The public needs to have access to information upon which to base their views, they must have freedom to challenge those in authority, and should feel safe to publicly express their opinions without fear of violence or intimidation by the state, their employers or angry mobs. And they need to have faith in the adherence to rule of law by those in power.
However, assuming these and other fundamental requirements of a free society are in place, the simple process of casting and counting votes is the ultimate expression of democracy. Instead of suffering under some tyrant, fearful lest we offend them and find ourselves locked up in a Kafkaesque nightmare, we, the people, get to choose who runs the country and they know they must ultimately answer to us.
A dangerous path
So, Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat to Joe Biden and his lies about widespread voting fraud – international election observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) described the US election as “well managed” and dismissed “baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president” – are extremely serious.
If he succeeds in overturning the verdict of the US people, democracy in America is over.
Speaking to CBS's 60 Minutes news programme, Barack Obama said he was troubled less by Trump’s predictable refusal to admit defeat than by the fact that “other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humouring him in this fashion”. "It is one more step in delegitimising not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally. And that's a dangerous path,” the former US President said.
The rise of the Nazis
In a Twitter thread, Professor Timothy Snyder, a Yale University historian and author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom, spelt out just how dangerous.
“What Donald Trump is attempting to do has a name: coup d'état. Poorly organised though it might seem, it is not bound to fail. It must be made to fail,” he wrote. “Coups are defeated quickly or not at all. While they take place we are meant to look away, as many of us are doing. When they are complete we are powerless.”
He drew a comparison with the turmoil in Germany that led to the rise of the Nazis. “Creating a myth of a ‘stab in the back’ by internal enemies, as Republicans are helping Trump to do, justifies violence against other citizens, as in interwar Germany,” he wrote.
Thankfully, honourable Republicans still exist in America. Cindy McCain, wife of the late Arizona Senator John McCain, told NBC News that Trump’s defeat of Biden in her normally Republican state – after she endorsed the Democrat – was because voters were “looking for empathy, compassion, a leader that would listen to them and care about them, and care about the issues that were important”.
By his refusal to accept the election result, Trump has demonstrated that he does not care about democracy.
Instead, like any wannabe despot, all he cares about is power for its own sake. He certainly does not care about issues important to the ordinary people he seeks to rule with the power of one of the world’s dictators that he seems to so admire.