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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 47, New Delhi, November 7, 2020

US Election: Decline of America As a Leader of Democracy | Vijay Kumar

Sunday 8 November 2020, by Vijay Kumar


The counting of votes for U.S. Presidential election has gone down to the wire and it is heading for a nail-biting finish. Once again, Poll Punditry has gone awfully wrong. Whoever wins, the American democracy and its liberal model is going to be big looser. Even if Joe Biden succeeds in winning the race for White House, as presently appears, he will emerge as a bruised leader. On the other hand, the victory of Trump will be an unmitigated disaster for US democracy.

The deadlock in all probabilities is going to linger. Trump jumped the gun, even in the middle of counting of votes, by going public and declaring himself as a winner by making a formal victorious speech without victory. Trump has already accused that his victory is being stolen and he has declared his intent to go the court. Therefore, it is pretty certain that stalemate and resultant limbo will persist for days, indeed weeks, end on. The premature declaration that he has won has no parallel in the history of any matured democracy. Such a premature celebration only reveals the fascist mindset of Trump. His reaction, however, is therefore not surprising. Trump is fascist and he will fight till the end in his attempt to derail the presidency of Joe Biden.

There is no centralized Election Commission to monitor the polling and counting of votes. Each of 50 States has its own law that governs the voting and counting. The mail-in ballots are as legitimate as the in-person casting of votes in a polling booth. As the majority of mail-in voting has gone in favour of Joe Biden, Trump has taken exception to mail-in voting and will fight to declare those mail-in voting which was received after the voting hour on voting day as illegal. The legality of mail-in voting would be governed by the legislation of the respective States. But the attempt of Trump to derail the counting of mail-in voting will result in the disenfranchisement of those voters who opted for a mail-in vote in view of Pandemic. Nothing could be more undemocratic than stalling the counting of mail-in votes and disenfranchising the voters. Such a stratagem will further impair the legitimacy of democracy by robbing off the expression of preferences through a mail-in vote. The objection of Trump to mail-in votes thus negates the mandate of the public.

Trump has shown disregard to the democratic norms and convention throughout the term of his presidency. But the deviant behaviour of Trump in his first term of presidency becomes fleabite in comparison with his latest allegation that the fraud has been committed without any evidence and his refusal to accept the result of final counting. Such an allegation of fraud by incumbent President sounds bizarre. The counting of mail-in ballots is a tedious and time-consuming process and Trump, instead of displaying patience, has embarked on an incendiary course of action. In the process, Trump has subverted the fundamental postulate of democracy. At the bottom of all the benchmarks for sustaining robust democracy, lie the healthy convention of gracefully accepting the defeat and allowing power to be transferred in a smooth and peaceful manner.

What is distressing is that the toxic phenomenon of Trumpism anchored on hideous ‘post-truth’ is surviving, nay, kicking which is an unmistakable pointer to social regression into which Trump-led America has sunk into. Trump succeeded in retaining the confidence of not only white supremacist and white male but also made a dent in working-class and among the women in white. The election results have tragically brought to the fore the deep-seated polarization in many spheres of social, economic and political life. Even among the youth, the only college-going students opted for Joe Biden while drop-out students preferred Trump. Similarly, Trump entrenched his position in rural America while in big cosmopolitan and multi-cultural cities, Joe Biden has fared well. It is this extreme division that had produced the gridlock and has tarnished the image of American democracy. Therefore, the election result has miserably failed to make even an iota of a dent in the poisonous doctrine of Trumpism, and to that extent, the eventual outcome would only be backsliding of democracy and liberal value.

The election result has brought to the fore the painful reminder of Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics through his column in New York Times that economic slowdown can be averted but the erosion in democracy is far difficult to retrieve. Assault on democracy and liberal value by the pernicious doctrine of Trumpism has completely eroded the basic characteristic of the Republican Party. The “Civic virtue and civility were once the guiding thread of the Republican Party”. The decline of Republican Party as a neo-liberal party started from the Presidency of Ronald Reagon, and Trump has succeeded in completely finishing it by making it as a Trump party rather than classic Republican Party once associated with America’s greatest president Abraham Lincoln.

The deadlock is going to be eventually resolved in the court and eventually end up in the Supreme Court. With Amy Coney Barrett confirmation, the Republican-appointed judges are in a clear majority of 6 to 3. The Chief Justice John Robert, though appointed by President Bush Jr., has moved from right to centre and has demonstrated respect for precedent and hopefully will endeavour to act with a voice of moderation and evince judicial sagacity and statesmanship. On the other hand, any sharp cleavage in the Supreme Court on partisan political consideration will only calcify already divided and polarized American society. At stake is the credibility of the Supreme Court and the legitimacy of its pronouncement can be sustained only through recusal of Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed a week before Election Day.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, the American democracy is on the decline and it’s decline started with the capture of the democratic institutions by neo-liberal forces and has been precipitated by blatant racism practised and professed by Trump. American democracy has become the laughing stock during the Trump presidency, and this will considerably erode the standing of the US in the comity of nations.

(Vijay Kumar is Advocate at the Supreme Court of India)

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