President Trump and the Integrity of American Democracy

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 January 19, 2018|
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

On the eve of the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration, it is worthwhile to reflect on the significance of his presidency for the quality of our nation’s politics.

Some Americans have criticized the president as a threat to our democratic way of life. They point to his brawling rhetoric, his tendency to insult and demean his political opponents, and contend that these habits undermine the norms of civility that sustain a healthy democracy.

Even the most ardent Trump supporters ought to be able to admit, upon reflection, that these critics have a point. A large, diverse, self-governing country is bound to have serious disagreements among its people. Such a country can manage its affairs successfully only if these inevitable disagreements do not get overheated. Successful democratic politics requires cooperation among people of diverse views, and such cooperation grows more and more difficult as civility is abandoned.

Nevertheless, to be fair to President Trump—and to reassure ourselves about the state of our country—it is worth pointing out that when it comes to the integrity of our democracy, Trump is not all bad.

On the contrary, there is an important sense in which his presidency can be understood as building up the integrity of our democracy.

Trump is extraordinary among recent presidents not only for his shocking combativeness but also for something much more admirable: his spirited determination to stick to the promises on which he campaigned.

Trump the candidate promised to be tough on illegal immigration, to make our allies pay more for the common defense, to renegotiate our trade deals, to nominate conservative judges, to cut taxes, and to repeal and replace Obamacare. He certainly has not tried to slink away from any of these promises but rather has dedicated all of his (considerable) energy to fulfilling them. No fair-minded observer can deny this.

This is not to say that Trump is perfect on this score. Every campaign puts out a huge laundry list of promises, many of which are never kept (and most of which are not even noticed by the voters).  Trump’s campaign was no exception, and if we judge him by this standard, he does not look so unusual.

But every campaign also makes some distinct, big-ticket promises, and Trump has stayed extraordinarily true to his. This started to become clear when he delivered his inaugural address and said pretty much what he had always said, and it has become clearer over his first year as he has stuck doggedly to his agenda.

Delivering on key campaign promises is not as common for presidents as we might think—or as we should demand. Consider the history of the last thirty years of American politics. George H.W. Bush famously said, “Read my lips: No new taxes”—a pledge he violated in the second year of his first and only term as president. In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned promising a middle-class tax cut. He dropped the idea almost immediately upon taking office. In 2000, George W. Bush promised a humble foreign policy that eschewed nation-building abroad. His actual foreign policy charted practically the opposite course.

Barack Obama did not break any important campaign promise. Nevertheless, as president he did sell his main legislative priority—the Affordable Care Act—on the basis of the now infamous promise: “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.” This, of course, turned out to be false once the law was put into operation.

This history ought to remind us that there is more to good politics than politeness. After all, all of these promises were made and broken with the utmost civility.

Indeed, this decades-long record of broken promises by our highest political officials probably explains, at least in part, why Trump won. Enough voters felt that they had been played too many times by the more conventional politicians of both parties. More important, these voters were right to resent being played and to try something different in order to put a stop to it. In doing so, they were taking action to preserve or restore the integrity of our democracy.

Representative democracy means that the voters get to choose the basic direction of the country. In this sense, the voters are entitled to govern the country, although they do not administer its government. They must perform this act of governance on the basis of the representations that are made to them by candidates for public office. This entire process is, of course, a fraud if those who are elected do not hold themselves bound to try to deliver on the promises they made while campaigning for office.

We may rightly hope that future presidents have a more diplomatic mode of expression than Trump. But we may also rightly hope that they imitate him in seriously intending, and then seriously trying to deliver, what they promise. This is just as important as civility to maintaining a healthy democracy.

About the Author:

Carson Holloway
Carson Holloway is a Visiting Scholar in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
Loading...

24 Comments

  1. Frank Natoli January 19, 2018 at 9:57 am

    It would appear that Mr. Holloway is blissfully unaware how Barack Hussein Obama bitterly antagonized millions of Americans with his rhetoric, day after day, for eight long years. Must there be double standards for EVERYTHING? Including characterization of Presidential rhetoric?

    • URstandingwhere January 19, 2018 at 10:28 am

      That’s right NO DRAMA OBAMA was constantly making headlines, everyday calling out stupid Republican policies.

      • fourpmfox January 19, 2018 at 1:12 pm

        Unfortunately he has been found wrong on almost everything that came out of his mouth….

