Democracy in danger? What will you do if Trump wins?

Betty Bayé has been living in a constant vortex of anxiety since Donald Trump took the presidency in 2017.

She spoke to LEO from her sanctuary — the home in which she tempers her constant worry with re-runs of “In the Heat of the Night” and Natalie Cole albums. But even that hasn’t blocked out the horror she felt when asked how she’d react if Trump wins four more years.

“I’ve been around for many decades now, and this is the worst,” said Bayé, a 74-year-old longtime columnist and editorial writer for The Courier Journal. “I’ve never felt more just general stress. Just unable to just — you know, before you were able to not always be focused every day on what’s happening. But every day I wake up I’m thinking: What now? Are we at war? Who is the president cussing out? What scandal is there going to be?”

The cloud of chaos Trump has unleashed on the United States has been so all-consuming that Bayé doesn’t think that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or even Superman will be able to undo the psychological damage he’s inflicted if they are elected. But, she’s willing to try them out. Biden and Harris, at least.

Betty Bayé.

LEO reached 11 voters with Kentucky ties, most of them left-leaning but not all, to talk about what they thought about the potential of facing more quality time with Trump as our president. Some talked to us over the phone, and some wrote their own response.

One theme that was repeated throughout several of the interviews was the idea that Trump has irreparably damaged the integrity of America’s democracy during his time in office. He has leaked poison into the minds of Americans that has turned neighbor against neighbor forever. Or, he has repeated claims of victimhood so often — “rigged election,” “voter fraud” — that neither he nor his supporters will accept defeat without a fight. Or, he’s purposefully twisted the system to benefit him, most recently, by nominating a new Supreme Court justice in an election year who will tilt the court rightward.

Like Bayé, many also felt that no human, or alien from the planet Krypton after Trump can heal the rot that has taken hold of the country. But, the name “Biden” gives them a sliver of hope.

Not everyone we spoke with felt this way, of course. Some think America is doing alright — that, like Mark Twain said, reports of her demise have been greatly exaggerated — even with Trump at the helm. Others don’t think Biden will help at all.

We invite you to explore their thoughts and their stories below.

State Rep. Nima Kulkarni

Nima Kulkarni.

When Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, Nima Kulkarni was shocked, as were many of us.

“How did this happen? How did we get here?” she asked herself.

But, if Trump wins again this November, Kulkarni will not be surprised. She will, however, be deeply disappointed, she said, that millions are still willing to keep Trump in office after seeing him in action for almost four years.

“I think over the past few years, since Trump has taken office, we have seen dedicated and committed efforts to erode all of the protections that our democracy affords us,” said Kulkarni, 41. “And that includes immigrants, that includes individuals that are below a certain income level, that includes individuals with regard to access to healthcare, workers’ rights, wage levels. On every level — environmental protections — you have seen a rolling back and an erosion of protection for our environment and our safety and our living quality.”

Kulkarni, an immigration attorney, was part of the Blue Wave that swept Democrats (many of them women) into state houses and the U.S. House in the midterm after Trump’s election. It was a repudiation of the president from voters and Kulkarni herself, who ran because she felt called to run because of adversaries such as Trump and then Gov. Matt Bevin.

She chose to fight then and she plans to continue to if Trump is reelected. And that possibility, she thinks, could give her work new focus. Kulkarni said she believes the political-scape post Trump might leave state legislators with the responsibility to protect reproductive rights and to tackle other issues such as environmental regulations, whether that be because of a new Supreme Court justice or further executive orders from Trump.

Electing Biden, though, would be its own recall on Trumpism and a meaningful one, said Kulkarni. “Biden is not the first choice for a lot of people,” Kulkarni said. “And so I think at this point, it’s not about, ‘Is Joe Biden the perfect candidate?’ It’s about, ‘Are we going to ever have the opportunity to get back to a place of decency and sanity in our country?’ And I think the only way to do that is elect him president.”

Lamont Collins, founder of the Roots 101 African-American Museum

Lamont Collins remembers the conversations between his parents about what they might do if George Wallace won the presidency. Wallace was a zealous segregationist who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination three times in the 1960s (and once for the presidency as an independent). Those discussions remind him of the same conversations that are happening now amongst Americans who are racial minorities.

