Over the past few years, we’ve been seeing major setbacks for democracy all around the world. Although the trend doesn’t just go in one direction, recent elections in Italy are a case in point. It’s no coincidence that a fierce anti-migrant movement has been one of the main reasons for the rise of the far right. Although these forces have come to power through the ballot box, their policies, overtly neo-fascist in many cases, of racism and exclusion are by definition antidemocratic.
In our region, the antidemocratic project has as its main protagonist the figure of Donald Trump, head of our hemisphere’s hegemony and ironically referred to by U.S. press as “the leader of the free world”.
Trump came to power through the Electoral College after losing the popular vote by almost three million votes. Since then, he’s dedicated himself not only to excluding, but also bullying large sectors of the population, within the framework of a long-term project to strengthen the neoliberal model and ensure absolute control by the one percent, of which he is a proud part.
While the media focuses on his personality and his tweets, this ongoing antidemocratic project has serious implications for the United States and the rest of the world.
The project has four basic components: voter suppression and violation of voting rights, the exclusion of migrants and their families, restricting the rights of women, and the militarism that enforces the reduction of civil rights and liberties. These attacks on democracy have also become a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, which raises a red flag in this year of disputed elections in Latin America.
The first point derives from the fact that Trump doesn’t believe in the popular vote or the principle of one person-one vote, in which each individual carries the same weight. He focused his campaign not on winning the majority of votes, but on winning those votes that were key to a victory in the Electoral College, and neutralizing votes against him. For Trump, the popular vote and the right to have it respected is taboo. He instantly becomes very angry if a reporter brings it up. His administration is working to change laws and practices to suppress or permanently deny the vote to people who represent a threat to the patriarchal, nativist and capitalist project they promote.
Trump’s disdain for popular sovereignty was apparent in the recent elections in Honduras. The evidence of fraud in favor of Juan Orlando Hernández, who as president has been useful to U.S. interests in the region, was so overwhelming that the electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) stated that it could not declare a winner. But the Trump Administration recognized Hernandez right away and encouraged allies like Mexico and Colombia to support Hernández. The U.S. Embassy validated the betrayal of the popular will as expressed at the ballot box. This precedent—elections in Honduras stolen with the aid of the U.S. Government—does not augur well for Mexico.
Another way the Trump Administration erodes democracy is through his anti-migrant policies. Demographic shifts in the United States constitute the biggest threat to Trump & Company’s white supremacist vision. According to projections, so-called minorities (African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native communities) will soon be in the majority. The exercise of representative democracy in a country where “the enemy” (read non-whites, the left, or any group opposed to the power of elites) is in the majority, is a problem for the traditional elite, used to running the system for their own interests.
Trump has responded with a series of measures to ensure that migrants and their families, including U.S. citizens, are denied any possibility of enfranchisement, including physical expulsion from the country. Almost 11 million undocumented migrants are subject to arrest and deportation, migrants from certain Muslim countries are banned from entry, and migrants and refugees are increasingly limited, as the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is discontinued for Central Americans and Haitians, DACA is ended for young migrants, and an environment of permanent intimidation is created. Trump and his cronies are determined to make sure that diversity–the reality of many communities across the United States—becomes a thing of the past, and especially that it is not reflected in the electoral process.
The Trump Administration has also been restricting the democratic rights of women, without whom there is no democracy. The ban on foreign aid for reproductive health services, reducing access to contraceptives and legal abortions, and attempts to eliminate the right to choose affect not only women’s health, but also their ability to fully participate in a democratic society, since it prevents them from being able to plan their pregnancies. Forced maternity results in the loss of educational opportunities and forces women out of the job market. The permission given to sexual harassment from the White House is another expression of this administration’s “supercharged patriarchy.”
The fourth threat to democracy is the military regime. In addition to the generals in high cabinet positions (Kelly, McMaster, Mattis), the defense budget for 2019 is 716 billion dollars—a 10% increase over the prior year. This budget, which feeds the military-industrial complex to the point of obscenity, fosters an environment of constant intimidation and fear, pre-packaged and home delivered by the mass media.
With the exportation of Trump’s antidemocratic project, spaces for democracy to flourish have been reduced, but not closed off entirely. It’s not news that the country that talks about democracy the most, protects it the least. But it’s important to recognize this fact.
In a system where the exercise of representative democracy is basically a façade for the interests of those behind the curtain, the elite need to be able to manipulate votes and public opinion. These forms of manipulation are also a lucrative business in themselves.
When propaganda, disinformation, and picking and choosing who has access to the vote and who does not turns out to be insufficient, those who seek to stay in power have to resort to fraud. This is the part of the electoral process that nobody wants to talk about, but there is ample evidence of what happened during the U.S. presidential elections of 2000, the Mexican elections of 2006, and the aforementioned Honduran elections of 2017, to name a few. Electoral fraud can be upheld by courts favorable to the powers that be or through overt repression of democratic forces. It leads to situations of instability in which the new governments seek a military way out of their lack of legitimacy. The U.S. government’s support in carrying out the fraud, or even initiating it, is more than just a potential threat.
In Mexico, we are faced with an emergency situation with respect to democracy and sovereignty. While PRI Secretary of Relations Luis Videgaray praises the anti-Mexican Trump Administration (“The relationship [between the United States and Mexico] today is more fluid, and closer than it was under previous administrations”), the reality is that the Trump administration is completely antithetical to Mexican interests and the interests of democracy.
We need to monitor its actions and the Mexican response, create antidotes to the interventionist practices that will surely occur in these elections, and move forward in building true democracy in this country.
Translation by Slava Faybysh.