“Democracy (Greek: δημοκρατία, dēmokratiā, from dēmos ‘people’ and kratos ‘rule’) is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislators. Who people are and how authority is shared among them are core issues for democratic theory, development and constitution. Cornerstones include freedom of assembly and speech, inclusiveness and equality, membership, consent, voting, right to life and minority rights.” (“Democracy,” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
We often take it for granted that democracy, by default, is the most ideal form of government. Having been accustomed to countries like the United States, countries in the European Union, and most nations that are wealthy and prosperous, we see that most of them have some form of democratic government in operation and therefore we tend to conclude that this type of governance leads to societies becoming modern and prosperous.
For the most part, that long-held belief has proven to be correct in a majority of situations. Democracy does indeed have its payoffs. Businesses are confident of the sustainability of their operations, citizens have reliance on government to treat them fairly in exchange for their taxes and the general welfare of the state is ensured by the nation’s security mechanisms.
That is, until November 2020.
The last US presidential election, more than perhaps at any time in modern history, has proven that democracy – with all its strengths and ideal characteristics – has a very soft underbelly. Too soft, in fact, that a properly democratic government – when abused -- can appear very weak, to the point of looking like the much-ridiculed “banana republic.”
One fundamental assumption behind the effective functioning of a democratic state has to be that citizens have faith in the system. Since the key institutions are chosen by the people, they have to be confident that their choices are taken into consideration and that their voices are heard when it comes to electing their leaders.
In the US, at least, this assumption has often been taken for granted.
For instance, as far back as many of us can remember, concession speeches by losing candidates have often been assumed as a matter of course. No matter the pain of defeat, whoever has lost the vote concedes and congratulates the winner, and whoever has won graciously accepts the well-wishes and promises to put all partisan considerations away as he sets about becoming a leader for the entire nation.
Donald Trump changed all that and not at all for the better.
Actually, a lot of other populist leaders preceded him, but since they were from countries not considered as stable as the US, Trump’s emergence elicited a much greater shock.
The four years of his presidency was marked by disrespect for all the norms observed as a matter of course by all elected leaders. Respect and decorum and cordial relations with the media all went out the window. In their place emerged hate and vitriol, fanned by a denial of reality and a promotion of “alternative facts.”
Thankfully, the US seems to have come to its senses and roundly repudiated Trump, in a landslide electoral college defeat that was as large as his victory in 2016. Since he called it a “landslide victory” in 2016, it was expected that he would also acknowledge his “landslide defeat” this time around.
Except that he didn’t.
Which brings me back to my point, the soft underbelly.
Democracies work best when citizens have trust in their government. Problem is, someone like Trump -- who used the democratic system of government to get into power -- could easily sway the people to distrust the very same democratic systems that catapulted him to power in the first place.