“I think as people of color, we’re really concerned on how much America will go backwards,” said Collins, 61. “How much will it be allowed to go backwards with the Supreme Court, different decisions, gutting the Voter Rights Act.”

Collins said he is worried about what else Trump might do with another four years.

“I think that’s the real, if we use the word fear, that’s the fear, that what’s tomorrow going to bring if Trump’s president for four more years and if the Supreme Court is as conservative as we know it,” said Collins. “What does that mean for people of color? What does that mean for women? What does that mean for immigration? What does that mean, period? We just don’t know.”

There might be some who decided to leave the country, but many Black people can’t afford to, Collins said (such is the situation America has created for them). And there will be others who stay and fight. That’s what Collins plans to do — politically and within his community.

“I would definitely be heartbroken, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I definitely will feel a spirit broken, but at the same time, I would feel my right to fight more than ever.”

If Biden wins, Collins said, he will feel relieved. At least, the Democrat would bring dignity back to the office of the president, he said. And, Collins believes he will fold more people of color and women into his administration.

“At least if Biden got in, we know we’d be at the table,” he said. “With Trump, we’re not at the table, and we can’t be heard if we’re not at the table.”

Tres Watson, founder of Capitol Reins PR

Tres Watson said he doesn’t plan on “overreacting” one way or the other on Election Day.

The 41-year-old is a GOP strategist and former spokesperson for the state Republican Party. He said he is “not always the biggest fan” of Trump’s actions, but he does know that the sitting president will keep more people in executive branch positions who share his beliefs than Biden would.

“At the end of the day, the executive branch is a weird office because the power extends so far beyond the one person,” Watson said.

And, a lot of the election’s ultimate impact hinges on whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate, he said.

“I think it’s certainly been proven that Sen. [Mitch] McConnell works well with the president,” said Watson. “But, I think you’ve seen in the past that Joe Biden is willing to work with and cut deals with Mitch McConnell as majority leader.”

Watson said he doesn’t believe it’s best for either party to have complete control over the federal government.

“So I would hope that voters in their wisdom would have some level of split government, so there’s someone in Washington to hold others accountable,” he said. Ultimately, of more consequence to everyday people, Watson said, are local elections for mayors and similar offices. “I think that as much emphasis and attention we pay to Washington, people need to pay similar attention to local offices,” he said.

Shameka Parrish-Wright, co-chair of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Shameka Parrish-Wright.

The letters appeared at the homes of two of Shameka Parrish-Wright’s employees at The Bail Project Louisville.

“I have a bad feeling you’re going to be hunted on Nov. 3 or possibly shortly thereafter,” they read. “My guess is you will get a bullet in the head.”

The letter also named Parrish-Wright, predicting she would be shot as well. Trump being reelected would be a “nightmare,” said the 43-year-old, but even if Biden wins, Parrish-Wright is still plagued by a specter of violence — against her employees and others.

“My worry is that we do win the election, we do get him out and he won’t leave,” said Parrish-Wright. “He’ll act like some tyrant and find a way and use that Supreme Court to find a way to stay, that is my biggest fear. What if we elect him out and then he still won’t go anywhere? He’s assumed so much power and enacted all these racist actions all over and told his people to stand by and watch. And to me that sounds like the makings of a civil war.”

But, Parrish-Wright said she’ll let federal officials deal with that. On the local level, she plans on continuing her quest for racial justice whether Trump is reelected or not.

“I’m still going to wake up — after I say my cuss words… after I pray for our country — and I’m going to go back out and get to work,” she said. “And I think that’s how many of the community folks and folks who’ve been fighting for social justice and social change, that’s how we feel. Our work will still continue.”

Louis Torres, contractor for AAA

For Louis Torres, 63, it’s black and white — or red and blue, rather.

If Biden wins, he’ll be happy.

If Trump wins, he’ll be upset.

Although “upset” doesn’t quite describe the depths of emotion Torres anticipates — or the seriousness of what he believes the consequences will be.

“What I really believe will happen if Trump wins another four years is that Trumpism will be made into concrete,” Torres said. “I see four more years of democracy being corroded. I see four more years of the courts being corrupted. And I see four more years of him placing key cronies in key areas. And quite frankly, I’m scared to death for democracy right now.

On the flip side, Torres said he sees Biden as a good man with a good heart. But he won’t truly be made ecstatic by Biden’s win if it isn’t accompanied by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

If that happens, “I might run into the streets and run like a maniac,” said Torres. “Because I love this country.”

