As leading House manager in the second Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump and a member of the Congressional committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., has been a sharp critic of Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election.
On Monday evening, delivering the Roger S. Aaron ’64 lecture sponsored by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy in Filene, Raskin placed Trump within a larger landscape of major threats to a free and fair society, in the years ahead.
Speaking just over two weeks before New Hampshire’s presidential primary on Jan. 23, Raskin compared Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement to authoritarian look-alikes, and warned that his supporters in Congress, and even on the Supreme Court, “are combining to try to dismantle democracy in America, and they’re not hiding it in any particular way.”
“Donald Trump says he wants to be a dictator on day one,” Raskin said. “He’s repeatedly said, ‘clear out the rule of law, clear out the Constitution.’ This is one of the defining characteristics of a fascist or authoritarian political party, the political sign. A fascist party has a cult of authoritarian personality, and the will of the leader is elevated above the rule of law and above the Constitution. A fascist political party does not accept the results of democratic elections that don’t go their way. A fascist political party embraces or refuses to disavow political violence as an instrument for obtaining and maintaining political power in society.”
But Raskin, who is running for a fifth House term, says there is still time for course correction.
“Who’s going to save us from all of this? The Democrats are going to do it. The Democrats, with all of our flaws and all of our imperfections,” he said.
Along with an audience of 250 in Filene Auditorium, more than 19,500 had watched the livestream of Raskin’s speech by Tuesday noon.
Throughout his remarks, often quoting Abrham Lincoln and Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine, Raskin sharply contrasted modern Democratic values with Republican values and priorities. In the free-wheeling Q/A session moderated by Herschel Nachlis, associate director and senior policy fellow at the Rockefeller Center, he defended his friendly combativeness.
“Partisan debate and dialogue and discussion are a reflection of health in a democratic polity. Don’t walk around bemoaning partisanship. That’s good. It’s a reflection in our society of the First Amendment. People can speak, they can associate, they can form groups, they can form parties, and they also play a very positive function,” Raskin said.
Ben Schanzer ’27 worried, though, about the outcome of this year’s heated contest for the White House, especially after hearing both Raskin and former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who spoke at Dartmouth on Jan. 5, issue dire warnings about a second Trump term should he defeat President Joe Biden.
“My question has two parts,” said Schanzer. “First, do you think Biden can beat Trump? And if so, what does he need to do differently than what he’s doing right now? And secondly, if Trump is elected again, what can Congress do to protect democracy?”
Raskin said he would rather not entertain the “hypothetical” question of a Trump win, and, regarding President’s Biden’s chances, upended the question.
“What can you do and what can I do? Because this is not just about Joe Biden. Like I say, this is his last presidential election. This is your first presidential election, I’m assuming. So this is about what kind of country you want to have for the rest of this century. And again, I’m not saying the Democratic Party is perfect, but I’m saying the Democratic Party is open to your participation, to your critique, to your involvement, to your innovation and your ideas.”
Leaving the lecture, two other students pondered the state of American democracy. Luke Montalbano ’27 is from Vancouver, Canada.
“What I think when I’m looking at the United States is that it is a great democracy, arguably one of the greatest nations on earth. Maybe second only to Canada,” he said with a laugh. “But I feel what used to make America the greatest was the fact that people had conversations at their dinner table and sure, vehemently disagreed, but they could have those conversations. And I don’t think right now that’s a lot of what’s going on.”
About Raskin’s speech, Ohioan Joanie Wood ’27 said, “I really enjoyed his emphasis on the student voice in this process.” But Wood also hopes that “the future of America is not contingent upon the 2024 election alone, and that many other small-scale things will come into play to ensure the survival of American democracy.”