American Democracy: Trial by Trumpism

By Shankkar Aiyar| Published: 08th November 2020 06:14 AM
Outgoing US President Donald Trump. (File Photo | AP)

“Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions.”

Typically one would associate such a scathing observation with one of the tin-pot regimes in Africa or totalitarian states in Europe. No. The scathing remarks were not about Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. The remark by the International Election Observation Mission was about elections in the US and its President Donald J Trump.

The reputation of the oldest democracy is on trial by Trumpism. Four years into the presidency, Trump continues to have the capacity to shock the world. The post-poll scene resembles a Barnum and Bailey circus show. On November 4 he tweeted, “I will be making a statement tonight. A big WIN!” and then minutes later tweeted, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election” — accusations characterized by Republican Senator Adam Kinzinger as “debunked misinformation”.

The barrage of twitter-outrage continued. On Thursday evening, the ‘leader of the free world’ tweeted, “STOP THE COUNT” even as some Republicans warned that his comments were “dangerous” and “wrong” as the state is obliged to count every vote. By Thursday night, his campaign launched multiple lawsuits to stop counting of votes. In what has been described as classic intellectual inconsistency, the President wanted counting to continue in some states and not in others.

The conduct of the president was, to use a coinage of his, unpresidented! He charged officials in the states of being corrupt, even of those where Republicans were in charge and toiling to make democracy happen. It didn’t matter that these same votes were electing Republican Congressmen and Senators. His son Eric Trump, fuming at those he called Republican “sheep”, retweeted conspiracy theories about ballot burning.

A vote in a democracy is about being able to speak, and must be counted to be heard. Trump first tried to defy tradition and established norms by trying to define a matrix of how voters should vote, or if you please how they should not be allowed to vote. Having failed to stop mail-in ballots and other instruments and policies devised to enable safe exercise of rights, Trump egged his coalition to constrain and define which voices would be heard.

Over 72 hours after polls as counting continued, confusion confounded clarity. The crux of the problem is the complex nature of the electoral process. Authority over conduct of elections is not centralised but diffused across states to protect the process from the whims and fancies of those in power. Aggravating the circumstance is the antiquated voting system.

Indians are baffled that the US does not adopt electronic voting machines aka EVMs for a smoother faster process. After all, in 2019, the Election Commission of India counted over 600 million votes polled to declare the mandate within the day. Fact is context matters. EVMs may help for in person voting. Millions of Americans voted early — and many of them chose to do so through absentee ballots and mail in voting.

The unseemly spectacle does beg the question — why the US is living with an antiquated system. It is not as if online or electronic voting is alien to America. Companies routinely use online voting. The US Department of Labour allows use of remote electronic voting for elections in unions. Why technology has not been inducted is a question which now echoes across living rooms, social media and in television/radio studios.

The US registers roughly 300,000-plus patents every year. It has over 330 Nobel laureates. America has sent nine manned missions to the Moon, over two dozen successful missions to Mars and boasts of a US Space Force. Surely, its tech giants can get their fangs into this vexing issue and come up with solutions — in Cupertino, Mountain View or Menlo Park — for people to exercise their rights using electronics. Arguably, induction of technology and evolution of the process will follow sooner than later.

The challenge bound to haunt America longer is divisiveness. Trumpism is now an embedded ideology and the vocabulary is here. The Republican National Committee with all the reservations is tip-toeing around Trump. He has after all polled nearly 70 million votes — he has not just sustained his base but got more black, Hispanic and even LGBTQ votes.

Digging in his heels for a fight, he tweeted on Friday, “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!” The Biden campaign issued mailers calling for contributions. “Donald Trump is going to court to stop votes from being counted. We have assembled the largest election protection effort in history to fight back and need your help.” Biden declared, ‘The fight is not over’.

With over 125,000 daily COVID-19 cases, the economy on state stimulus and a society under repair, America desperately needs to come together. Voters have corralled off extreme elements and voted for what currently appears to be a divided government signalling the need for moderation and collaboration across the aisle. The majesty of the mandate holds lessons for the politicos of America.

Shankkar aiyar
Author of The Gated Republic, Aadhaar:A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India

Tags : donald trump US Elections US presidential elections 2020 US Polls 2020

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