I write this editorial as the US presidential race rages on, with millions around the world holding their breath to known who the 46th president of the United States of America will be. I do not know whether or not the election result would have been final by the time this editorial reaches my readers, but I am in fact keen to express my view regardless of who the winner is: the Republican incumbent President Donald Trump, or the Democrat Joe Biden. The chances of Trump winning a second term appear slimmer than those of his nemesis Biden winning the presidency and pushing him over from the White House. However, what I discuss here has nothing to do with the winner or loser; it touches upon the essence of the democratic experience and its capacity to ensure peaceful power rotation. We have long sung the praises of this attribute of US democracy but, right now, it appears to be reeling and staggering.
Lest anyone thinks I am exaggerating, let me quote one of America’s prominent political analysts and columnists, Thomas Friedman. As the presidential race reached its height, the heated conflict, allegations of fraud, and violent protest involved, drove Mr Freidman to write in the New York Times on 5 November: “We still do not know who is the winner of the presidential election. But we do know who is the loser: the United States of America.”
My generation recalls US presidential elections since the middle of the last century when the country was famous for its smooth presidential elections and rotation of power. Naturally, all presidential races involved political, economic and social variance in views, agendas and pledges, frequently leading to heated tugs of war. But all through, presidential candidates respected the election mechanism, the vote count system, and announcement of the outcome. Once the final result was announced, the losers congratulated the winners and called on their supporters to rally behind the elected president, as one unified nation. The democratic process and the will of the majority were fully respected.
So why do these staunch democratic traditions seem to be crumbling during the current presidential race? Matters have actually been building up since the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, was announced some three months ago. Trump fired at Biden hostile remarks, and unabashedly said that a Biden win would indicate fraud and manipulation through the mail-in votes. This was unprecedented in US presidential races. Then we witnessed the hostile, aggressive manner Trump adopted during his first debate with Biden. Trump persisted in constantly interrupting his rival and verbally harassing him, relinquishing all dialogue ethics. Sadly, Trump began, and Biden followed suit. Trump then kept alleging potential voter fraud even before the voting started; this served to rally his supporters against the integrity of the electoral process and mail-in voting, to the point that many people—myself included—felt wary of possible confrontations between supporters of Trump and Biden. This is in fact what happened, and what we saw on news channels covering voting and vote count, especially within the determining States and the Electoral College. State governors, observers, analysts, and even top figures of the Republican Party, insisted there was no evidence of fraud, yet Trump’s supporters were persuaded of election fraud; they lost their minds and engaged in violent skirmishes with Biden’s supporters, which prompted police interference to separate them and contain matters. As he started facing possibilities of loss, Trump did not act responsibly as President of the US or pose as a good example to his supporters by leading them towards a unified nation. He continued firing accusations, claiming his presidency had been fraudulently usurped, and that his team would not let this pass unchallenged. He urged his supporters not to give up, alleging that the media was antagonistic towards him. He said that all those who acknowledged a Biden win were his enemies, guilty of conspiring to usurp his well-deserved win of a second term.
In reply to such absurdities, a number of satellite channels aired video footage depicting the response of previous contenders in US presidential elections who had lost over the years; these included President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Hilary Clinton, and who honourably owned their loss, and called on their supporters to accept the result and unify behind the president elect for the sake of America. What a shame for Trump!
I repeat what I wrote at the beginning of this editorial: Regardless of the election result, history will not forgive Trump’s reckless irresponsible behaviour that implies he has no qualms about sacrificing his country’s integrity for his greed for power. His niece Mary Trump said that what he did emulated a coup; after losing the election he tries to strip it of legitimacy and threatens to go to court without evidence to support his allegations.
Finally, I am not trying to compare between the policies of Trump and Biden; here many would differ. I am rather pointing at the huge setback Trump has worked on American democracy. It has given rise to talk about a rift within the American nation that has slipped into conflict tantamount to civil war; some even fear that States might pull out of the federation. So much for peaceful rotation of power.
12 November 2020