What makes a robust democratic process
Much has been written about the US elections, President Donald Trump’s calling of the election results as fraudulent and the subsequent attack on the Congress to “Stop the Steal.” The events and rhetoric spewed as a result were headlines that people in lesser developed and autocratic nations were used to. That these headlines originated from the US, the self-proclaimed success story for democracy, was harder to fathom.
To many across the world (and to the delight of all autocrats) it would seem that world’s oldest experiment in democracy was destined to die a very public death. Had events actually played out in the manner so many feared, where Donald Trump could ostensibly continue to push at the boundaries of long established democratic norms towards breaking point, it would have permanently remove the US from its long-practicing high horse advocacy on “lesser” nations for free speech and democratic processes. In a way making America not so great anymore.
However, the recent transition to the Biden administration (peacefully, I might add, despite the active threats to the contrary) is testament to the robust systems in place that precludes autocracy.
This writer was in the US during the January 6 “insurrection” when Congress was attacked, as well as during the swearing-in of the new US president on the 20th and witnessed both incidents play out in real time. What is more pertinent was that this writer was actually on the road driving cross country from the Midwest to the east coast on a route that passed two state capitals during the entire period the new president was being sworn in. If one can recall, there was a threat of armed conflict and militant protests to be staged at all 50 state capitals from 17th, culminating on 20th to stop the Democratic party from “stealing” the election.
Time told that nothing happened on 20th other than a peaceful transition to a new administration. What I garnered from the experience was how strongly and deep rooted the democratic process was instilled in the US. One thing was evident, however -- while politicians could be equally slimy and opportunistic anywhere in the world, it was governmental systems that ensured the voice of the people were actually heard.
This draws me to conclude three ways that robust democratic processes differ from, say, what we have here in Bangladesh.
Protest against public institutions, not private property
Watching the mob attack on Congress live was something that I had never seen myself play out in real time. What was particularly interesting to me was that not one of the many vehicles in and around the vicinity of the Capitol building were burned in protest despite the apparent rabid anger among the mob.
Private property would be the first casualties of the anarchy had something similar happened in this country. On the other hand, very few people in this country would post their activities on social media -- mainly because, and to our credit, our local anarchists would know what they were doing was wrong.
Leadership still means the vote
Voter suppression is rampant in all elections home and abroad, but is done in a calculated manner in the US where there is actually a real fear of getting found out. Interestingly, many Republican lawmakers continue to parrot the unproven allegation of wide voter fraud despite no evidence of such.
Even though the few scattered incidents of what could be considered fraud would have no tangible effect on the outcome of the final results, they still seemingly cannot accept the election results. The concept that elections are outright fraudulent simply because the “home” side did not win is old news here, but is unprecedented in the US. Yet, presumably otherwise intelligent lawmakers fear that if they were to distance themselves from pushing these unsubstantiated claims, they would lose the support of millions of voters, who have demonstrated untoward fealty towards Trump and his rhetoric, lest Trump set the voters against the lawmaker for not towing the line when it came to their re-election in two years.
This is solid indication that despite the chaos, the democratic process in the US holds strong and actual votes still count. Demagoguery or idolatry do not play much of a role in US politics, although the nearest case of such would be what had been perpetuated by “The Donald.” While our lawmakers have similar problems and may find themselves in same boat, it is rarely on account of any allegiance to the democratic process or legal system, but rather straying from the party fealty, which continues to be the unspoken rule.
Political paradigm shifts are unannounced
Regardless of the fact that Trump lost the election, he still received 75 million votes. To be frank, the American election process may have vindicated itself to the world thanks to the efficacy of the legislative and executive checks and balances in place, but for America to have been vindicated in the eyes of the world, Trump should have lost with a wide margin.
Sadly, the genie is out of the bottle, and a segment of the US population has made known its popular sentiment. While it can be argued that all 75 million of Trump voters do not subscribe to the rampant racism and xenophobia rooted in Trump’s core rhetoric, they were still OK to accept the racism and xenophobia as part of the political manifesto rather than make their voice heard against it.
Here too lie some similarities with our politics, where the entire manifesto is accepted and swallowed whole without question (or at least, without public dissent for fear of retribution).
Judging by what passed over on January 6 and in its aftermath, dissenters of the Trump rhetoric were threatened with physical harm and even execution (even if the threats were rescinded when the guilty parties were arrested). Again, these arrests were the product of the strong legislative system independent of political incumbency; whereas dissenter arrests in Bangladesh would only be made if there were a threat against party fealty or demagoguery, not necessarily the law of the land, unless the demagoguery or party fealty was embedded into the law itself.
Given that the constitution has been so respected and strictly adhered to over the last 250 years, America has been able to inoculate its government functions with strong systems in place to effectively thwart autocracy. Some of us lesser countries should be so lucky.
Trump laid out his plans and spewed his bombastic rhetoric as a means to “Make America Great Again,” but in my mind, it is actually the power of the political systems and governmental processes, evident by Trump’s unceremonious departure, that has cemented why the US can actually be great again.
Talat Kamal is a PR and communications consultant with more than 24 years of experience in corporate and media communications. He can be reached at [email protected]