Trump return would threaten US democracy

A second Trump administration would affect national security and foreign policy interests, warns California lieutenant governor

Trump return would threaten US democracy

The recent presidential debate in the United States caused tremors within the Democratic Party. President Biden’s apparent weaknesses and image against his archrival Donald Trump sparked concerns about the president’s fitness, as well as talk of a possible succession.

Kathimerini met in Athens with California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, a candidate for the state’s 2026 gubernatorial election. A keynote speaker at the Economist Impact’s 28th Annual Economist Government Roundtable, the Greek-American politician focused on the climate crisis and its consequences both in Greece and California, as well as on the innovations that need to be promoted to transition to a carbon-free energy future.

In her interview with Kathimerini, Kounalakis was asked about the next day in the Democratic Party, whether President Biden will ultimately remain a presidential candidate and the risks of a Trump comeback, and she responded to those who accuse the Democratic Party of lacking competent candidates.

In the recent presidential debate, President Biden seemed to face physical “difficulties” that his opponent seemed to benefit from. Do you believe that Biden will ultimately be the Democratic nominee for the November 5 election?

The way the US system works, President Biden is fundamentally already the nominee because the primaries are over. “Super Tuesday” happened last March, and no other Democratic candidate ran against President Biden in that process. So, he already has the 4,000 delegate votes necessary to be the nominee. And people need to understand that they have already voted for him to be the nominee. What is left is for the delegates to affirm what the voters have already voted on. I think that is very important because it is the reason why whatever happens is the decision of President Biden and President Biden alone.

In the event that Biden remains the nominee in the presidential race, do you expect a wide or narrow Democratic victory? And second, what factor will determine the outcome of the election?

There is a deep concern about what a second Trump administration could bring to us. Recently the US Supreme Court took a decision that strengthens the power of the presidency even more. So, what would it mean for our country to have President Trump back in the White House? I think, objectively, it would be very dangerous for our democracy, very dangerous for our national security and our foreign policy interests. And I can tell you, as someone representing the state of California, it would be very dangerous for the people of our state and for people across the country.

So, are you afraid of the polarization of politics?

‘It is President Biden’s to do with what he believes is the right thing. But whoever our nominee is, we must rally behind our nominee in order to defeat Donald Trump’

It is much more than that. I was the United States ambassador in Hungary. I saw the rise of Viktor Orban. I saw what it means when one individual is able to consolidate so much power that instead of the governance being the power of government and the power being distributed through the system, it is held in the hands of one person and one family. We know from the history of Athenian democracy how incredibly dangerous this is over time. Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” So, the potential for a second Trump administration could have catastrophic consequences for my country. And no matter who the Democratic nominee is. As I said before, it is President Biden’s choice to do with what he believes is the right thing. But whoever our nominee is, we must rally behind our nominee in order to defeat Donald Trump.

What do you say to the growing criticism of the Democratic Party that it lacks young, competent or willing candidates to lead the party and thus enter the presidential race?

I have known Kamala Harris since before she was elected into office. She is someone I think of as a friend and she is a highly capable individual, highly confident and with decades of experience. Therefore, I have no doubt that we have a vice president who is more than capable of leading the country, if that is necessary. Of course, beyond that, we have many Democratic governors who are also very capable. We have J.B. Pritzker in Illinois, Phil Murphy in New Jersey, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan. And naturally, uh, no list is complete without mentioning the incredibly capable Gavin Newsom of California.

With regard to the recent debate and Trump’s subsequent speeches, we observe that Trump uses the same rhetoric and vocabulary as in the previous two elections. Experiencing politics from the inside, where do you think he is aiming with his oversimplified vocabulary and harsh criticism of President Biden?

The Heritage Foundation in the United States has been spending the last few years working on a plan that would fundamentally bring the United States into a very conservative direction. And we understand that Donald Trump and his advisers intend to implement that plan. That means mass deportations, a significant rollback in America’s liberal democracy and individual rights, it means the curtailment of women’s rights and most significantly reproductive rights, and it means the kinds of policies that will make corporations pay less in taxes and reduce investments in things like healthcare and education that are necessary. So, this conservative turn is wrong not just from the perspective of what is right, but frankly, what has made the United States great over time is the investment in the fundamental basic needs of the state and our people.

In a past interview you stated that Trump admires leaders like Erdogan and Putin. Given that, what is your message to the Greek-American community?

As Greek Americans, we are very fortunate to have perspective. We know the example of ancient Athens and the great leap forward in self-government that led to a golden age, which we continue to celebrate today and which was the basis of what we think of as “Western civilization.” So, I hope that Greek Americans will recognize that nothing is worth giving up our system of self-governance. Our democracy might be messy and Plato warned us of this, but it is not worth trading the inefficiencies of democracy for the efficiency of totalitarianism, which so often can turn into tyranny.

I would like to ask you the question I recently posed to Admiral James Stavridis. If asked, would you join a Democratic cabinet?

I am the 50th lieutenant governor of California and the first woman elected to the post, and over a year ago I embarked on a campaign to be the next governor of the state of California. If I am elected, not only will I be the first woman governor of our state, but also the first Greek-American governor since Michael Dukakis. So, I am very committed to my campaign. And it is very difficult for me to see beyond that.

Last year you announced your candidacy for governor of California in the 2026 election. If elected, what is your vision and how could cultural cooperation between California and Greece be enhanced?

Greece and California are bound by our person-to-person ties, but more than that we have very similar characteristics. Firstly, we are both very popular destinations for tourism and our economies are linked internationally, while in both places we celebrate the value of the individual and we are proud of that. You know, at 39 million people in California, we are the most populous state. The size of our economy is roughly the size of the economy of India. And so, we face challenges in our state, certainly issues surrounding climate change and extreme weather, but also some of our challenges with housing and homelessness. But with the economic strength and the vibrancy of our diverse community, no challenge is beyond our ability to address it.

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