Ever since the end of the presidential primary season and really before the final primary contests, various media pundits have commented that Donald Trump is a danger to our democracy. If elected, Trump would establish an authoritarian regime like nothing the U.S. has ever seen.
That was the claim echoed by Bill Maher on his show Friday. If Trump is elected, Maher asserted, he will declare himself president for life and there is nothing anyone will be able to do about it.
This claim either shows an ignorance to the institutional and constitutional barriers the Founders and later generations put it in place explicitly to prevent such a regime from taking root in the executive branch, or it is an intentional lie to scare voters into voting a certain way.
My money is on the latter.
But these people say, "Well, it happened in Germany, remember. Adolf Hitler was elected." True, he was. But the intricate nature of our government and our election processes cannot be compared to Germany's government in the 1930s. It is comparing apples to grapefruits.
"Well, he is going to be the biggest threat to free press." The free press that put him in the position he is in today by giving him $2 billion in free media time? If Trump wins, the media should be among the first people he thanks, even if the coverage has mostly been biased against him.
To claim that Donald Trump will destroy our republic is to ignore the fact that we have a constitution, a Congress, a Supreme Court and vast judicial system, separation of powers, checks and balances, constitutional amendments that protect everyone's right to vote, a constitutional amendment that limits the president to two terms in office, and 50 sovereign states that control their own elections and their own systems of government.
Donald Trump will not be the death of elections in the U.S., and to suggest otherwise is nothing more than a scare tactic to get people to vote for Hillary Clinton. But in a system that reduces competition to the "lesser of two evils," elections and the rhetoric from partisan pundits and candidate advocates will inevitably get scarier and scarier.
Trump is an authoritarian dictator who will take away your rights, kick all foreigners out of the country, and launch a nuke at anyone who makes fun of his tiny hands on Twitter. Hillary Clinton is a corrupt Wall Street puppet, yet a radical socialist at the same time who will tax you to poverty and take away your guns and freedom.
Yet it is all noise. It is all hyperbole. And it is disillusioning. People are sick and tired of it and they are choosing simply to opt out of the process completely.
In past elections, voters were told that if they voted for a libertarian for president or for any third party that is associated with the "Right," it was really a vote for the Democratic candidate. If you voted Green or for any party associated with the "Left," it was a de facto vote for the Republican candidate. In the current election, voters are being told that it doesn't matter if they vote for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Evan McMullin, Darrell Castle, Lynn S. Kahn, if voters choose anyone other than Hillary Clinton, that is a vote for Trump.
I have spoken to family and friends who say they are not going to vote in the presidential election at all because they do not want to contribute to a Donald Trump presidency. Yet, the President of the United States has told people that even this is a vote for Trump. The only option people have is to vote for Hillary Clinton. They have no choice in this election, and that is not a democratic message.
Donald Trump is not a threat to the democratic process. What is a threat to the democratic process is an election system that doesn't treat every vote as equal at every critical stage of the election. What is a threat to the democratic process is a system that at every institutional level locks out competition outside the two biggest private political corporations and stifles choice.
What is a threat to the democratic process is continuing to judge votes by the end result, rather than intention, because under this mindset, the stakes are raised more and more every election, and the rhetoric, vitriol, and hyperbole gets worse. The scare tactics escalate, and voters feel more disillusioned and disenchanted.
It's a vicious downward spiral that will ultimately be a much bigger threat to our republic than Donald J. Trump.