Global democratic politics have turned increasingly chaotic in recent years. Countries with less developed democracies have retrogressed, and the old democracies are in disarray. The U.S., regarded as a model of democracy, has repeatedly veered off course politically. Donald Trump, the most prominent destroyer of democracy, has come roaring back, threatening a return to the White House.
While President Joe Biden recently announced he is running for reelection, Trump, who lost the last presidential election, announced his candidacy for reelection a while back. Facing a number of criminal prosecutions, he has successfully conveyed the image of a victim, and support for him is climbing. As of now, he already has a substantial lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his most likely challenger from within the Republican Party, which has energized Trump and his supporters and worried people knowledgeable about the race.
While many polls show that as many as 60% to 70% of the population do not want to see Trump reelected, 95% don’t want a rematch between Biden and Trump, two old men in or near their 80s. Can America, known as a country where the people have the final say, bear to have Trump, someone who is out to destroy democracy, as the Republican presidential nominee? Will Trump, who was twice impeached by Congress and is currently under investigation by the Justice Department, sweep aside the Democrats and once more enter the White House in 2024? I’m afraid it’s hard to be optimistic.
Trump’s comeback is sorely testing the defenses of American democracy. It also is letting the world see clearly the extent to which American populism can go. Currently, it looks like Trump can win the primaries and make it to the general election. Nearly 40% of hard-core Republican voters support his campaign, and he is adept at beguiling people and creating momentum with his clever words.
Trump’s comeback obviously is not only about continuing to “make America great again,” it is also an expression of his resolute desire for revenge. Unwilling to accept defeat in the last election, he incited supporters to force their way into Congress, hoping to block the ballot confirmation process. In response, Congress conducted an investigation into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to find those who could be held accountable. Will the public support the effort to defend American democracy? Or will voters determine that Trump should bear no responsibility for inciting a riot? If Trump once more has the support to carry him back to the White House, does that mean that the congressional investigation and effort to hold him accountable are moot and unreasonable? Surely it doesn’t mean that whoever loses an election can incite voters to riot in Congress. Has the U.S. really entered a post-truth era, where the issue is not whether something is true or false, but what side you belong to? Can America’s electoral system maintain its authority, can we maintain the standing of rule of law?
While democracy has many indelible advantages, it also has many vulnerabilities that can be exploited — something at which Trump has proved to be a master. He has never adhered to any procedural norms or moral principles. Since he is unburdened by ideology, there were no taboos regarding a democratic rule of law he wouldn’t break and no limit to what he would do. He harnessed the resentment that certain Americans harbor against reality, and the anger of white men in particular, to pander and instigate, pushing populism to the extreme. Republicans, Trump supporters, the media and the entire country have been hijacked by him. Under his malicious manipulation, American society has split into fiercely opposing groups of those who support him and those who don’t, exacerbating existing political divisions. The spirit of tolerance and compromise inherent in a democracy have disappeared. In the view of many people around the world, a great America no longer exists, and faith in the universal values of democracy has been shaken.
Under the manipulation of Trump supporters and his party, American democracy has become increasingly distorted. Social media has been reduced to a tool that tears society apart. The media, which should promote truth and objectivity, has become polarized in a competition over the market and the promotion of ideologies. From the sources and perspectives that reporters use to the opinions and speeches, content bends to accommodate and please viewers who hold a particular point of view. As a result, the same kinds of viewpoints are embellished and magnified for one group of people, and those who encounter media representing different perspectives split into two extremes, severely worsening the divide between political groups.
The final judgment by the American people on whether Trump returns to the White House is a test of whether American democracy still has the ability to self-correct and the strength to resist viral attack. The world will have to wait and see.