Thursday, October 13, 2016
There is so much being spoken (or written, or broadcasted) about US Presidential Election! I kept quiet, because I knew how embarrassing it is for my American friends and colleagues this discussion is. I am from a country which voted in a demagogue accused of genocide, and live in a country which just kicked the chair voting to undermine its own economic model: I know it hurts!
But what spurs me now is the latest twist - the 'locker room' tapes and the outcry since then - as it gave me, I believe, something to add to the conversation. With Donald Trump's ascendancy, there was always this shock and the outrage, in media and in educated public: Now, it has spread across further, in the Republican establishment. The politicians are lining up on TV to do what politicians do, stating the obvious in a solemn and ridiculous way - "I have three daughters, a wife, five sisters and a mother" - denouncing Trump's bragging of his predatory ways with women! Everyone seems to think that this moment is extraordinary, this has never happened in American Election or in the Civilised world, and this would pass. And, this is where I thought to interject my cautionary note.
The point is that this is neither extraordinary, nor it will pass. One could say that it was never as shocking as this, but for an Eighteenth Century gentleman, that Jefferson, then "young and single", tried to seduce John Walker's wife, only to be spurned as it must be added, was news (which made newspaper headlines almost 40 years after the fact, in 1805). And, indeed, our ability to define what is extraordinary should be called into question if it is only now - after an year of enduring the racism and sexism of Trump - we have started to feel shocked! That the Trump campaign has dismissed the outcry as 'political correctness' is surely opportunistic, but as befitting of this ironic moment, indeed politically correct: That Trump was saying these things in 2005 is perhaps less significant than what he was saying on the Campaign trail in 2016!
And, it would not pass. There are plenty of examples of democracy producing an unexpected winner, and even if Trump does not win, he had surely skewed the political landscape. Just as Brexit vote made the openly reactionary Theresa May Government in Britain look reasonable, Trump's rise has already shifted the political platform and next time around, even Ted Cruz may look lovable. In this, perhaps, there is something we can learn about democracies: That it, by itself, can produce surprises - often does - and it is not what happens on the election day, but what comes after that defines its survival.
It would indeed be a tragedy if Trump strides out to give a victory speech on November 9th (which, incidentally, is the centenary of the now-forgotten October Revolution in Russia), though one would expect this to be otherwise, a customary concession call or, with Trump, a claim of a stolen election. But, if that happens, that may as well be a Historic moment, just like Hitler being sworn as German Chancellor, away from public view, on 30th January 1933. A casual reading of History would suggest that this was still a democratic moment - he was the sworn enemy of democracy but he still led the biggest party in Reichstag with the highest share of popular votes in a country with universal suffrage - and it is only afterwards he fulfilled his agenda, with the active collaboration of the Country's military, judges and professionals. Democracy did not fail itself on that day in January 1933, but it was presumed to have failed - and Hitler's murderous purges and campaign of terror was given way in the next 18 months in order to achieve a complete transformation of the state.
We can indeed do better than that, and Founding Fathers of the American Constitution did foresee this eventuality. However, this principle of checks-and-balances was constantly being undermined, and particularly since the rise of the 'National Security' state under Presidents George W Bush and Obama. So, if Trump wins on November 9th, he would have more powers and precedents of abuse of Presidential Power than the Founders of the United States would have envisaged. In this, and not in Trump's misogyny per se, lies the greatest existential danger of American democracy.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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