    • GlennPMorris January 19, 2018 at 10:57 am

      They think you hold court on a battlefield with all the nicities

      Then again they dished up Romney, McCain, Bushes who gave us the Clintons / obamas

      • Lottie January 20, 2018 at 2:30 am

        Goℴgle paying every one 97 US dollars per/hr to complete esay jobs on my home computer .. Labor Some only few hours daily and enjoy greater time together with your own friends … You can also have this work…last Saturday I bought a brand new Mitsubishi Evo after I been earning $12352 this-past/month .it’s actually my favourite-job however you could now not forgive yourself if you don’t visit it.!yx271w:↭↭↭ http://GoogleOnlineMixNetJobsOpportunity/simple/work ♥♥♥b♥♥♥l♥♥q♥♥z♥♥j♥♥♥k♥♥♥r♥♥♥l♥♥♥d♥♥♥t♥♥j♥♥w♥g♥♥♥g♥♥♥t♥♥j♥♥t♥a♥f♥♥a♥♥♥h♥♥z♥♥♥c♥c♥♥a:::::!iw78z:lh

      • Frank Natoli January 20, 2018 at 9:48 am

        As Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher once so aptly observed about New York Giants manager Mel Ott, “nice guys finish last”.

    • E. +Goldstein January 20, 2018 at 6:29 am

      Mr. Holloway seems to accept the bias and incompetence of the media as something that should simply be accepted without a fight as Romney did.. Like many of those who are borderline Never Trumpers, he is more upset by Trump being blunt than by the leftists taking the country into ruin. They are like the French Aristocrats who proudly climbed the steps of the guillotine rather than fight an undignified losing battle.

      • Epaminondas January 20, 2018 at 9:48 am

        There is a reason for the term “cuckservative”.

      • Frank Natoli January 20, 2018 at 9:52 am

        I suspect MANY people voted for Barack Hussein because of his soothing and entirely untruthful rhetoric, never pausing a moment to think about what Barack Hussein actually promised to do, either rhetorically or by personal history.
        And I suspect the same usual suspects did NOT vote for Donald Trump because of his Queens real estate contractor street language, never pausing a moment to think about what Donald Trump actually promised to do, and indeed has done.
        Behold, the American electorate.

        • E. +Goldstein January 20, 2018 at 10:33 am

          I think you are correct about Obama, especially for the first time in 2008. However many of the same people did the same thing in 2012 and then outright right rejected Trump. The Never Trumpers remaining are and always have been a fifth column who functioned to keep conservatism from coming to power. They sound conservative, but act like leftists. First and foremost they are aristocrats and conservatives are not.

  2. GlennPMorris January 19, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Patton, Trump… what diff does it make.
    When the Leftist barbarians were at the throat of my country President Trump was our answer—》

    Break Glass Fk Them Up

  3. hamburgertoday2017 January 19, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    The reality is that ‘civility’ in politics has just been a cover for the globalist uniparty and the progressive left to pursue their agendas with little impediment. The press, in particular, lack any semblance of civility. President Trump has nothing to apologize for and neither do the people who elected him. In every respect, the President has conformed to the separation of Constitutional powers and governed in accord with the rule of law. This is all the ‘civility’ anyone should reasonably expect: Adherence to the laws of the land.

    • Everett Brunson January 19, 2018 at 1:42 pm

      All true, but the left is still convinced he is Hitler re-incarnated. I so look forward to the mid-terms–another chance to show the left how out of touch they are.

  4. LudicrousSextus January 19, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    First – where Obama is concerned – there was *never* any point in his presidency at which he put the safety and security of Americans over his allegiance to Islam. Or for that matter, over his own ego.

    I find it pretty amusing (or not) that Trump can have ‘two scoops of ice cream when reporters only got one’ – and it becomes more of an issue to the MSM than the serial rapist who occupied (and cleaned out) the White House and his career criminal wife’s antics…

    And it’s refreshing as hell to have a self made man at the helm instead of an affirmative action jackarse.

    • Deplorable Incisor January 20, 2018 at 4:33 am

      1000 upvotes!

  5. Joel Mathis January 19, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    It’s worth noting that while President Trump won the Electoral College – we’ll leave the question of “fair and square” for another day – he did so with a minority of the popular vote, and he has conducted his first year of office with approval ratings of 40 percent or less.

