these proposals should be listened to with a close ear. Democracy, democracy, is about the power of the people. A nation may be reluctant to exercise its power for many reasons, but the unifying consequence of the causes is that the system can in no way function if its core rejects it.
We cannot know whether this moment in history is a turning point. Instead, what is certain is that if a nation is taken out of democracy, only power remains. And there are always enough takers for it.