Election Day: The Experiment of Democracy

I remember the day I learned that Spain had lived a Civil War in the 20th century, and I remember learning that the country had been ruled by a dictator, Francisco Franco. I was 10 years-old sitting on my Spanish grandparent’s floor the summer of 2005 watching T.V. as my Abuelo repaired something that had broken. A preview of the documentary that was going to be aired that evening was playing, and I was confused. “Spain had a Civil War, Abuelo?” I asked. “Yes, mi niña. It was an awful war…” I was stunned. My beautiful country had lived those horrors? My grandparent’s parents lived through poverty and famine? Even family members were shot and killed for fighting for the Second Republic. I recently learned that my Spanish great-grandmother, for the rest of her life, lived in fear of running out of food in the house and kept a cupboard filled just in case.

Last night, from the warmth and comfort of my Parisian apartment, I texted my parents and my sister (who recently moved out to live on her own) the following:

“Hey guys. Just checking in before the elections. Have you guys gone shopping, stalked up on food? Do you guys have a safety plan?”

These are things I never thought I would have to text my parents, nor watch in horror as the United States relives what we have continuously read throughout our history books: the rising of a dictatorship.

Some may be reading this post and telling me I am going out of my mind. I think it comes from a privileged place to sit here, watch these elections, and not believe it is going to affect you. I know I have family members who have voted for Trump, which I will never be able to forgive them. They say out loud that they aren’t racist, but if you have to try to auto-convince yourself of something, it means you unconsciously know that lie you keep saying out loud is not true. For me, voting for Trump is a betrayal. I watch in horror as Trump doesn’t have a healthcare plan, something I believe is a fundamental right as I watched my mother fight for her life and my Dad wonder how we were going to pay the bills when I was young. I hear the things Trump says about women that makes my skin crawl and can at times trigger multiple things I have lived in my life. I can’t understand how pro-life people sit in silence as children on the border are still not reunited with their parents. I see, by living abroad, how the outside world views the United States of America, a respect we had regained when President Obama was elected was thrown out the window when Trump walked into the Oval Office.

“I just don’t get it,” I kept repeating to a friend the other day, trying to catch up on house chores while I washed my dishes. “We are repeating history and I feel like I am going crazy just sitting here, watching it unfold. I’ve seen this film before. Franco in a sense you can understand, I don’t condone it and I despise what he did to Spain, but you can understand it. Spain had advanced so radically, was becoming secular, the Church losing its power and the King abdicating his thrown and going into exile… but Trump? I just… I just can’t wrap my finger around it.”

“I think Obama was too radical for so many people,” my friend replied. “He was the first black president, and we didn’t have a chance with Clinton because it would have then been too extreme… having the first black president and then the first woman? Back to back? The U.S. would not have been able to handle it, and when I mean the U.S., I mean the quiet misogyny and racism that still exists in this country.”

There it was.

As I sit here abroad, biting my nails (a bad habit) and listening to the news, I realize that if the United States has a second Civil War, it will be for the same reason as the first. A sad truth to bear as I studied history abroad and read books written by French historians who often quote the United States as the country that opened doors in both gender studies and ethnic and racial studies.

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The regime was based not on a silent majority, but simply absent. Those years, as in the case of Italian fascism, can be called “the years of consensus”, not in the sense that the regime was accepted with enthusiasm, but apathetically, after a previous repression that silenced the opposition.

Javier Tusell, Dictadura Franquista y Democracia 1939-2004

Looking at patterns of previous dictators, Trump wants and qualifies to be one. The only thing that is missing is him undermining free elections: today is his chance to finalize that.

He already is.

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When he secured Amy Conney Barrett as the new Supreme Court Justice, that’s when I knew that the elections were not going to be the end of Trump’s presidency. He now has a majority in the highest court in the land if Trump decides to question the results. Brett Kavanaugh, who was also nominated by Trump and whose nomination came with much controversy (a pattern and legacy in the Trump presidency), has foreshadowed how the Court may rule if it comes to this result, echoing Trump’s rhetoric that a winner should be declared on election night. Trump continuously negates a peaceful transfer of power.

Just like the Spanish Civil War, when it started with multiple leaders and different versions of the right political party to be morphed into one State party, so has the Republican party done the same. Four years ago, Lindsey Graham on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah said, “If Donald Trump carries the banner of my party, I think it taints conservatism for generations to come. I think his campaign is opportunistic, race baiting, religious bigotry, xenophobia… other than that, he would be a good nominee.” Marco Rubio, who ran agains Trump in the 2016 elections in an interview with The Guardian said, “If we’re going to be the party of fear, we’re going to spend some time in the wilderness. If we’re the party of fear, with a candidate who basically is trying to prey upon people’s fears to get them to vote for them, I think we’re going to pay a big price in November and beyond.” Today, these men who used to be faces of the Republican party have now become fan boys of the tainted conservatism that Trump has built. As pro-Trump caravans surrounded Biden buses this past week in Texas, Rubio has stated, “I saw yesterday a video of these people in Texas. Did you see it? All the cars on the road, we love what they did.”

A dictator allies with other dictators. A dictator ignites violence (“stand back and stand by“). A dictator silences the opposition.

I’m trying my best to be as optimistic as I can be. I try my best to tell myself, like in most stories, the good guy always wins.

But history has also taught me to prepare for what is to come.

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