threat to our democracy

For millions of Americans watching the 2016 Republican Party Convention in Cleveland, disbelief and dismay have given way to bemused contempt. They see a GOP in a state of extraordinary disarray and unable to prevent a likely electoral train wreck. Many of its heavy weights simply refused to attend, including two former presidents, six governors, and 21 U.S. Senators. David and Charles Koch are notably absent.

Those who watched the third night of the convention might have missed Marco Rubio’s 90-second video endorsement but almost certainly caught Ted Cruz’s 21 minute long non-endorsement. If Cruz’s “vote your conscience” command and the need to hurriedly escort he and his wife from the arena for their own safety wasn’t enough to convince viewers that something was seriously wrong, there was what might or might not have been a Nazi salute from Laura ‘not-Ann-Coulter’ Ingraham.

After the earlier claim by U.S. Representative Steve King that white people have contributed more to civilization than nonwhites, was something monstrous from the 1940s coming out of hiding? Frenzied convention delegates in preposterously large white cowboy hats howling demands to imprison the presumptive nominee of the other major party only reinforced the sense that these people simply don’t understand how democracy works and probably have a screw loose.

Speeches from the lesser Trumps surely made normal Americans wonder whether shameless self-congratulation might be congenital. That the big screens in the arena suddenly went blank in the middle of the proceedings signaled that negotiating real estate deals and hosting reality television shows might exhaust the competence of the Donald Trump. If he can’t manage a national party convention how is he supposed to manage the executive branch of the United States?

Conspiracists should be pardoned for taking all of this as proof for their theory that the fix was in long before the primary season ever began, that what we are watching is Donald Trump following through on his agreement to lose the general election to Hillary Clinton. Although conspiracists might not admit it, believing that Hillary Clinton will win the White House with such a deal actually disturbs them less than accepting that essential American political institutions might have rotted beyond repair.

As Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff watch the convention in Cleveland the dominant emotions almost surely include disbelief and elation at their good fortune. How could they feel anything else as they watch the Republican Party shoot itself in both feet, again and again? They might even have been tempted to wonder whether their opponents want to lose.

Among the brightest moments in an otherwise dreadful but riveting third night of the convention was actually a Clinton campaign ad warning viewers about the effect that Trump’s crass, profane and cruel rhetoric might be having on America’s children. The ad bears watching both for its technical brilliance but also because it speaks about the future of the United States in a much more responsible manner than any of the frenzied warnings, denunciations and threats heard in the arena. For in eliciting reflection about what impressionable children might learn from powerful irresponsible adults, the ad also tapped anxiety about the erosion of civility and the legitimacy of institutions.

What troubles many, including those who have failed to warm to Clinton, is that Trump might pose a genuine threat to our democracy. The third night of the convention could only have reinforced that fear.

Image: GOP convention gif from
John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.