Trump and democracy in America

Segun Ayobolu


HE is perhaps one of the best things to have happened to American politics and democratic culture in recent years. In the four years since his assumption of office in 2016, President Donald Trump has dominated that country’s political space like a colossus. And this is not simply because of the power and influence of the presidency but rather due to Trump’s abrasive style, cantankerous personality and amoral worldview. By his victory and conduct in office, Trump has offered Americans a mirror through which they can really see themselves as they are – warts and all. Before the election of Trump, most Americans surely had an unrealistic faith in the solidity of their institutions as well as the ethical sanctity of their political values. But now Trump has shown that a president with a pugnacious disposition and scant respect for the truth can undermine any institution no matter how firmly they are anchored.

Which critical institution of American political life and society did Trump not try at every point to corrupt, pervert and undermine? Was it the courts, the Department of Justice, the intelligence services, the health authorities, the Congress or even the courts? But then, this is good for America. For, it is unlikely that any future President of that country will act with such brazen impunity and reckless audacity as Trump did. Americans should surely now take steps to strengthen their institutions and make sure that never again will an American President abuse the power of the office as the whole world witnessed in the last four years under Trump.

Indeed, the massive turn out of voters to perform their civic duty despite the raging coronavirus pandemic was suggestive of a new stirring among Americans; a desire to take back their country and subordinate the state once more to the control of civil society. The massive early voting mostly by mail no doubt played an important role in the outcome of the election. Media analysts in the US had pointed out that it was democrats who cast most of the early voting by mail. When this mail- in ballots began to be counted, they shifted the pattern of the election heavily in favour of Joe Biden. Can this large number of mail in ballots be a basis for Trump to successfully challenge Biden’s victory in court? It is becoming more unlikely by the day. That would be the judicial equivalent of a coup. And Trump has not hidden his determination to win the elections at all costs and by all means even rushing through the appointment a new Supreme Court judge with conservative bias to further skew the apex court in favour of the Republicans.

It is, however, significant that Trump recorded more than 72 million votes. That by any standard is a massive turn out of voters who supported Trump despite the numerous controversies that had swirled around his presidency seriously eroding the prestige and dignity of the office. It seems that for those who voted for Trump, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic was of secondary concern contrary to the claim by the mainstream media that this would be the main issue in the election. Trump’s management of the economy, which reportedly helped to generate massive jobs till the coronavirus struck to erode all the gains in the economy, also apparently weighed in his favour among many Americans.

However, if he eventually concedes defeat and does not disrupt Biden’s swearing into office, Trump will still, in my view, be enormously influential especially with his fanatical base comprising mostly white Christian evangelicals. But that is if he does not destroy himself by continuing to challenge Biden’s victory and thus verging dangerously on the borders of treason. I personally cannot understand the preoccupation of Democrats and liberals with enforcing gay rights, abortion rights as well as taking the Bible and, prayer and even God’s name away from public schools. These values alienated most evangelical Christians from the Democrats for it would appear that America is still a hugely conservative society.

Indeed, Trump had come to embody a significant section of Americans that had been alienated both from that country’s capitalist system and the perverse values I mentioned with which the Democrats are obsessed. I remember that under the Obama presidency, America tried to tie foreign aid to poor countries to the latter’s backing of legislation that supported gay rights. Of course, this reprehensible demand was rejected outright by most African countries

The demagogic political forerunners of Trump in the quest to rule America were Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan, who decried the United State’ persistent economic crisis, wanted to stem the flow of immigration, wanted to put America first and blamed vulnerable Americans for everything wrong with America. They wanted social services cut, they were against old age pensions, and wanted a strong military. They advocated strong borders including building strong fences to keep unwanted immigrants out of America. When he ran for the President in 1996, Buchannan proposed US withdrawal from the UN and expelling the UN from New York, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Development, taxes on inheritance and capital gains and affirmative action programs”.

In 1992, when he contested the US presidency, Ross Perot “got nearly 20 percent of the vote – 4 to 5% more than predicted on the basis of those who said they would vote for him”.  “The Perot vote, according to Jack Barnes, a prominent member of the socialist movement in America, “registers the growing view that no established Democratic or Republican party candidates will ever be any different. It registers the glorification of the armed forces and their special elite units that gains momentum at times of social crisis – no corruption there! It reflects the elevation of the so-called self-made businessman (Like Perot) who knows how to cut through red tape. “I’m Ross. Your’re the boss” – that became Perot’s populist watchword as the campaign progressed. Together, we will cut through the pretense of democracy in Washington, the grid lock of elected institutions and get things done!”

Trump resurrected the kind of demagogic oratory pioneered by Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan. The only difference was that after he had engineered the ‘hostile takeover’ of the Republican party, as his son in law Jared Kushner put it, Trump was able to achieve the feat of actually being elected as President in 2016. However, as it turned out, Trump was more bluff and bluster and very little of substance. Perhaps being a billionaire or running a big business empire is not a sufficient condition for being a competent and successful political leader after all.

But then, Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, must not rejoice too soon. For that country’s political system is too broken, its  economy  too crisis ridden’ and its society so fractured that after another  possibly ineffectual four years of the Democrats, larger numbers of Americans will believe that ultimately the fate of their country lies neither with the Democrats nor the Republicans.