by Janet McCabe

Most of us have lived our lives in the freedom of American democracy.  It has never occurred to us that a democracy as enduring as ours could be weakened and die. But history has shown otherwise. In their 2018 best-selling book, “How Democracies Die,” authors Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt present examples of conditions that have allowed other democratic countries to succumb to dictators.

The most significant factor weakening democracy is buildup of rigid hatred between political parties and allegiances. To quote their book, “When democracy has worked, it has relied upon two norms that we often take for granted – mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance.Treating rivals as legitimate contenders for power and under-utilizing one’s institutional prerogatives in the spirit of fair play are not written into the American Constitution. Yet without them, our constitutional checks and balances will not operate as we expect them to.”

How might these observations play out in America’s Nov. 3 election?

President Donald Trump’s most adamant supporters have been in places where many traditional jobs have been lost. Now the pandemic has compounded earlier hardships.  Business closures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have widened the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.” The resentment felt by voters is understandable. Many of our fellow Americans are facing homelessness this winter. These are extremely hard times for people who were already struggling! They have gravitated to Trump, despite his flaws, because they saw no hope in the status quo.

But Joe Biden is not the status quo. His genuine concern for the plight of ordinary Americans is obvious. In campaigning he stops to talk with people one-to-one.  He wants to rebuild the middle class, “the backbone of this nation,” starting with access to affordable education so that “everyone can have the skills they need to succeed.” His plans include spending $775 billion to build the nation’s care-giving system, creating jobs for millions, especially women and people of color, and providing universal preschool education.

He is the ultimate un-Trump, someone who can bring us together, all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.  As a speaker he is not strident and over-confident. Rather he is what he is – a modest, decent, capable guy who will put in the hard work to improve the lot of ordinary Americans. And he would bring to the office a wealth of knowledge and wisdom from eight years as vice president for President Barack Obama and from his thirty-six years in Congress as a U.S. senator for Delaware.

In comparison, look at Trump. As President Obama said, “He’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

Add to this Trump’s support for white supremacists and his cruelty to children.

Most of us have pledged “allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Our allegiance to America should help us decide how to vote.

So come on Americans, grasp this thistle strongly! On Nov. 3 use your vote to save our democracy. This could be your last chance to vote.

Janet McCabe served as Acting Superintendent for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park in  1993.  She and her husband, David, have lived in Alaska for most of their lives.