Most people perceive it as unthinkable that a country like America could end up a dictatorship. After all, America has an incredible amount of checks and balances, and is well designed to weather the storm of dictators and tyrants. However, even the most well designed and manufactured things can be broken, and many people have been weakening the fabric of our protections — especially over the past few decades — and both parties certainly share blame. In today’s article, we will go over reasons why America could theoretically lose its freedom and become a dictatorship, even if not in name.
10. The American People Have Become Increasingly Interested In Policy Over Process
Perhaps even a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for people to have the sort of dictatorial mindset that they do now, but things have become increasingly fraught. Where once people were concerned enough with the constitution and process, there seems to be a spirit of getting fed up in general with compromise and cooperation. Perhaps it’s the lack of delayed gratification due to internet culture, but we now have a world where people seem to simply want their political gains now, regardless of the future cost.
This kind of shortsighted thinking causes people to cheer on as politicians from both sides have chewed up a lot of checks and balances that once protected us, in favor of doing whatever it takes to get what their side wants. If we continue to cheer this on, politicians will continue to do so — maybe even to a more drastic extent — and we will continue to have less and less real power and influence over the process.
9. Foreign Dark Money And Influence Have Entered The American Political Sphere
One of the biggest worries of George Washington was that too much foreign involvement would lead to too much foreign influence. Now, unfortunately, this fear is starting to become real in ways he likely never even thought of. Washington was more concerned with too many international treaties, wars, and other involvements, and that is a pandora’s box that we opened long ago. However, the truth is that Supreme Court decision on Citizens United opened up a new kind of foreign influence that a lot of people never expected.
Most people focus on the fact the decision gave more power of money (which many believe equals speech in politics) to the big corporations, by basically saying they were individual people or entities when it came to their freedom to spend their bucks to give their opinions. And while many have considered this decision controversial, a lot of people didn’t notice that a part of the core decisions of Citizens United also made it way, way easier for dark money from other countries to enter our political system, and begin causing corruption and other problems that are very, very hard to track.
8. The Senate Is Gaining Incredible Power At The Expense Of The Congress
There are supposed to be the three equal branches of US government: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative. The legislative consists of both the house and the senate, and they are supposed to be equal. But recently, this has hardly been the case. The fact is that the senate already had a lot of power, such as being able to approve judges, including Supreme Court justices for life, without the involvement of the house at all. But never was the problem so clear until Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, hailing from the two major political parties in Washington, decided to remove pieces of the filibuster for various types of nominees, in order to “remove gridlock in Washington.”
This removal of gridlock in Washington has longterm ramifications, as it greatly changes the balance in the senate. Now, a very bare majority that votes together can force through a massive amount of judges with impunity — there is literally nothing that can be done to stop them. While there are arguments that the filibuster was being abused, it is also clear that removing it entirely for judicial nominees, without perhaps some kind of power sharing agreement over the issue with the house first, is only concentrating power in fewer and fewer hands, which is ultimately bad for democracy, regardless of which individuals are in charge.
7. The Power Of The Executive Has Increased By Leaps And Bounds
Since the days of “President” Dick Cheney and his faithful sidekick George W. Bush (We kid, we kid!), the power of the executive has greatly increased. Beginning in recent history with the second Bush administration, we saw the powers that be invoking “executive privilege” in unprecedented ways to avoid oversight. And while President Barack Obama claimed he was doing it to avoid trumped up inquisitions, his administration also made use of some of the same privileges.
On top of that, President Obama issued a number of executive orders (more notable for the scope of what they did than the sheer amount), all of which have already been reversed by President Trump. However, the fact that they are mostly non-binding (in that a new president can put a stop to them) is only so much comfort because in the meantime they can be very hard to challenge, and the president could just continue on with an abusive executive order.
Now, we have the Trump administration utilizing the attorney general as the president’s personal defense lawyer, and invoking blanket executive privilege on literally anything that would usually fall under congressional oversight. If we continue down this path, the logical conclusion is that the office of the presidency itself could end up entirely above the law. Regardless of your party affiliation or who is in office, this cannot be viewed as a good thing.
6. The Supreme Court Is Becoming Dangerously Political, And Drastic Steps May Be Taken
We are in uncharted territory with the Supreme Court. A nominee was blocked from even being considered for an unprecedented amount of time, solely for political reasons (in the hopes that a friendly president could elect someone more ideologically to the right). Since the right leaning president won, this gambit paid off, and then another justice retired and was replaced by a more right leaning justice. This, along with the very real possibility that Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be replaced by a nominee chosen by Donald Trump, and many are worried that the court could soon be extremely stacked to one side, and done so in a way that completely throws precedent, and consent procedures of the senate and the rule of law and fairness, completely out the window. (And before you head to the comments, if the same thing was happening under a Democrat, we’d be saying the same thing since, by its very nature, the Supreme Court is meant to be neutral and impartial regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office.)
However, while perhaps an argument could be made that the balance of the court needs to be restored, and that it has become too politicized in general (not to mention the fact that lifetime term limits are too long), some people are talking about extremely drastic steps that could lead us further and further into autocracy. The most drastic step being mentioned is simply adding a bunch of seats while a Democrat is president, but not only would that lead to huge political backlash, but a future Republican president might just then add more, or remove some. The Supreme Court would become even more of a political football and no one would be able to trust their decisions again.
Perhaps we need to end the lifetime term limits, and add staggered term limits to the ones in office, so they don’t all exit at once, and don’t all get replaced by one president. Perhaps something does indeed need to be done to restore the balance, but just trying to pack the court is a very dangerous road, and may just lead to more and more power being concentrated, once again, in fewer and fewer hands.
