Opinion

ALEX BEAM

Our (un)imperiled democracy

globe staff illustration/ap

A friend used the phrase “our imperiled democracy” in a recent message, and the words caught me up short. I don’t view what passes for American democracy as imperiled. On the contrary, it looks quite healthy to me.

I’d be the first to agree that “democracy” is a misnomer for a free-form scrum of competing moneyed interests purportedly acting on behalf of “the people,” whoever they are. Certain outrages are now baked in, e.g., the see-sawing of political gerrymandering, presidents elected while losing the popular vote.

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But the “democracy is imperiled” crowd insists that democracy has become endangered ever since Donald Trump took office. I disagree.

Straight out of the box, a series of judges defied the newly elected president and shafted his attempted Muslim travel ban. That’s called judicial review. It’s a hallmark of our democracy. A few days from now, Trump’s revised travel ban may get its day in court — the Supreme Court. Just as the Founders intended.

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Another example: Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, dream of crippling the State Department with budget cuts of 30 per cent. That’s their right; the president proposes, but it’s the legislature that disposes where budgets are concerned. Both Republican and Democratic legislators have branded the foreign policy cuts “dead on arrival,” and are talking about increasing several foreign policy line items.

Trump tried the same stunt with funding for the National Institutes of Health. He got his head handed to him. The majority of congressmen and women face the voters more often than the president, and it would seem there is little stomach for the Trump-Tillerson bloodbath.

The executive branch enjoys many prerogatives, and the Trumpsters aren’t shy about using them. In 2012, President Obama used executive powers to protect so-called dreamers, the Americanized children of illegal immigrants, and now Trump threatens to use those same powers to deport them.

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The executive branch has the power to impose or rescind environmental regulations, for instance, or to ban firearms use on Army Corps of Engineers property. Right now the EPA and the Justice Department, which administer these rules, report to Trump. So he’s approving gas pipelines, easing up on polluters, and lightening up on gun controls. Three and a half years from now, let’s hope they have a different boss.

Playing the pitch pipe for the “democracy is imperiled” amen chorus is Yale professor Timothy Snyder, who has likened Trump to Adolf Hitler. Snyder preaches that “we are hanging by our teeth to the rule of law,” and that a presidential coup attempt “is more or less inevitable.”

There is quite an audience for this pap, reinforced by Snyder’s status as a once-respected professor at a university that people have heard of. As usual, there are books to be sold, in this case Snyder’s slender volume “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”

These aren’t the times I would have chosen to live in, and Trump is a president I would not have wished on my worst enemies. Having said that, people seem to forget that 63 million Americans voted for Trump and his vaguely defined agenda: Sort out immigration, build a conservative firewall on the Supreme Court, and minimize — or better, eliminate — government regulation in many fields.

So that’s democracy. Your idea, perhaps my idea of where the country should be heading is indeed imperiled. But just because the system isn’t working for us doesn’t mean it’s not working. “Imperiled democracy”? Nah, not yet.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.
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