The following article is included in my new book, Donald Trump: Deadbeat Tyrant, published 13th January, 2021.
A French philosopher once noted of the Roman Empire’s fall:
If the chance of one battle — that is, a particular cause — has brought a state to ruin, some general cause made it necessary for that state to perish from a single battle. In a word, the main trend draws with it all particular accidents
Montesquieu was right. Rome did not fall due to the military defeats inflicted upon it by barbarians at the gate, it fell due to a combination of economic difficulties, territorial over-expansion, military overspending, government corruption and general political instability, among a range of other factors. The military defeats were the “particular accidents” that ultimately stemmed from “the main trend” of imperial decline.
Whatever the cause, Rome fell, as all great empires do.
But democracy can fall too: Italy in the 1920s; Germany in the 1930s; Chile in the 1970s; Brazil, Hungary and several other in the 2010s.
As we approach the long and drawn out counting of the votes, a spectacle that will draw a global audience of tens of millions, some now question whether the US is on the verge of joining the growing list of fallen democracies. Even before the count has begun, the man on the throne casts aspersions on the legitimacy of the vote and refuses to say whether he will accept defeat or not. The possibility of a peaceful transfer of power, long the gold-standard characteristic of a democratic regime, looks increasingly doubtful as business owners board up their premises in anticipation of the violence that they fear will erupt on or after election day.
We do not yet know the extent of the danger to democracy, but it is there.
That the threat to democracy emanates from Donald Trump and his more ardent, violent supporters should not be in doubt. Yet Trump ought to be seen as (in Montesquieu’s words) “the particular accident” rather than the “main trend”. Donald Trump is not some virus that has infected American democracy. He is merely the most visible symptom of a wider illness, one that might yet prove fatal.