Say “no” to authoritarian rule on November 3

Keith Simmonds

After listening to Donald Trump publicly stating that he may not agree to a smooth transfer of power if he loses, my first impression was that he didn’t mind sounding like the leader of a group of political misfits, instead of being the leader of a democratic country. 

Thanks to the indifference of roughly 45 percent of the US electorate who we might respectfully refer to as Trump’s America, they support schemes and dreams as to how to hold on to power, no matter what. Ominous plans are being hatched with the intention that they will become full blown by Nov. 3 if Trump is defeated.

Most Americans take false comfort in the thought that because we have a written constitution, filled with democratic rules and processes allowing for the exercise of democratic governance that authoritarian rule will not happen here. Beware! Authoritarian or autocratic leaders are cleaver, crafty creatures who know the difference between constitutional laws on one hand and political norms, customs and practices, on the other. Genuine democracies abide by the rule of law, not by the whims and fancies of the leader or political class.

Authoritarian leaders know how to manipulate laws, processes, policies and institutions, to keep themselves in power. They don’t have to really break the law but can bend it, stretch it, reinterpret it, or change the personnel of institutions to ensure cynical manipulation of the law.

Consider how Donald Trump directs the functioning of the US attorney general office; observe also what he’s about to do with the US Supreme Court, i.e. to tilt it more conservative with his new nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The most frightening aspect of this country’s slide toward authoritarian governance is Donald Trump’s public declaration that he may not abide by the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

It’s constitutionally required that America conducts presidential elections every four years, but where does the constitution specifically state that the president must accept the outcome of an election? It doesn’t, but political practice expects that both candidates will abide by the results. Donald Trump apparently sees an opportunity to manipulate the end process of the election. Roger Stone, one of Trump’s trusted advisers recently recommended imposition of martial law if the results are not to Trump’s liking. Alarming!

Who can stop this dangerous slide down the slippery slope of authoritarian gangster rule by Donald Trump and his Republican party? “We, the people” can with focused determination to vote and have our vote counted. We must start by telling ourselves that authoritarian rule could happen in America too, not just in Latin America, Asia or Africa. Regrettably, a high proportion of the American electorate is spending time fussing and fighting over issues far less important than the assured, steady decline of America into authoritarianism.

Realistically, yet regrettably, the American electorate is divided into two camps. Roughly 45 percent of the electorate support schemes and dreams of Donald Trump and his authoritarian gang. The other 55 percent of the American electorate, exhibit varying levels of enthusiasm for defeating the rise of authoritarian rule. This is potentially dangerous for the future of American democracy. Every one of us must commit fully to preserving representative democracy, which puts limits on government action and gives us the capacity to change its political leadership. 

A vote against Donald Trump would be an emphatic way of saying “No” to the rise of authoritarian rule in America. Indeed, on Nov. 3, let us give a resounding vote of confidence, notwithstanding its serious shortfalls, for democracy as we know it.

Dr. Keith Simmonds is a professor of history and political science at Florida A&M University