Yale historian Timothy Snyder begins his recent piece in the Catholic magazine Commonweal by reminding us that power is everything to Donald Trump. He argues that Trump knows that if he loses in November he will “descend into poverty, go to prison, or both.” Trump owes a lot of money to a lot of people. Snyder writes, “As president he can expect his creditors to wait; as a private citizen he cannot.” He will thus try to hold onto power at all costs.
Here is more Snyder:
What, then, is the moral meaning of a vote for Donald Trump on November 3? To vote for Trump is to traduce the meaning of voting, which is a normal part of the transition to authoritarianism. Since the collective effect of votes for Trump is to create background plausibility for a coup, each vote for Trump is participation in a plot to end the American republic. It is to vote for a future in which voting does not matter. It is a choice by Americans to no longer make choices as Americans. It transforms individuals with interests and values into elements of a spectacle that legitimates an authoritarian regime change. If Trump stays in power, elections will continue to take place, but they will be meaningless. Soon we will not bother to speak of fraud, because voting will be a joke.
In that dark scenario, the joke is on the Trump voter, since a vote for Trump is a vote for spiritual self-annihilation. If Trump stays in power in 2021, a Trump voter will enjoy the quick hit of “winning,” a spasm of joy that distracts from a profound moral loss. It is no victory to vote for never voting again, to beg for voicelessness. It is submission. Joe Biden is not a perfect candidate, but he is a candidate who supports democracy: the American dignity of representing oneself, and the American aspiration to see our values and interests prevail in our government. If our democracy dies, a Biden voter will be able to say to herself that she did the right thing, did what was possible, did not give in. A Biden voter can speak proudly about America’s past as a democracy, will preserve the moral resources to resist authoritarianism, and might at some later point contribute to a resurrection of the republic.
In a moral sense, a Trump voter has much more to lose than a Biden voter, since the stakes in November are not only about what the candidates would do in office, but about who we will be afterward as individuals. The Trump voter is risking something precious: his or her standing as an American to be counted, as a person to be reckoned with. To vote for Trump is to cast away that standing; it is to become, as the president likes to say, a “sucker” and a “loser.” To vote for Trump is to give away something that rightly belongs to others, their future in a democracy, and to lose something of yourself that you can never recover, the dignity of a citizen of our republic.
Read the entire piece here.