Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) warned that the Trump administration’s approach to governance was putting the United States on “a drift toward authoritarianism,” arguing that criticism of the media and new restrictions on voting rights were making the country less democratic.
“Our country is moving in an authoritarian direction and the very nature of American democracy is under attack,” Sanders said Thursday morning at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “His rhetoric has the effect of casting grave doubts on the electoral process in our country, and delegitimizing any president who might follow him — just as he tried to delegitimize the president who preceded him.”
Sanders’s speech came just a week after a man who once volunteered for his 2016 presidential bid opened fire on the House Republicans’ practice ahead of an annual charity baseball game, critically injuring House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Sanders rapidly condemned the shooting, later telling CNN that “virtually all people associated with our political movement understand you have the right to stand up, debate, you have the right to protest, but violence is not acceptable.”
But the senator and his staff watched bitterly as critics cited the shooting to ask whether critics of the president — like Sanders — went too far in portraying him as a threat to the liberal order. Sanders’s speech, which had been in the works since March, pushed right past the complaints.
“When Trump says all of media is fake news, not to be believed, what does that say?” said Sanders. “It cheapens and lowers respect for truth. If the president of the United States can lie, you can lie. Mayors and governors can lie. It’s what we get used to — so what?”
Sanders also warned specifically that Trump’s insistence that he would have won the popular vote had noncitizens not cast ballots — a falsehood, based largely on misreadings of academic studies — would lead to suppression aimed at protecting Trump and Republicans from democratic accountability.
“Trump is trying to lower voter turnout at a time when we have the lowest voter turnout of any country on Earth,” Sanders said. “He is also trying to pre-emptively cast doubt on the results of any future election that he might lose.”