President Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency is ending on an ignominious note. He can’t escape blame for actively promoting the false belief that the Democratic Party stole the elections. Trump’s oft-repeated claim led to a violent mob of his supporters storming the Capitol building to block the certification of the electoral vote. His actions bordered on incitement, resulting in a loss of lives.
The brazen attempts since the November elections to overturn the popular vote failed. And after a not so peaceful transfer of power, a severe test, American democracy will prevail.
What really mattered, in the end, was the independence of the electoral process, the judicial institutions, and the neutrality of the armed forces. It’s an important lesson for struggling democracies facing critical challenges around the world.
Common Democratic Future
But as Trump’s term in office has shown, no democracy is totally safe from power-hungry demagogues and aspiring tyrants peddling conspiracy theories. As shown by the US, it requires the continued vigilance of honest and committed citizens.
The attack on the US Congress is reminiscent of the 1933 attack on the German Parliament building, the Reichstag. The fascist planned Reichstag fire blamed on communists quickly transformed Germany from a modern republic to an authoritarian regime under Adolf Hitler.
The US must learn from its sanctimonious lectures to the world on the importance of democracy. It must avoid the disastrous path of turning into a banana republic where the rule of law is compromised, and the cult of personalities, political vendettas, and mob violence are the norm.
Instead, what needs to happen now is for Americans to re-discover a common democratic future across a divided country. It won’t be easy. It means giving up the dangerous practice of questioning each other’s patriotism and treating others with opposing views as enemies.
Peace and Reconciliation
As a start, the incoming leadership needs to hone an inclusive message of the peace and reconciliation espoused by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It must firmly challenge the divisiveness and hate peddled by “popular” news anchors. A toning down of the divisive rhetoric will help in healing the political wounds resulting from the elections.
From a political perspective, while the law must take its course, impeaching Trump before he leaves office will only inflame a volatile situation and increase the political divide. It would be better for the country if Trump’s actions are left to the judgment of history. President-elect Joe Biden is right not to associate himself with the drive to remove Trump.
Right now, American democracy would be best served if the Republican Party puts behind Trump’s flawed legacy. It needs new leaders who are committed to the party’s core values that attract many Americans: constitutionalism, fiscal responsibility, small government, and family values. With its proud tradition, the Republican Party can’t afford to serve as a tool for wannabe autocrats again.
Rising Wealth Inequality
An even bigger challenge is to address the concerns of the many well-meaning Americans who voted for Trump. These voters aren’t necessarily influenced by left-right ideologies but see themselves as “anti-establishment” in a decisive battle against “the corrupt elite.”
The rising wealth inequality, because of low economic growth, is a real challenge for democracy. There are millions of disaffected and frustrated citizens who have lost faith in institutions and whose economic expectations are unmet. It fuels a social and political conflict that undermines American solidarity.
There is an urgent need to study why the free-market economy, the bedrock of America’s success, is failing so many people. There’s little doubt that economic prosperity, shared by as many people as possible, is the best protection for democracy. It is a fact that inclusive economic growth is a solid bulwark against authoritarianism, racial, and class warfare.
After the Trump experience, hopefully, a majority of Americans must have realized that abuse of power, the politicizing of independent institutions, and the undermining of trust in the electoral system are very real threats to the democratic system. And attempting to impose a left or right agenda risks adding to the existing vicious partisan polarization in society.
The 2020 US presidential election is a watershed event that could profoundly change democracy. A robust American democracy will prevail, but the challenges to liberal democracy from populism and anti-democratic forces won’t disappear after Trump’s departure.
More important than ever, to restore the trust of citizens, political institutions must re-focus their priorities to serve the public interest and not the whim of individuals.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.