During a forum at the Economic Club of Chicago, former President Obama warned of the dangers of complacency, invoking the rise of Nazi Germany.
"We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly," Obama said.
"That's what happened in Germany in the 1930s which, despite the democracy of the Weimar Republic and centuries of high-level cultural and scientific achievements, Adolph Hitler rose to dominate," he continued.
"Sixty million people died. ... So, you've got to pay attention. And vote."
Thomas B. Edsall argues President Trump "has single-handedly done more to undermine the basic tenets of American democracy than any foreign agent or foreign propaganda campaign could." Edsall believes we should focus less on Russia and more on the damage being done to our democratic institutions by our own president.
Trump has stoked partisan polarization to unprecedented levels, continues to attack the free press and still pushes the unfound conspiracy theory that 3 million illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election. Trump is testing the limits of American democracy, and not everyone thinks we'll survive his administration.
Trump’s assault—and that of his appointees—on democratic standards and principles is the central element of what might be called a brutalizing or “decivilizational” process. That’s part of what underlies the eternal return of the president’s mendacity...
The test facing our democracy now is whether the rules of engagement that make the system work can be restored. Trump trampled on those rules and won the presidency. That precedent may, in and of itself, have inflicted irreparable damage.
But others argue this is nothing more than hysteria, or tyrannophobia. Samuel Moyn and David Priestland believe Trump's presidency has brought with it irrational fear on a national scale.
The initial fearful reaction to Mr. Trump’s election was understandable... A little more than six months into the Trump presidency, though, it now seems clear that the most frightening threats to ordinary politics in the United States are empty or easily contained... there is no real evidence that Mr. Trump wants to seize power unconstitutionally, and there is no reason to think he could succeed.
While Trump is certainly far from the "ordinary politics" Americans are used to seeing, there isn't any evidence that he is fundamentally undermining the Constitution. Moyn and Priestland argue the other branches of government—especially the courts—are still exercising their powers, keeping Trump from causing any serious damage to our institutions. The continued hysteria is both unfounded and unhelpful.
The threat of tyranny can be real enough. But those who act as though democracy is constantly on the precipice are likely to miss the path that leads not simply to fuller justice but to true safety.