Editorial: Our democracy is eroding

The ghosts of 1933 serve as a warning about the fragility of democracy

Jim Acosta reports at a campaign rally for Donald Trump on Feb. 22, 2016. Acostas press pass was recently revoked by the Trump administration after his actions toward a White House intern were deemed unacceptable, raising concerns about American democracy today.

Jim Acosta / Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Jim Acosta reports at a campaign rally for Donald Trump on Feb. 22, 2016. Acosta’s press pass was recently revoked by the Trump administration after his actions toward a White House intern were deemed “unacceptable,” raising concerns about American democracy today.

Editorial Staff

If you have ever studied any type of history, chances are that you will come across a figure named Adolf Hitler. Yes. That Adolf Hitler.

And if you look a bit closer, you may find that Hitler was, as it so happens to be, not that great of a person. In fact, he committed some of history’s greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust, which killed around six million people in his attempt to eradicate races whom he found inferior. These so-called “inferior races” included Jews, the LGBTQ+ community, gypsies, and more.

Now, you may be wondering, “How could people let Hitler come into power? Did he do it illegally?” The answer is no.

Hitler was able to come into power legally through a completely democratic system. In 1933, after multiple chancellors failed to maintain control and order, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor. From there, Hitler worked to establish a Nazi majority in the Reichstag, or German Parliament, until finally, an opening came in February 1933 in the form of the Reichstag Fire.

About a month later, the now Nazi-run Reichstag voted to pass the Enabling Act, giving Hitler complete and utter control of Germany. Three months later, the government passed a law stating that the Nazi Party was the only official political party in all of Germany.

Hitler’s rise to absolute power perfectly illustrates the concept called democratic backsliding, where democracy is lost through a completely democratic and legal series of actions, according to Vox News.

Now, it appears that this is becoming a very real and prevalent threat in the United States.

One of the things that Hitler was able to do well was to spread propaganda and to prey on the fears of the general population — that is, to manipulate the environment and people’s perception of events in his favor.

On Nov. 7, the Trump Administration revoked CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass on the grounds of harassment towards a female White House aide.

Later that day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out an official statement regarding the administration’s course of action.

Sanders said, “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”

The tweet was accompanied by a video in which Acosta appeared to chop down on the arm of a White House intern who was trying to take his mic from him.

There was just one problem: the video was doctored. Numerous side-by-side videos revealed that the chop was sped up to make it appear more aggressive in what critics claim was an attempt to “score more political points.” Furthermore, Acosta’s words, “Pardon me, ma’am,” were not included in the video Sanders shared.

Although numerous journalists and civilians have replied to the tweet debunking its accusations, the White House has yet to respond. The tweet is still available on Sanders’ official Twitter account.

It is now an age where the White House willingly gives out false information to uphold their image and by extension, the administration currently in power. This is disturbingly similar to the propaganda that Hitler spread nearly 100 years ago.

According to Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of the book How Democracies Die, democracy erodes in several stages.

  1. The leader shows a disregard towards democratic rules.
  2. They consistently undermine and question the legitimacy of their opponents.
  3. They tolerate violence.
  4. They are somewhat willing to suspend the rights of the free press or civil liberties.

The Trump administration has barred reporters from attending certain events before but never has the administration ever suspended somebody’s press credentials. Yes, you read that right. The administration took away Acosta’s press credentials.

It is therefore worrisome that the Trump administration was willing to suspend Acosta’s press pass over a minor infraction. It is even more worrisome that the White House shared doctored footage to manipulate public opinion in an effort to justify their actions.

Now, that is not to say that Trump will be the end of American democracy. The Constitution is renowned for its checks and balances, and so far, it has worked. However, the actions of the Trump administration are paving the way towards the gradual erosion of democracy, which is subtle and nearly unnoticeable until the change is too large to rectify.

On a happier note, it isn’t impossible to slow down or even reverse democratic backsliding. For one thing, it is important for the press to continue to hold the administration and figures in power accountable. Another possible solution presents itself in the midterm elections, which occurred earlier this year on Nov. 6. For those under 18, it is also important to be aware of fake news and to be informed about current events. Through voting, awareness, and accountability, hope remains for the future of American democracy.

*This editorial reflects the views of the Scot Scoop editorial board. This editorial was written by Anna Feng.