America Steps Back From The Brink

By Habib Aruna

“America must always come first. The people have spoken, and we respect the majesty of the democratic system. I ask that we stand behind our new president, and regardless of our differences, all Americans share the same purpose”.

Above were the graceful words of George H Bush, the 41st President of the United States when he conceded the election to then Democratic candidate and governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who made him a one term president.

According to the Rolling Stone Magazine, Bush’s speech, conceding to Clinton, “was short, bittersweet, and a model of patriotism Trump could never muster”. The speech was indeed a classical reminder of the “way peaceful transition is expected to function and the degree to which Trump has bankrupted our nation”.

Going to a week now after the most important election in a generation took place and more than 48 hours after the media declared Joe Biden the next president, President Donald Trump has refused to concede. And his refusal is delaying the smooth transfer of power. This is perhaps the first time in modern times, except in 2000 when former Vice-President, Al Gore and George Bush (43rd President) went to the Supreme Court after the disputes over the Florida recount, that a sitting president will be prevaricating and not abiding with the outcome, citing unfounded voter fraud and irregularities.

But given the way and manner the president has conducted himself in office and during the campaign, we should not be too surprised with the turn of events, because Trump had discredited the electoral process many times in the past one year by wrongly saying that the election will be rigged to favour his opponent; by insinuating, both at campaign grounds and interviews, that mail-in ballots are characterized with fraud and by not being forthcoming in his answers that he will accept the outcome of the election. He never gave any definitive answer whenever he was asked if he would accept the result of the election.

This is the first time in living memory that the leader of the free world will be casting doubts about the United States democratic process. He went as far as telling his supporters to go monitor the polls to prevent the process from being hijacked by the so-called liberal and antifa elements. There is no proof whatsoever of any massive fraud in the United States electoral process according to record. Unlike other countries with less robust electoral system, the U.S elections have over years been credible, free and fair and transparent. And that is why losers find it less difficult to congratulate the winners.

But for a man who had desecrated all norms and values of the highest office in the world, Americans and the world were on a prayer mood throughout this period. Lovers of democracy all over the world held their breath, hoping that truth and common sense would eventually prevail and that the American electorate would do the right thing by giving Trump the red card on November 3.

Sadly, within four years, Trump America became a caricature of a typical Third World country or if you like, a Banana Republic, where rule of law is turned upside down and where democratic institutions are manipulated to suit the whims and caprices of the head of state and ruling party. For a president who could not be called to order by his party leaders, he used every opportunity to abuse and castigate political opponents, while his supporters shout, “lock him or her up” at campaign rallies.

All these to the chagrin and surprise of the world, a world that had for centuries see and respect America as the oldest and biggest democracy; a world that has come to see the American democratic brand as one of the most enduring and iconic process of the human race; a world that sees the U.S president as a natural leader of the global space; and a world that once thought that the concepts of democracy and development are not mutually exclusive.

Indeed, not a few observers were of the view that the American democratic experiment would be damaged beyond repair if Trump was elected for second term. It was therefore a sigh of relieve when Biden was announced as the winner of the presidential election. Yes, there is no doubt that Trump has his own supporters both inside and outside the country, but by and large and going by the reactions and celebration that trailed the emergence of Biden as the winner, it does appear that majority of the global audience are more disposed to the exit of Trump. It certainly won’t be a bad idea to many if sanity and decency is brought back to the Oval office.

Hence, as we await the elusive phone call, if any, from Trump to congratulate Biden, one thing that has become increasingly evident is that American democracy can never be the same again. The constant assault from Trump, who was supposed to be the symbol and its chief custodian, has mortally affected the system.

Throughout his presidency, Trump never shied from denigrating the media-calling it fake; he tried every means to circumvent the principle of checks and balances put in place by the founding fathers to checkmate the excesses of an autocratic president; the judiciary was not left out of his impunity. And despite the solidity of these institutions, Trump used his office to debase them and curry favours to his associates and family.

More worrisome are the lies and tweets coming out from the White House, misinforming the electorate and sowing the embers of hatred and discord, thereby polarizing a country that is already divided. How does one explain the unfounded and unpresidential tweets of Trump to millions of his followers that the election was stolen and that he actually won? But the more the impasse is prolonged, the more tension would continue to build and the more problematic the transfer of power would be.

However, a major takeaway from the U.S election is the crisis that democratic countries are going to face as part of the legacy of Trump. His emergence four years ago saw the spread of populism all over the world, particularly in Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, amongst others. And as Fareed Zakaria, the American journalist and essayist, argued, Trump’s actions and incendiary rhetoric remind us that democracy is still very fragile that its lovers need to be vigilant at all times to protect it. “Democracy is fragile, it needs to be protected”, Zakaria said on CNN.

For now, with the denial of a second term to Trump, America has stepped back from the brink. Time will tell if the American people can still in the words of French philosopher traveler, Alexis de Tocqueville reinvent itself.

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