Defeating Trump – Why the US Election Matters to All of Us

Tyrants are a constant in history, and Donald Trump has earned a place among them. Joe Biden may have dismissed him as a clown but give this clown another four years and he could bring the Republic to its knees. That would be a tragedy. Like it or not, America leads the free world and democrats everywhere have a huge stake in this election.But if Trump is a tyrant, he is not the sort whose power “grows from the barrel of a gun,” to quote Mao. Trump's special political talents lie in pandering and persuading. And for that, he relies on a trademark blend of disinformation and shamelessness. We see it at his rallies.Democracies are supposed to resist this kind of politics. Ideally, decision-making is the result of public debate, where ideas are aired and tested against each other and the facts.[caption id="attachment_519240" align="alignnone" width="800"] (AP)[/caption]

But the information age poses a new challenge. Evidence is often so abundant that people no longer know who to trust or believe. Trump has capitalized on this brilliantly. If disinformation is the art of creating uncertainty, he wields it like a club.

Accuse him of assault and he plays the victim. Call him a racist and he compares himself to Lincoln. Plot a hurricane path he dislikes, and he redraws the map. Say the virus is out of control and he declares the corner has been turned.That is the sound of the second shoe dropping: Trump's shamelessness. His willingness to make the most outrageous claims, without apology or qualification, and then double or triple down, is simply breathtaking. For much of his first year in office, people were not only slack-jawed, but speechless.Pundits predicted he would “pivot,” “adapt,” or “rise to the occasion,” but he never did. Each day brought a new crisis and each time the White House rang out with a new cry of fake news, phony science, hoaxes, and plots.There is a method in Donald's madness. Tyrants loath democracy because they loath accountability. Trump knows that the net effect of all this noise is to confuse the public and devalue public debate. And that undermines his opponents' efforts to test his claims against the facts; or to insist that he answer for them. Trump is cancelling public accountability.Without such checks and balances, he is free to do as he wishes, however destructive or outrageous: slander the media, insult allies, seize control of public institutions, enable a deadly virus, interfere with the election. The KGB may have invented disinformation, but this is the masterclass.Still, the rise of a Trump-like figure is not just a bolt from the blue. In the early days of democracy, James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution, and Alexis de Tocqueville, who chronicled their work, warned about the dangers of a democracy unguided by reason.Democracy rests on the premise that “reasonable people can disagree.” Political decisions often involve conflicts over values, priorities, or interests. The Founders struggled with how to ensure that reasonable people could live together peacefully, despite their differences.Voting was a part of their answer, but it was only a part. As Tocqueville noted, some groups will always have greater numbers than others, so the smaller groups could end up permanent losers – “minorities” living under what he called “the tyranny of the majority.”If democracy had no better way to mediate disagreements than to call for a vote, democratic states like America would have dissolved into factions long ago. Madison's fear of mob rule would have been realized.But American democracy also calls for fairness and that involves compromise and accommodation. Madison's genius was to propose a system of checks and balances that helps ensure give-and-take.Donald Trump's campaign of disinformation is an assault on this basic idea. If representative democracy requires debate and deliberation, checks and balances, Trump is well on the way to replacing it with a Darwinian struggle for control. Madison's nightmare of a Republic split into factions is Trump's America. Tribalism, it seems, is the only way that Trump knows how to govern.With the Trump presidency, American democracy has crossed a new and dangerous threshold. Even the pretense of seeking truth and accommodation are gone. But at the end of a tumultuous, divisive, and deadly four years, perhaps Americans have had enough.For those who were still undecided, Trump's appalling performance in the first leaders' debate should have been the coup de grâce. The anger, the chauvinism, the bluster, and the lies were plain for all to see.As election day approaches, many Americans appear desperate to right the ship of state. On Tuesday they will make their decision – together. Meanwhile, the rest of the free world watches and waits.Dr. Don Lenihan is Senior Associate at the Institute on Governance and an internationally recognized expert on public engagement, governance, and policy development. For more, visit his website at: www.middlegroundengagement.comAndrew Balfour is Managing Partner at Rubicon Strategy in Ottawa.