Sir, I would rather be right than be President — Henry Clay, 1777-1852, American statesman.
HUNDREDS of millions of people who thought US President D J Trump will run out of steam and options on his way out of office and into infamy and ignominy have just found out they are wrong. It turns out even the most hardened supporters of the defeated President had underrated his capacity for damage. In two weeks’ time, he will be out, but the world will remember Trump’s last few weeks more than they will remember the inauguration of a new J Biden administration under the pall of a devastating pandemic and an outgoing President who has trashed the rule book on appropriate conduct by leaders of democratic countries.
As you read this, Americans would be waiting to know if Trump has cost the party that gave him the US control of the Senate, from elections for two Senate seats in the State of Georgia. If his party wins the two seats, a damaging divided government is virtually guaranteed, and this will be the type of situation Trump can live with. A divided government is the last thing America needs at this stage when it faces some of the most serious challenges in its recent history. If his party does win one or both seats it will owe nothing to an outgoing President who has reduced the entire country into two camps: those who support his ambition to overturn results of an election he had lost on the one hand, and those who want America to move on and heal gaping wounds inflicted by him.
The best friends of the US will ask where it found President DJ Trump. It is not as if the US had built a flawless democratic system, one without the type of blemish even growing democracies will avoid. It has been a long journey beginning with profound ideals and incredible faith that the human spirit can live up to them. It has taken more than two hundred years to establish strong foundations and leave room for drama and the unexpected. America grew on a tripod: a strong economy, a rich democratic tradition and a powerful military. They supported a country that laid claims to world leadership, and provided it with the means to take up those who thought otherwise. Many countries built, or attempted to build democratic systems with a lot of local variations, but the US held up the belief that it could be done, even if there were glitches and stumbles on the way. So long as hallowed values such as free and fair elections, functioning democratic institutions, accountable leadership and rule of law are not breached, a democratic system can be dressed up in many forms. Now the US is watching a home-grown phenomenon it had only seen in distant lands: a powerful leader who will attempt to sacrifice critical democratic values to feed his personal ambition.
If we will be fair to history, we have to accept that Trump had served notice that he was not going to be your traditional President of the US. His campaign combined breathtaking offensives against political and personal conventions, standards and etiquette, and a play at a rich base he had the instinct to recognise as valuable asset waiting to be cultivated. He won an election against the entire US political establishment, and set about building a strong political base and an economy that will bear testimony to his claim as a successful businessman. Too many things did not fit the image, but, in spite of serious challenges including an impeachment, Trump was on a mission to re-design the office of President of the USA. His supporters cheered him on. His opponents waited for an election to vote him out. A world used to a standard US modus watched in awe as a US President set about altering settled patterns and accepted wisdom on the globe. Huge numbers of Americans poured out in anger at institutionalised racism, demanding radical changes. Trump turned his back on them. His strong base noted and approved. The pandemic descended on the US with great impact. Trump thought he could ignore it or stare it in the face and it will go away. His base shouted support and Americans began to die in great numbers.
Trump believed there was no way he would lose the election against Biden, but he did. Every evidence known to the US democratic process said he had lost fair and square. But Trump does not accept that he lost. Correction: he does not believe he should cease to be President of the United States because he had lost an election. A loss can be fixed, even if this violates the most sacrosanct foundation of the democratic process: popular will expressed through an election. This is where Trump begins to look like many pocket dictators strewn across the world who tolerate elections only because they can be made to yield predetermined ends. In the case of the US, it is much worse. Pocket dictators get away with it because that is what they do.
In the US, Trump stirs a huge army of doubters who will not accept result of an election that has been more scrutinised than any other election. Then elected representatives of the people in the US Congress began to line up behind the doubters, sending signals to the world that the US electoral process is vulnerable to manipulation, and has been violated to a degree that it produced a false Biden presidency.
They will go through a formality today that will enlist the US among countries whose citizens insist that they live under democracies with rigged elections. It will not change the result which gave Joe Biden victory, but it will rob the US of a rare moral authority to pronounce on the quality of elections in a world desperate for standard bearers. President Trump is not waiting for a paper process that will merely smear the American electoral process. He is becoming increasingly desperate to be sworn-in for a second term on January 20. From all appearances, he believes he had won the elections but was denied victory through a conspiracy that includes many members of his own party.
If the electoral process has been stolen beyond his reach, he believes the can tweak it to give him victory under the most impossible of all circumstances. A number of things about President Trump should provide serious sources of concern for the US and the world it relates with. One is the state of mind of a very powerful leader who believes he has been cheated out of victory, and he must serve another term at all cost. The second is what he could do with the awesome powers he would retain and exercise until the President-Elect in inaugurated.
Two days ago, a phone conversation in which he was urging an election official to procure illegal votes for him was recorded and released. The world will be well advised to brace itself for more desperate antics from an apparently delusional president. It will be difficult to snatch a lighted fire from Trump’s hand until he decides what to do with it.
The most worrisome issue, however, is what Trump, out of office but not out of power, will do as the spiritual and political head of a very ugly face of America. Without a doubt, a bitter, vengeful but popular Trump will continue to be a major factor in American and global politics. President Trump will leave the White House kicking and screaming.
Outside, he alone will decide what he does with a very potent political base. The US is not out of the woods yet.