Just as Trump took his oath of office as the 45th President of the United States, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its Democracy Index 2016 that listed the US as a flawed democracy, a first for the nation regarded as the world leader. In other freedom indices, such as the Global Democracy Ranking and Human Freedom Index, the US ranked 16th and 23rd respectively.
These findings were for the year before Trump became president, absolving him of causing the downfall. Democracy is often equated with freedom and the rule of law. Personal, civil, economic and religious freedom, freedom of expression and assembly, and free and fair elections are some of the factors that rankings are based on. But the sitting president’s unconstitutional executive orders and threats are raising fears that the country could slide farther down in the democracy ratings.
Look at what the president is doing that are spooking political scientists and prompting them to keep track of the rise and fall of democracy in America.
Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act
The right to health care for all citizens exists in a democracy, morally if not constitutionally. In the United States, there is no legal barrier to providing health care. Then President Obama created the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance for the uninsured and the underinsured. His goal was to make health care a basic human right. The National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the government’s CDC, reported that in 2010, more than 48 million Americans were without health insurance. By 2016, the number had gone down to 28.6 million
President Trump, even during his campaign, had already promised to repeal the ACA. But the Republican-dominated Senate has repeatedly failed to muster enough votes to do it. Frustrated, Trump announced that he is cutting off federal subsidies to insurance companies that are helping to cover insurance plans for low-income people.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reported that if ACA stays, the number of uninsured Americans in 2016, which stands at 28 million, will remain the same in the next ten years. If the early version of Trump’s health care plan, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) crafted by Republicans becomes law, the number of uninsured would be 54 million by 2026.
Trump repeatedly attacks freedom of the press
In August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein assailed President Trump’s attack on journalists and news organizations, calling it a dangerous sequence. Trump has called out New York Times, Washington Post and CNN as fake news media and has threatened to challenge NBC’s license.
No other president has mocked the First Amendment of the US Constitution as incessantly as Trump. Freedom of the press is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution, and any form to suppress or curtail it is eroding democracy.
Trump espouses racial and gender discrimination, targeting immigrants, homosexuals, blacks and Mexicans.
The Trump administration announced it was ending Obama’s DACA program which protected children of illegal immigrants from deportation. These children, now adults, have no legal status in the US through no fault of theirs. They have studied in US schools and are gainfully employed, as recipients of DACA. Yet, Trump does not recognize them and wants them deported, breaking up their families and literally taking away the lives they have built.
What kind of democratic country is the United States if it cannot respect the people living in it? Democracy does not apply only to citizens; it encompasses the populace, regardless of legal status. It respects their human civil and economic rights. If criminals are given their day in court, why are immigrants being discriminated on based on the color of their skin and the language they speak? This racial profiling was what got Trump’s favorite sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ in jail. Luckily for Arpaio, Trump pardoned him, tacitly giving his approval of anti-immigrant politics.
Trump showed his anti-democratic, anti-gay leanings when he issued a presidential memo reversing Obama’s policy to allow transgender individuals to serve openly in the military. He also directed the Defense department not to provide medical treatment to transgender people who are already in the military.
As for Mexicans and blacks, his own words and actions – calling Mexicans rapists and killers, saying there is a laziness trait in blacks, building a border wall – prove that his racist views, which he tries to deny, are in his heart.
Trump encourages and supports white supremacy.
“I will be President for all Americans” was what Donald Trump said in his victory speech right after the elections. Although he didn’t particularly mention any color, he might as well have said “white Americans” to go with his divisive tweets and statements. They are proof of his alt-right, neo-Nazi ideology.
In the Charlottesville incident, a rabid white nationalist ran down anti-racist protestors, killing one and injuring many. Trump avoided blaming the white supremacists, putting the blame “on many sides.” But he got the ire of Americans and lawmakers on both sides. Abroad, the United Nations Panel, Britain and Germany joined in, expressing concern that Trump’s fascist views could encourage racism and set an example for the rest of the world, especially coming from a world leader.
President Trump has been vocal about his racist leanings even before he became the chief officer of the United States. He was sued in 1973 in a civil rights case for discriminating against minorities in choosing renters for his apartment complexes. That prejudice has never gone away.
Luckily for the American people, Trump has not yet done serious or significant damage to the country’s democracy. He has fired FBI’s head and his own appointees for not obeying his orders and disagreeing with him. He has threatened a lot of individuals and institutions. But he hasn’t jailed them.
But everyone should be on guard. If President Trump continues with his bullying and autocratic ways, there may be a tendency to shrug it off as simply part of his irrationality. Left unchecked, democracy could be gone in a blink. As Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard University says, “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.”