When petulance pervades politics
Psychologists got it right some time ago when they warned about participation trophies, the awards given to every kid in a competition, win or lose. They cautioned the awards make kids feel entitled to success and may even plant the seeds of narcissism.
“Narcissistic individuals feel superior to others, fantasize about personal successes, and believe they deserve special treatment,” child developmental specialists concluded in 2014. “When they feel humiliated, they often lash out aggressively or even violently.”
That same description is fitting for America’s persistent president of petulance, Donald Trump, who seemed astonished when he lost the 2020 election. He stomped his foot and claimed the other side cheated. He has repeated that grievance ever since because losing doesn’t fit with his self-image. Besides, people keep sending him money.
We see similar behavior today from Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate and governorships in this November’s election. The Washington Post surveyed 19 Republican candidates in battleground races, and 12 of them refused to promise they would respect the results.
This raises the possibility that upcoming elections will be drawn-out affairs where results aren’t final until long after Election Day as officials and courts sort out challenges by the apparent loser. It also raises the possibility that a substantial number of voters will be represented in Congress by people they believe did not win the election.
Because so much of the electoral machinery is not visible to voters, there will always be opportunities for losers to make unsubstantiated claims that their defeat resulted from fraud.
Trump has eroded, if not ruined, the American people’s trust in the most fundamental ritual in a representative democracy. He also demonstrated that violence is an acceptable response to a contested election with his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection.
Before the 2024 election comes along, Trump must deal with several other challenges to his conviction that he’s too big to fail. He’s back to hiding behind the First Amendment to signal his supporters they should get ready to make “problems in this country, the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before” if he’s indicted. His latest tactic is to fire up the followers of QAnon.
This tangled mess is the principal reason American democracy was graded “flawed” in the latest world democracy ranking.
The threat of authoritarianism remains very real in America, and Trump remains the central source of that cancer in our body politic. We hoped it would be removed in 2020, but it is still present and metastasizing. Unfortunately, no uprising is visible yet by Americans who want to stop the cancer before it becomes terminal.
William S. Becker is a former U.S. Department of Energy central regional director who administered energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies programs, and he also served as special assistant to the department’s assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Becker is also executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a nonpartisan initiative founded in 2007 that works with national thought leaders to develop recommendations for the White House as well as House and Senate committees on climate and energy policies. The project is not affiliated with the White House.