    Please don’t explain the constitutional system to me. Just understand: When you assert that “representative democracy means that the voters get to choose the basic direction of the country,” we don’t have much indication that’s what has actually happened in Trump’s case.

    • Deplorable Incisor January 20, 2018 at 4:33 am

      That is precisely why the Electoral College is in place. To keep the loony left coast and the east coast elites from running roughshod over the rest of the country. I can guarantee that if the situation were reversed and Clinton had won the college and lost the popular, progs wouldn’t have a single problem with it.
      Thankfully that did not happen and we do not have to endure another 4-8 years of insanity.
      After 8 years of Trump it is possible that some of the more enlightened people on the left will come to their senses (a few already have), but I’m not holding my breath on that. You really can’t fix stupid and the stupid run deep on that side of the aisle.
      RELEASE THE MEMO – MAGA!!!

    • E. +Goldstein January 20, 2018 at 6:05 am

      Obama was either the most despicable President in US history or the most incompetent, take your pick. In his eight years he attempted to take the country into a race war by inciting Black hatred of non Blacks and hatred of the police, mischaracterizing events like the Trayvon Martin fatal attack upon Zimmerman and Ferguson into being anti-black. He succeeded in setting race relations back. When he took office the insane policy of giving mortgages to those who could never pay them had led to an economic collapse. The practice is still promoted, the banks are still to big to fail. He refused to support any project that would increase economic growth like the pipeline or fracking resulting in a max of 2% growth and usually less during his eight years. He left it to the Fed to try and pull the economy out of recession. With QE I,II,III the Fed flooded the markets with cash, but since no business was willing to expand in the anti-business Obama government that cash went into creating a stock market bubble. This has addressed only two of Obama’s many disasters, because there is nothing Obama did in his eight years that was not destructive to the US.

  6. Trinity Waters January 19, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    I don’t rightly hope that Trump changes his public persona. What he’s doing is working. Isn’t that enough?

  7. Deplorable Incisor January 20, 2018 at 4:47 am

    “Even the most ardent Trump supporters ought to be able to admit, upon reflection, that these critics have a point.”

    And what point would that be pray tell? That Donald J Trump has found the recipe that will finally defeat the leftist at their own game? When the left decides to play nice for 30 plus years then maybe we will relent and let them off the hook for the past 30 plus year of hate and discontent directed at conservatives and people of faith. You may not like his methods Mr. Holloway but those of us not on the DC Cocktail Circuit LOVE HIS METHODS. Most of us have been waiting our entire lives for a President like Donald J Trump. There is nothing sweeter than seeing the likes of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer beaten to death at their own game. The best part is that the beatings have only just begun. We have 7 more years to look forward too and I won’t regret one second of it. MAGA!

    Oh, and we will never get tired of WINNING!

    • E. +Goldstein January 20, 2018 at 5:38 am

      Trump is a very frank realist who accurately describes his enemies. That is what makes him so loved and respected by his voters. Does anyone think Hillary is not crooked or that her husband is not a rapist? Is there another Republican who would have accurately called her Crooked Hillary or brought Willie’s victims to a debate? It is his unwillingness to be defined by the media that makes me proudest of him.

  8. kentramsay January 20, 2018 at 6:21 am

    On the biggest issues of the 2016 campaign Trump has definitely “not delivered as promised”. On Obamacare Trump did zero to lead Congress to full repeal. In fact, as the House was beginning debate, Trump attacked the Freedom Caucus because it was trying to put a true repeal bill up for vote, as promised. Trump threatened to primary the Freedom Caucus for their not blindly accepting the Ryan fake repeal bill.

    On ending the DREAMER program, promised to end it on Day 1 with an Executive Order, since it was created that way by Obama. Trump didn’t. Now Trump is actively pushing to keep the DREAMERs here on a pathway to citizenship totally counter to his promise to send them home along with their parents.

    He has done good things with judicial appointments and cutting regulations and moving the US embassy in Israel. All good. But he has not kept the two biggest promises on Obamacare and immigration. In fact his actions since becoming President prove that he misled his voters on these issues. He used campaign lies. His immigration plan is almost the same as Jeb’s.

  9. MPCpiano January 20, 2018 at 9:33 am

    “This is what fighting back looks like.”

  10. QET January 20, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Prediction: a century from now, historians will look on Trump’s raw rhetoric as a highly effective and necessary emetic for restoring the health of our body politic.

Comments are closed.