5. The President’s Cabinet Is Supposed To Be More Independent, But That Is Ending
The way it is supposed to work is that the president, when it comes to his cabinet, picks people not necessarily who are loyal to him, but who are going to be the best for the job. After they are nominated and confirmed, they are supposed to be independent and focused on running their section of the executive on their own. This allows for a more robust democracy, and for proper delegation of presidential and executive duties and authorities.
The problem is that in recent years, it has become increasingly normal for presidents to appoint people more based on loyalty to the party than what they are good at, and with the addition of policy “czars” who tend to be extra loyal to the president, more power is being concentrated in the hands of the top individual running the executive branch. On top of that, one of the filibusters that Harry Reid removed was for presidential cabinet nominees, which gives a friendly senate even more power to simply force through a bunch of highly “loyal” nominees for their new president.
4. Congress Abdicating Its Emergency Powers Is Quite Dangerous
When President Donald Trump issued a State of Emergency in order to appropriate money for his Southern Border Wall, there were many on both sides of the political aisle who were concerned, because if it was allowed to go through unchallenged and became a precedent, congress’s collective power would drastically weaken as the president could now end-run around them anytime he wants. Only a two-thirds majority can actually stop any president, which is rather hard to do with how tribal party politics have become. While it is still being challenged by the courts, if allowed to go through the precedent could be bad for people of either party and not enough Republicans were willing to embarrass the president in order to protect their own power.
Some may be happy now if it works and President Trump is able to build a border wall, but a Democratic president could just as easily use a State of Emergency, in the same vein, to go and seize all the guns, ban huge amounts of fossil fuel (claiming an environmental crisis), give people universal healthcare by declaring a healthcare emergency, and so on. This kind of emergency power literally allows the president to be a dictator — and that’s not good for anyone, even if you currently agree with whatever party that president is hailing from.
3. Gerrymandering, Voter Suppression, And The Electoral College Allow For Minority Rule
So some people ask, how can you have a dictatorship if the majority of the people are clearly not okay with it? And the answer is, you rig the system so hard it is almost impossible for a fair vote. In the United States, gerrymandering is often challenged in the courts, but we don’t really have a nationwide standard yet to truly put an end to this madness. Right now districts are divided up way too often on clearly biased grounds in order to benefit one party or another, and in general voter suppression is about as rampant as it has been since the days of Jim Crow.
To make matters worse, the electoral college is an outmoded system that gives extra power to a smaller number of people, and it also makes people’s votes count significantly less. The truth is the reason voter enthusiasm is often so low is because people feel like their vote doesn’t matter. And the truth is that beyond symbolism, if you don’t live in a swing state, it probably doesn’t matter that much, ultimately. This is because due to the electoral college, the popular vote is not recognized as what makes a true victor, so if your candidate didn’t win your state, your vote was completely pointless. These sorts of soft suppression of votes through the use of gerrymandering and the electoral college, along with actual voter suppression, make it far easier for people and ideas that are statistically unpopular to continue to remain in charge, or the law of the land.
2. Once Entrenched, A Regime Would Be Hard To Remove
Another big problem is that these days far too many states, especially important swing states, are moving away from the safer and more reliable paper systems of voting. While things like ballot stuffing can still be done, with enough election observers it is really hard to get away with that sort of thing. On the other hand, a clever enough computer attack may not be noticed until much later; the security on our voting machines is terrible and it may be difficult to prove that the totals were even changed. It doesn’t even require massive, country-wide effort, as with the electoral college system in place, you just need to lock down a few of the correct swing states.
Once a dictatorial regime truly started to become entrenched, it would not be hard for them to hack just a few machines in the right place, to ensure at least a close victory, or the appearance of one. Some states could pass stricter laws to try to prevent these issues, but as we said, it really doesn’t take a lot of states to swing the election due to the electoral college and the fact that the popular vote is becoming less and less meaningful. And the truth is, a regime like this would not need to publicly say they now have a dictator and certainly wouldn’t benefit from doing so — they could easily pretend to keep democracy for some time as they establish their power even further, before anyone realizes just how bad things have become.
1. What If A President Lost A Close Election And Chose Not To Step Down?
Some on the Democratic side, such as Nancy Pelosi, have started to wonder recently (as people have wondered about Obama, Bush, and presidents past) if President Donald Trump will step aside if he loses a relatively close election. Many believe that it is possible that he, or some president in the future, could choose — especially with the temptation of the increase of executive power — to attempt to simply say the election results are invalid, and contest them as long as possible. Of course, such an action would almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court, but if the court was friendly enough, they may rule in a close election in favor of the incumbent. If the Supreme Court wasn’t friendly, the president could attempt to pack the court claiming some kind of executive power, and see just how far they could push things.
Of course, all of this is more likely to happen slowly, in front of you, with people pretending to like democracy the whole way through as they destroy it and pound it to dust with their boot heel. The idea of something like martial law happening is quite unlikely. While it would allow the president to suspend the constitution, and order the military to pretty much control the country, it would be unlikely the military would consider it a lawful order and obey, unless there was actual civil war or deep civil unrest.
Of course, in a situation where a president who should have peacefully transitioned power chose not to, civil unrest could end up being a huge issue, and then the president has in an to declare martial law — although for the military to consider it a lawful order it would have to be very serious and prolonged unrest to maintain a dictatorship. After that, the rest could be very ugly history, and the term limit may not even need to be upended — after all, terms don’t matter when you don’t have to worry about pesky things like a constitution. And, as long as the crisis and unrest continued, that martial law — due to the state of national emergency — could go on indefinitely.
(So, uh… Happy Independence Day, everyone!)