The Real Threat to Democracy Is When Americans Can’t Be Open about Their Political Beliefs

A popular talking point for critics of Donald Trump’s presidency has been the threat to democracy that America is allegedly facing.

In July, an opinion piece published by The Washington Post’s editorial board named Donald Trump as the primary source of that threat:

Image Credit: Screenshot/Washington Post

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch was also considered “a threat to democracy”:

Image Credit: Screenshot/U.S. News

Most recently, the biggest threat our democracy is facing is Donald Trump’s attack on the media. The Guardian published a piece with the following headline:

Image Credit: Screenshot/The Guardian

Donald Trump was able to shock the nation with his victory, in part because half of America felt they couldn’t be honest with others about their vote if it didn’t begin and end with “Hillary Clinton.”

Even after his victory, people discuss conservative thoughts in hushed tones, in only the most careful of situations. If you weren’t #WithHer, you would be hard-pressed to find a safe space in the mixed company of dinner parties and social media.

A democracy is built on the foundation of choice. Since 1796, America has relied heavily on having a two-party system, in which candidates present opposing views.

If a free society depends on political choice, why is it that the deliberate silencing of half of America hasn’t been labeled “the biggest threat to democracy?”

After singer Joy Villa donned a “Make America Great Again” dress at the Grammys, she received backlash mixed with messages of encouragement. One American told her:

“I couldn’t have said my views before. Now, I feel like I’m able to speak my mind.”

But the backlash that comes with the label of “conservative” isn’t reserved for Hollywood.

Millennial Rebecca F. isn’t sure if the need to hide political beliefs that don’t align with the left is a result of the election, or if it’s just because she’s become more involved.

She described to Independent Journal Review the difficult spot she’s in:

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends and people close to me make sweeping generalizations about Trump supporters. It makes me wonder: if they knew I was one of them, would they still believe that about me and would they say it to my face?”

Instead of being able to have a “reasonable conversation” about different points of views, the harsh assumptions about conservatives have made her shy away from sharing her opinion among friends. She told IJR:

“I’m not sure what kind of repercussions my opinions could have on my long-term friendships. I just don’t feel that they are open to listening about my ideas or a viewpoint that isn’t the same as theirs.”

Her fear isn’t entirely unfounded, either. Rebecca “proudly” attended the Freedom Ball and had a photo from that night as the background on her iPhone.

Image Credit: Independent Journal Review/Rebecca F.

During a trip to the Apple store, her fear of being treated differently based on who she supported for president came to the surface. She described the encounter:

“I realized the Apple tech would have to see the picture. I had a moment of sheer panic that I needed to change the background because I was afraid that the tech wouldn’t want to help me, or would give me a hard time, or even think I was a type of person that I’m not (racist, homophobe etc).”

As she was about to change the photo, she realized that she had become part of the problem. She said:

“I shouldn’t have to change it. I should be proud of the fact that I was there and that I am a Trump supporter. Nobody should make me feel like I should hide my views when the other side can be so open about them.”

Despite the popular opinion among the media, Rebecca F. doesn’t feel like her views are “wrong,” they’re just “lonely.” She’s hopeful that as more time passes, and people become more confident, they’ll be able to speak openly again.

Alyssa D., also a conservative woman, has had similar experiences. It’s the first election where she’s felt like she needs to “hide” her political beliefs.

Image Credit: Independent Journal Review/Alyssa D.

Still, the challenges of being a conservative on social media, are something she faces daily. She told IJR:

“Every day, I feel reluctant to openly share my beliefs on social media. I still try to post what I want because I believe in standing up for what you believe in, but I know I am being judged by my beliefs.”

Alyssa has even had “friends” cut off their friendship simply because she “likes and supports” our president. She cited a specific time she experienced this:

“I was talking to one of my best friends about building the wall because she is from Mexico. I told her I supported it and we need to keep undocumented immigrants out. She stopped being my friend after that conversation and her sister verbally attacked me.”

Despite the loss of friendships, and pressure to stay quiet, it’s never made her question who she is, or what she believes in. She told IJR “the election spoke for itself.”

Alyssa’s confident she isn’t alone and that the majority of people are “just afraid” of speaking their minds.

We’ve seemingly entered a world where we’ve traded freedom of speech for freedom of shared opinion. In the name of a safe place to foster diversity, we all need to be exactly the same.

The “American experiment” has been going strong for over 200 years. While many things may threaten our foundation, the only definite way to eliminate democracy is for Americans to only allow one political party to exist.