What's At Stake This November? Our Democracy

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential town hall debate with Democratic U.S. presid
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential town hall debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Everything is on the ballot this election -- women's rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, our environment, health care, good schools and an affordable college education, immigration reform, a secure and peaceful world.‎

But something even bigger is at stake: democracy itself.

At the presidential debate Sunday night, Republican nominee Donald Trump threatened to throw Hillary Clinton in jail if he's elected this November. This is something that dictators do -- imprison their opponents and usurp the authority of an independent legal system to punish their critics and rivals.

Trump's reckless statement didn't just shock pundits and debate watchers. It startled political and legal experts who study authoritarian regimes and compared his comments to the actions of despots who seize power and then persecute their opponents. One leading expert at American University called Trump's statement‎ "a threat to the rule of law, a threat to the stability of our institutions, a threat to basic agreements that are necessary for democracy to function."

This latest outrage comes from the same candidate who has repeatedly attacked the free press -- bullying reporters and pledging to "open up" libel laws so he can punish news outlets that run stories about him that he dislikes. He's now threatening to sue the women who have accused him of sexual assault and the publications that cover their allegations.

He regularly incites violence at his rallies. He has vowed to pay the legal bills of supporters who "knock the crap out of" anti-Trump protesters. At one rally, he boasted that he wanted to join in the violence, too, saying, "I'd like to punch him the face, I'll tell you that."

‎Even worse, he has made thinly-veiled suggestions about physically harming his opponent. He has called for Clinton's protective Secret Service to "disarm immediately," adding, "let's see what happens to her." He has suggested that if she's elected, well-armed "Second Amendment people" might stop her from appointing judges.

As Trump's polls numbers have dropped, he has called our election system "rigged" and said "the only way we can lose . . . is if cheating goes on." Presidential historians say this orchestrated strategy to undermine the legitimacy of the election well before the votes are even counted is without parallel in American history - and dangerous to our democracy.

It is no surprise coming from a man who spent years pushing a racist conspiracy theory that our nation's first African-American President was not born in America. This is a man who has repeatedly cited debunked Internet hoaxes, and actively courted the support of white nationalists and other hate groups.

His supporters are taking his words very seriously. At his rallies, Trump backers chant ‎not just "lock her up," but "kill her" and "build a wall - kill them all." Just this week, a Trump supporter told his running mate Mike Pence that if Trump loses, she's "ready for a revolution." When you encourage violence and stoke rage at immigrants and other vulnerable members of our society, this is the kind of ugliness you unleash.

I lived through Richard Nixon's presidency -- the closest we came to seeing our leaders unravel our democracy. Nixon kept an enemies list, spied on his critics, directed the IRS to target his rivals, investigated reporters he disliked, oversaw acts of political sabotage against opponents, and ultimately resigned to avoid facing impeachment for obstruction of justice.

After watching his actions and statements, I fear that Donald Trump may pose an even greater danger to our country than Nixon. If you don't believe me, listen to the more than 120 top Republicans -- including current and former Members of Congress -- who warned ‎that Trump "has shown dangerous authoritarian tendencies, including threats to ban an entire religion from entering the country, order the military to break the law by torturing prisoners, kill the families of suspected terrorists, track law-abiding Muslim citizens in databases, and use executive orders to implement other illegal and unconstitutional measures."

We cannot afford to take a chance on a man who listens only to himself; who expresses admiration for tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un; who has based his campaign on bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia; who is so thin-skinned and vindictive that he's spent much of his campaign attacking members of his own party; and who has so little respect for American values and our democratic institutions that he puts us all at risk.

With so much at stake, I urge every American to vote this November to protect our Constitution, our democracy and our country's future.