Resistance to Trump shows democracy not easily defeated
By Glen Argan
After two rather ignominious defeats, the supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump may be inclined to argue that democracy is being thwarted. After all, Trump was elected in November promising to kill so-called Obamacare and to keep Muslims out of the country.
However, the promise to kill Obamacare has itself been sent to an early grave by a lack of consensus in the House of Representatives, while Trump’s immigration restrictions are on life support as the courts continue to strike down his executive orders.
Trump’s supporters may argue that their man was elected to do these things, and the will of the people is being thwarted by lowly congressmen and by the courts. Is this democracy?
Well, actually it is. Democracy does not mean that people elect a president, and he gets to be king for four years – although sometimes it does seem that way – with his will being the law. Nor does democracy mean that the president or other elected officials are above the rule of law.
In fact, the rule of law and the balance of powers are essential to democracy, essential to preventing a demagogue from running riot over a nation’s traditions and painfully developed legal system.
What we may be seeing in the U.S. is the beginning of a resurgence of democracy. A nation can become too blasé and comfortable when the wheels of democracy turn without resistance, but when a demagogue tries to ram an iron bar through the spokes of those wheels, democratic institutions fight back. When democracy is in crisis, courageous people step forward to defend the integrity of their institutions.
Over the last six to eight months, we have witnessed many people in the Republican Party forsake their principles in order to suck up to Trump, first their nominee and now their president, in order to retain or enhance their personal power.
The quest for power, thank God, is not the only dynamic in play. Since – and even prior to – inauguration day, significant numbers of other “important people” have put their own desire for power a distant second to their personal integrity and the integrity of the nation.
I must emphasize that two of the words I have used – “courage” and “integrity” – are moral virtues, not functions of institutions and law. Such virtues are integral to the proper functioning of democracy.
One missing link in much recent democratic theory is the failure to see the necessity of nurturing a democratic “soul” in the population. Instead of focusing on the nurturing of virtue, democratic institutions have seen their role as defending individual rights. An individualistic conception of rights – as opposed to the common good and the defence of rights that protect human dignity – can foster freedom, but only if it is accompanied by widespread virtue among the populace.
The growth of various forms of chaos and degeneration in Western societies is due, at least in part, to those societies nurturing individual liberty while being nearly blind to the central role of virtue and the common good.
The moral foundation of democracy is not untrammelled individual liberty, but human dignity. From where do we get the notion of human dignity? It comes from the belief that women and men are created in the image and likeness of God. Our dignity is a gift from the trinitarian God who is infinitely greater than us and whose very nature is love.
It is no accident that liberal democracies arose in Christian societies and that, when they are successful, have been accompanied by widespread religious faith among the people.
I began this article by saying that the pushback to Trump’s most heinous actions may be the beginning of a resurgence in democracy. Whether it will become more than “a beginning” remains to be seen. It depends in no small part on the extent to which the American people rise to defend human dignity, the cornerstone of democracy which is inextricably linked to Christian belief.
It will also depend on the extent to which other undemocratic forms of power – primarily corporate and military power – are brought to heel. That, however, is a topic for another day.