The Only Thing That Will Put a Check on Trump’s Autocratic Tendencies

As the saying goes, I’m old enough to remember when Ralph Nader said this prior to the 2000 election:

“Our two parties are basically one corporate party wearing two heads and different makeup,” Nader said. “There is a difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but not that much.”

Silly me, but I thought that eight years of Bush and Cheney, including things like lying us into war, would be enough to wake us all up from that kind of fantasy. But then Donald Trump got elected president because too many people thought that their votes didn’t matter.

During the campaign and the early days of the Trump administration, there was a lot of talk about the institutional constraints that would come to bear as a check on this president’s autocratic tendencies. But it has become clear that congressional Republicans have no intention of holding Trump or his administration accountable. While lower courts have caused delays in some of the president’s more egregious executive actions, it is clear that the Supreme Court will not provide much by way of a check or balance, especially when/if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Finally, the president has a megaphone in right wing media to shout down any challenges to his authority.

George Packer documents how all of that is different from the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.

The institutional clout that ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon no longer exists. The honest press, for all its success in exposing daily scandals, won’t persuade the unpersuadable or shame the shameless, while the dishonest press is Trump’s personal amplifier. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, are rapidly becoming instruments of partisan advocacy, as reliably conservative as elected legislatures. It’s impossible to imagine the Roberts Court voting unanimously against the President, as the Burger Court, including five Republican appointees, did in forcing Nixon to turn over his tapes. (Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy, has even suggested that the decision was wrong.) Congress has readily submitted to the President’s will, as if legislation and oversight were burdens to be relinquished. And, when the independent counsel finally releases his report, it will have only the potency that the guardians of the law and the Constitution give it.

That is why the title of Packard’s article is “All That’s Left is the Vote.” He opens by making a deeply disturbing, but perhaps accurate, prediction.

…three months from now, American democracy will be on the line. The midterm elections in November are the last remaining obstacle to President Trump’s consolidation of power.

We have grown immune to politicians telling us that this election is the most monumental of our lifetimes. And yet that has never been more true than it is in 2018. That’s why I have a hard time focusing on all the chatter about which Democrats will be running in 2020. While I agree completely with what Paul Glastris wrote about how winning is not enough, I’m not sure what comes next if Democrats don’t win a sizable victory this November.

There’s good news and bad news in all of that. Because of the shock I experienced on election night in 2016, my trust and confidence in the American electorate has been severely shaken. But on the bright side, the fact that Trump’s consolidation of power is dependent on what happens in the midterm elections tells us that our democracy is still alive.

A lot can happen between now and November 6th. But there’s one thing that will be exactly the same then as it is today: the only thing that will put a check on Trump’s autocratic tendencies will be the outcome of elections all across this country, and as Barack Obama so famously said, “Democracy is on the ballot.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.