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Sat Sep 26, 2020, 08:08 AM

Trump is the worst threat to our democracy since the 1930s

Opinion by Max Boot

It is not simply the casting of ballots that makes a democracy. Many dictatorships have faux elections that change nothing. The real test of a nation’s political system is whether politicians respect the will of the voters — and in particular whether the most powerful leader, the one in control of the armed forces, willingly gives up power after losing an election. This is a test that countries such as Belarus and Zimbabwe have failed, and that the United States has passed, in good times and bad, for more than two centuries. Indeed, few presidents are even asked about their willingness to give up power because the answer is so obvious.

That is no longer the case. Asked on Wednesday whether he would commit to a “peaceful transfer of power,” President Trump did not say yes. He said: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.” He then said we should “get rid of the ballots” — presumably he meant mail-in ballots, but it wasn’t clear — and then ended with these chilling words: “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

This is how the dictators that Trump so admires speak. “It’s funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them,” he told Bob Woodward. “You know? Explain that to me someday, okay?” It’s not funny, it’s frightening, and the explanation is obvious: Trump shares with men like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan a contempt for the democratic process.

No U.S. president has said anything like this before. Ever. This by itself should be disqualifying. Even if Trump had been the best president in our history — rather than the worst — this refusal to play by the democratic rules should, all by itself, guarantee his electoral defeat.

But, of course, it won’t, because over the past four years we have all become habituated to having Trump erase one red line after another. Indeed, he also refused in 2016 to say that he would recognize the legitimacy of the election. But it is far more ominous for an incumbent than a challenger to talk like a tyrant.


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