Dustin Staggers, former Louisville restaurant owner

Dustin Staggers, 38, happily peaced-out of the United States and moved to Mexico on a tourist visa partially because of Trump being elected in 2016.

Now, because of the coronavirus, Staggers is back in Tampa where he grew up. The election might help decide whether he and his family stay in Florida or try to move to another country after the pandemic ends.

“If he wins again, I mean this is the thing… my concern wasn’t just the fact that we elected him, it was, there has to be 60 million plus people to do that. And if that continues, where is the direction of our country?” Staggers said. “And if the direction of our country is moving towards oligarchy, then why don’t I just move to a better place that there’s already an oligarchy? Then at least I don’t have so much personal attachment to the political system.”

Staggers sees elections as a repudiation or an endorsement of a politician’s job. So, if Trump gets reelected, he fears that “Trumpism” will continue unfettered. But, if he doesn’t, Staggers said his faith in democracy might be restored. Until, perhaps, Trump challenges the results of the election.

“I mean, [Al] Gore conceded because the Supreme Court said that Democrats ran out of time. He didn’t even concede because they said that he lost. He just conceded because he actually believes in the system of our country and said, ‘for the good of our country… I am going to concede so that we can move forward.’ And one of these assholes isn’t going to do that. And the worst part is, if [Trump] loses small he’s going to fight it, and if he loses big he’s going to fight it.”

Brianna Wright, 24, former campaign manager for Jecorey Arthur

Brianna Wright.

“America is a country of racism. It is not rooted in racism nor is its foundation racism. It IS racism. I would not be shocked or moved if Donald Trump was elected for a second term. He is bringing to light an ideology people somehow thought was nonexistent. At this point I would be shocked if he did not win this election. No matter which candidate is elected my work and focus is rooted in the betterment and uplift of Black Americans nationally and every Louisville resident locally. I am going to focus on making sure there is a Black American specific agenda for any prospective candidate especially locally in the upcoming elections. My goal is to educate Black American voters on the importance of voting and the true power their vote has individually as well as collectively.

“This may come as a surprise but I am far more concerned with the ramifications of a Biden presidency. Solely based on Biden’s 47 year history, he has had a hand in implementing policies that have further destroyed the Black American community. It is even worse if you consider what Kamala Harris did while in office. Biden may have a ‘Black agenda’ but history guarantees much more than promises. If Biden is elected I would still have the same focus and goals as I would if Trump was elected. I would be a little shocked if Biden won this election because there is not much excitement surrounding his campaign outside of not wanting Trump in office.”

Scott Jennings, 43, co-founder RunSwitch PR and GOP advisor

Scott Jennings.

“I will react the same way as long as the reelection is free, fair, and competently operated. And that is, we had an election, the American people spoke, and we’ll have another one in two years. And then again in two years. And then again in two years. The greatness of America is in the durability of its institutions, no matter who wins or loses.”

Kirk Kiefer, 37, Louisville expat living in Japan

Kirk Kiefer with his students in Japan.

“I will be completely unsurprised but still deeply disappointed if Trump is reelected. As far as taking any sort of action, beyond continuing to donate to worthy causes or politicians I support, I’m not sure what else I’d do. I don’t have any plans to move back to the US regardless of the election’s outcome.”

“I’ll feel relief and surprise that enough people voted for Biden if he wins. I’d certainly have more faith that the U.S. could possibly get the COVID situation under some kind of control.”

Tim Love, 62, retiree and plaintiff in marriage equality case

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza-Love. | Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

“Trump winning is not an option. The dilemma is that even if Biden wins, the hard right media and social media will be left in place and will do to Joe Biden what they did to Obama. They are allowed to make up lies all day long and put them out there. I realize that to a certain extent it’s always been that way in American politics, but now it’s gone to extremes and is driving an insurmountable wedge between the American people. We cannot agree to disagree on separating children from their parents at the border, stealing Supreme Court seats, alienating solid long-term allies, playing favorites with disaster aid when a state is perceived to not support you and not standing up to Putin when bounties are placed on our service men and women. I don’t believe many in the LGBT community are fooled by Trump’s lip service to our civil rights while appointing hard right judges who will take them away or dilute them with religious exemptions.”