Defending Democracy in 2017

As a candidate for president of the United States Donald Trump refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election.

He seemed to condone violence against people who disrupted his election rallies. This kind of behaviour does not encourage us to believe that he will abide by democratic principles as president. The most worrying aspect of his behaviour is that in acting as he did throughout the presidential campaign and by displaying intolerance and contempt for Muslims, Mexicans, women and the political opposition, he increased the divisions in American society.

There is a danger in the US of divisions becoming so great that they will threaten the cohesiveness of the nation. Trump increased this danger by widening the polarisation between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, his core supporters and others. If an important figure such as Trump starts to sow the seeds of doubt in democracy or any of the other principles of nationhood which bind people together it means that their common identity has started to come apart.

This could lead to the break-up of society into warring factions who no longer see themselves as united within a single society but who believe that those who are not with them are the enemy. To those driven by such ideas democracy can seem like a tool of the enemy because it makes it possible for the opposition to have a share of power.

We just have to look at the Middle East today for an example of how democracy is, in this way, prevented from developing. The failure of the Arab Spring demonstrated that many people in the Middle East want democracy, but ethnic, sectarian and ideological conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and other countries have either prevented its development or led to its degeneration. Divided societies have a poor record of creating or maintaining democracy, that is, societies which are divided with a capital ‘D’.

Right-wing populist and anti-establishment parties in Europe have been emboldened by Trump’s win. What should the left do to counter the threats to democracy we face? The first step is to recognise how important democracy is in underpinning our own activities. We wouldn’t be able to function if people couldn’t belong to a political party of their choice or vote for representatives of their choice or if freedom of speech was curtailed.

We may have taken these freedoms for granted during less challenging times, but can no longer afford to do so now.

Campaigning to defend democracy isn’t going to make us unpopular; i’m sure that there are millions of people in Britain who fear the loss of freedom because of current world conditions. They would most likely welcome progressives defending democracy because it would give them the hope for which they are undoubtedly now searching.

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