The future of democracy — not just in the United States, but around the globe — may very well hinge on whether former President Donald Trump is elected or defeated this November.
It’s important to understand that Trump is not an aberration, but rather the American iteration of the global far-right project to replace democracy with authoritarianism throughout the world. His brand of hyper-nationalism combined with the intense consolidation of executive power follows the same playbook as fascistic leaders in other countries, like Narendra Modi in India, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, Giorgia Meloni in Italy, and Javier Milei in Argentina, among others.
Trump, however, presents a unique threat to democracy as a whole that the world leaders in the aforementioned paragraph do not. If elected to lead the third-largest country, the largest economy, and the most well-funded military in the world, Trump’s election to a second term would be a green light to fascists around the world that the era of democracy has come to an end. It would embolden the worst elements of society throughout the world and mobilize fascists to further entrench themselves in their respective countries’ governments.
Trump 2.0 would effectively re-establish monarchy
In 1787, as the US Constitution was being assembled, Philadelphia socialite Elizabeth Willing Powel asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” While electing Donald Trump to a second term wouldn’t abolish the Constitution outright, he has already signaled he would be in favor of “termination” of articles of the Constitution. Franklin’s response to Powel signaled that he knew transitioning from monarchy to democracy would require constant effort, and that monarchy could once again become the dominant form of government without a vigilant public.
Trump’s quip that he would govern as a dictator “but only on day one” is uncharacteristic of dictators, who typically cling to power as long as possible and frequently alter the nature of their governments to ensure their rule in perpetuity. Like other far-right authoritarian leaders around the world, Trump would have the title of president, but would rule as a king. He has a multitude of contemporary examples to draw from.
In 2017, for example — just a year after a failed coup attempt — Turkey’s voters narrowly approved a referendum Erdogan pushed for that changed Turkey’s government from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidential system. In 2018, he became the first president with new sweeping executive powers. He was recently elected to another five-year term last year, extending his rule to more than two decades.
Vladimir Putin has done the same in Russia, where a constitutional change in 2020 allowed him to reset the two-term limit for presidents back to zero. Rather than stepping down this year as planned, Putin could remain in office until at least 2036. And Chinese President Xi Jinping’s party eliminated presidential term limits in 2018, paving the way for Xi to potentially remain in office for the rest of his life. The 69-year-old won a third term in office last year, making him the longest-tenured Chinese head of state since Mao Zedong.
Should he win the November election, Trump would take the presidential oath of office at age 78, so him remaining in office for multiple terms would be unlikely given his advanced age. However, the profound damage that a second Trump term would do to democracy would be felt for decades — particularly by racial minorities.
A second Trump term could end multiracial democracy in the US
It’s important to establish that American democracy in particular has been only for the privileged few for most of the United States’ existence, as the genocide of Native Americans proved along with the enslavement of Black people. Even after the end of the Civil War, the right of Black people to have a say in government was routinely denied and curtailed — often by force — by both white supremacist vigilantes and government officials.
The passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and the eventual election of the first Black president still hasn’t ended the assault on democratic rights that many Black Americans today still face by law enforcement and state legislatures. As this publication has previously explored, Nazi Germany borrowed many ideas from the antebellum-era United States to create the framework for an aryan ethnostate.
Trump himself has not said anything about rolling back gains for African Americans, but his allies have started to test the waters of an anti-civil rights campaign in earnest. During a 2023 gathering of more than 20,000 far-right activists dubbed “America Fest,” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk attacked both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
“MLK was awful,” Kirk said at the gathering, which was headlined by figures like Donald Trump Jr., former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida). “He’s not a good person. He said one good thing he didn’t actually believe.”
“I have a very, very radical view on this, but I can defend it and I’ve thought about it,” he continued. “We made a huge mistake when we passed the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s.”
The United States’ status as a multiracial democracy makes it one of just a small few around the world, as many Western democracies are ethnically homogeneous. And even in ethnically homogenous democracies, fascism has proven its resilience when countries are faced with an influx of new residents who don’t look like the majority racial group.
After the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, for example, Germany and Sweden set themselves apart by accepting more refugees than most of their European neighbors, taking in more than one million refugees and over 100,000 refugees, respectively. Denmark accepted more than 35,000 refugees from Syria. A 2020 study found that many of the refugees settled in Germany are thriving, with roughly half of them finding a job by late 2020 and support for immigration high among the German populace.
But in recent years, the diversification of those countries has led to racist and nationalist backlash. In Germany, the Nazi-adjacent Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party recently held a meeting with neo-Nazis and other white nationalist groups to discuss mass deportation plans. The Guardian reported that some participants in that meeting included members of Austria’s Identitarian Movement, which subscribe to the racist “Great Replacement theory” that immigrants are being deliberately sent to “replace” whites as the dominant racial demographic. That meeting prompted mass protests across the country. One protest was even joined by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
In Sweden, a nascent fascist movement rooted in anti-immigrant fervor has also been steadily building power. The Sweden Democrats, which has roots in neo-Nazi organizing in the 1980s and 1990s, has gone from a fringe group to a legitimate political party, winning gains in Sweden’s 2022 parliamentary elections. While Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson was elected Prime Minister in 2022, his coalition depends on the support of the Sweden Democrats.
Meanwhile, Denmark’s racism has become apparent when contrasting its treatment of predominantly white Ukrainian refugees with how it treated Syrian refugees. Denmark’s government implemented a policy of seizing gold and jewelry from migrants who came from war-torn Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Iraq, but exempted Ukrainian refugees from that law. This prompted condemnation from human rights watchdog group Euro-Med Monitor.
While examples like these are still few and far between, electing Donald Trump to the presidency could help strengthen and enable other racist politicians around the world who seek to implement racial hierarchies in other western democracies.
One stark contrast between Trump and Biden is Biden’s commitment to multiracial democracy. His campaign has emphasized the importance of diversity as a strength, not only with respect to his decision to make a Black woman his vice president and his appointment of a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in US history, but in other actions as well.
As a Democratic president, Biden exercised his power over the Democratic National Committee to elevate South Carolina — which has a sizable population of Black voters — above the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential primary process. He’s used his presidential pardon powers to clear the records of thousands of people with small marijuana convictions (a crime for which Black people have been disproportionately prosecuted), helping them obtain jobs and housing and rebuild their lives. And despite the Supreme Court tossing out his $400 billion plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student debt per borrower, Biden has found other pathways to implement debt cancellation. This has a profound impact particularly on Black Americans, who are more likely than whites to have to borrow money to pay for college given the generational wealth gap.
The 2024 election isn’t just about whether Americans truly want to live in a multiracial democracy as opposed to a monarchy with a racial hierarchy — it’s about whether we want to live in a world where democracy and equal rights for people of all backgrounds is respected. The results of November’s election will have a rippling effect for years to come, if not decades.