During this time of racism, authoritarianism and global crisis, it is necessary to ask ourselves what will become of American democracy.
In 1939, in the context of a world crisis, Jorge Luis Borges wondered what the effects of an Adolf Hitler victory would be. His answer left no doubt about the dimensions of approaching evil. “It’s possible that a German defeat would be the downfall of Germany,” the great writer maintained, adding that, “it’s undeniable that his victory would be the ruin and the moral debasement of the globe.”
Borges, who at the time presented himself as an anti-fascist Argentine and Latin American intellectual committed to the world in which he lived, was not afraid to attempt predictions about the effects of Hitler’s triumph.
Differences aside, during this time of racism, authoritarianism and global crisis, it is necessary to ask ourselves what will happen to American democracy in the near future and what will the global repercussions be.
Despite the polls, the failure and the constant lies, it’s still possible that Donald Trump will win the U.S. presidential election. And even if it’s clear that the effects won’t be the same as Borges thought they’d be for Hitler (the destruction of his country and the absolute triumph of hate and intolerance), a win for Trump would legitimize the expansion of his authoritarianism and xenophobia.
It is necessary to think about the continuity and rupture between the past, present and future, rather than engaging in a counterfactual history exercise (something we professional historians are prohibited from doing) in the style of Philip Roth’s excellent attempt in his novel, “The Plot Against America,” which is now a great series on HBO about the totalitarian effects of a pro-fascist triumph in Washington, D.C.
In terms of continuity, it is clear that a triumph for the Republican president will continue to justify and cover for his international allies such as Narendra Modi in India, Jair Mesías Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Viktor Orban in Hungry.
The administration will continue congratulating its leaders and consolidating its attacks against the independent press, minorities and the constitutional democratic system as a whole.
Likewise, the Trumpism that increased suppression, an absence of information, verticalism and racism during the election season will continue to be the standard for assuming power that far-right populists will use in countries like Italy, Colombia, Bolivia and Spain. Moreover, Trump will continue to deny the role science plays in managing the pandemic, which will further increase the number of people who die from COVID-19. And, lastly, the scandals and corruption will continue, something that will be endorsed by the vote.
To break it down, many analysts and experts on dictatorships and populism, myself included, raise the hopefully remote possibility of something like a Fujimorist movement in Peru (self-inflicted coup), Madurist movement in Venezuela (progressive destruction of the last vestiges of democracy), or a fascist result that’s different but related to fascist results in the past.
In other words, there could be the destruction of democracy from within, and the establishment of autocratic figures with dictatorial tendencies, in the sense of attacking and closing institutions and reducing the application of checks and balances.
This would mean the elimination of that great source of democracy that is the American public arena with its debate, publications, independent media and investigative journalism, universities, books and the acceptance and promotion of the other.
It would be eliminated by fanaticism, intolerance and also the very American mix of religious extremism, idolization of millionaires, and consumption for consumption’s sake. Specifically, it’s the American idea that brought Trump to the White House.
Roth’s fiction of the near absolute denigration of American democracy and democratic culture also cannot be ruled out. Borges himself would later write about the desolation of a future in which Hitler’s legacy and his gas chambers would become a part of daily life. Both Borges and Roth adopted an anti-fascist perspective to draw attention to the dangers of a totalitarian future and counterfactual history. There are similarities to this at the moment.
Facing Trump are Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and along with them a coalition on the left, center, and right (which includes many Republicans). This coalition intends to defend democracy from its enemies.
Biden maintains that he decided to become a candidate after Trump said there were still “good people” who participated in the infamous neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. In particular, this American election and the global effect it will have is not too far removed from the world of fiction that writers like Roth and Borges offered up to startle us a bit, but also to make us reflect on the type of future that intolerance and inaction, as well as our own apathy and that of others, can bring about. On Trump’s side, we find the danger of a future full of authoritarian fantasies that have the potential of becoming reality. On the other side, we find the promise of recovery and the strengthening of democracy.