Democracy Is More Than Just Winning Elections

Liberal democracy is worth fighting for, even in the age of Trump.

By PETER BEINART – – – – – –

I don’t respect this election result. I must abide by it, of course. But I don’t respect it. I respect the people who voted for Donald Trump. As private individuals, they’re no better or worse than anyone else. But I don’t respect their decision to elect a man who blames vulnerable minorities for America’s problems. Who threatens journalists for reporting the news. Who castigates judges for requiring him to abide by the rule of law. Who boasts about his enthusiasm for torture. Who cheers on his supporters on when they beat protesters. I don’t respect that. I won’t pretend the people possess infinite wisdom. I’m a Jew. We know better.

I’m not a democrat. I’m a liberal democrat. I don’t believe in the people’s right to produce whatever radical, brutal, ignorant change they want on any given day. I believe that the people guide government within limits laid out by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Donald Trump and his supporters have no right to breach those limits, no matter how many swing states they won. If they try, and I assume they will, those who believe in liberal democracy—in due process, individual rights, and the rule of law—must fight them without apology. Doing so is as American as casting a vote.

I don’t know what the best strategies for resisting Trumpism are, now that it will enjoy the full might of the American state. I’m too bewildered and despondent to think about such things clearly right now. I keep thinking about an American Muslim family, or an immigrant Latino family, huddled around their television wondering how they’ll survive in Donald Trump’s America. And wondering how tomorrow they will face the Americans who voted to empower this man to persecute them, their bosses, their coworkers, their customers, their clients, even perhaps, their friends and family members. I respect those  families’ rights more than I respect Trump’s votes. As Americans, we must protect them from intolerance with a democratic face. Call me an elitist if you want. But America’s founders knew there are things too precious to be put up for popular vote.

 

 

PETER BEINART is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York.

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