Editor’s Note: Halie Soifer is executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), which is a national organization that endorses Democratic candidates for elected office and advocates for progressive policy. She previously served as national security adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris, as foreign policy adviser to Sens. Chris Coons and Ted Kaufman, and as senior policy adviser to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
My Jewish husband grew up in 1970s Germany. When asked to give up his seat on public transit for senior citizens, he would often hesitate, wondering whether those individuals played passive or active roles during the Third Reich. While perhaps unfair, younger generations judged Germans who lived through the Nazi era as though they were complicit and could have changed the course of history.
Similarly, we will all be judged by what we do – or do not do – at this moment in American history. This is not in any way to compare the atrocities of the Holocaust with what we are seeing in the US today, but there are similarities to this moment and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. Today, we stand at a precipice, yet unlike Germans in the lead-up to World War II, we have the chance to vote a rising authoritarian out of power.
For four years, President Donald Trump has increasingly threatened our country and our future. He has assaulted, undermined, and weakened our democracy, using hatred and disinformation to divide Americans, sow confusion, and incite domestic unrest. He has repeatedly aligned himself with America’s adversaries and alienated our allies. Amid an unprecedented public health crisis, he has demonstrated a wanton disregard for human life, intentionally misled us, and denied science as Americans die in record numbers. He’s explicitly threatened Americans exercising their First Amendment rights, including his political opponents and the media, issued statements widely viewed as calls to arms and incitement to violence.
Trump has a clear record of fanning the flames of hatred, including equating neo-Nazis with peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, using racist epithets, repeating anti-Semitic tropes, and fueling xenophobic conspiracy theories, which I have argued contributed to the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. At the first 2020 presidential debate, Trump had a chance to demonstrate to the American people where he stood on the issue of racially motivated violent extremism, which his own FBI director recently warned is one of the greatest threats facing Americans.
Instead of denouncing this virulent form of hatred, Trump pointedly refused and instead encouraged a far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by.” He later tried to walk back his remarks, after they were celebrated by the far-right. Less than three weeks later, Trump repeated the same offense at a presidential townhall when he legitimized a QAnon conspiracy theory, and refused to denounce this dangerous movement that has infiltrated the Republican Party.
The threat posed by Trump to our democracy has become even clearer in the lead-up to the election. In July, he suggested the illegal postponement of the election. Despite constitutional term limits, Trump has asserted he’s entitled to more than two terms as president. He’s refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he’s defeated, and questioned the validity, without proof, of mail-in ballots, which he himself previously used to vote.
He has baselessly repeated claims of voter fraud, as the Justice Department has loosened its 40-year policy on launching an investigation on voter fraud during an election cycle, and indicated he expects the Supreme Court to rule in his favor if the election is litigated. All of this comes at the end of a presidential term that was rife with illegality, impropriety, and his impeachment by the House.
Now, on the eve of the election, reports indicate that Trump plans to prematurely claim victory if it looks like he is close to 270 electoral votes on election night. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump have denied that the claims are true, but Trump and his team have signaled their plans to litigate the counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day.
But if the President is indeed planning on do this, it would improperly disregard postmarked mail-in ballots in states like Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania secretary of state, there may be as many as 10 times the number of mail-in ballots in 2020 than there were in 2016 in this critical swing state, which can legally accept mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day until November 6. The dubious legal groundwork for this position was recently laid by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who served on the Republican legal team that stopped the presidential election recount 20 years ago.
Though some of us have become numb to the daily outrages, we cannot forget this simple fact: Trump’s behavior is that of an authoritarian. What may feel like a tumultuous and frenetic daily news cycle is the clear erosion of our democracy during Trump’s presidency.
As this monumental election comes to a close, it’s important to remember what’s at stake and how future generations will view the choice facing Americans at this critical crossroads. Will we choose the path of authoritarianism and hatred with Trump, or will we choose decency and democracy with Joe Biden? While we cannot know the outcome at this point, we do know that history will judge those who abandon their values and allow rise of bigotry and hate. Your children and grandchildren will someday ask whether you stood up for your values or whether you were a passive bystander, and a vote for Biden must be part of your answer. It’s the only decent choice.