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Looking Back: The Man Who (Almost) Brought Down America’s Democracy


I N T E R N A T I O N A L  P O L I T I C S – U S


Eahsan Abedin


“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning” — Donald Trump, 2016


Aptly put, the entire world has been sick and tired of Mr Trump’s deception, fabricated lies, torture towards the marginalised communities, and blatant disregard towards the well-being of Americans, let alone the world, as a whole. Well, he also said in 2020, “With me, there’s no lying.”

President Donald J. Trump, a man who doesn’t need an introduction. Ever since he got elected in 2016 after beating Democratic Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, the man took over at the White House and needless to say, he didn’t do much of a great job. With him as the departing President, here is a look at how Mr Trump did all he could in his capacity to tarnish the American democratic norms in his 4 years tenure.

Donald Trump’s very campaign in 2016 was corrupted with lies. He told people that the Democrats would open the gates and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans would come in. He also added that they (the Democrats) promised to set people free from prison and 1,00,000 criminals would be walking on the streets of America, which, pretty obviously they didn’t. Trump stated that he would create millions of job opportunities for American citizens, a promise that he failed to keep horribly. A record 20.8 million jobs were lost just in April due to Covid-19, which still hasn’t returned to its previous numbers. Leaving that aside for a moment, did he actually make America great?

The answer here is clear, no. Donald Trump, who came out as a politician because according to him, traditional politicians weren’t doing enough, has legitimised lying, fabrication, and deception on a scale that only a handful of politicians have ever done before, which the common mass refer to “Trumpism”. Trump has validated White supremacy and wide-spread xenophobia in the country under the agenda of making America a better place. In the name of immigrant control, minorities are being taken away the right to vote and put into detention centres.

When it is said that Trump is known for taking his racist and completely unsecular decisions regarding immigrant control, that also stands out as a truth. President Trump’s executive order banning travellers from seven muslim countries in 2017 and Trump calling Mexicans “rapists” in his 2016 campaign absolutely proves it. In his 2016 campaign, he called Hilary Clinton “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever”. He repeatedly called Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas, and the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus as “the Chinese Virus” or “kung flu”. Adding to that, he has also suggested Vice-President elect Kamala Harris, who is South-Asian and Black, as “not meeting the requirements” many times, clearly proving his unbound love towards racism and xenophobia.

Trump also doesn’t leave out journalists when he is busy landing racist remarks everyday. Trump attacked CNN’s Abby Phillip, who is a Black journalist, when asked about the Mueller Investigation by saying,  it was a “stupid question” and turning to her personally: “You ask a lot of stupid questions”. Also, when CBS News journalist Weijia Jiang, who is an Asian- American, asked Donald Trump a question about Covid-19, he responded by saying, “This is a question you should ask China,” attacking her external appearance personally, proving again to the extent his bigotry can reach. 

Does this seem familiar to something we have seen in the early 20th century? It certainly does and is nothing but a renewed form of fascism and populism. The political ideologies early fascist leaders used to follow are what Donald Trump had been doing till now. In order to establish his superiority to his supporters, all he had been backed up by was a series of deception, rhetoricism, and extreme polarisation. 

Fascism is a hard ideology to explain. Instead of an ideology, it is far easier to explain as a political method. Hard to explain and not quite defined, but definitely understood. Abusing the minorities to the utmost, denial, fabrication, and outright torture in the name of serving the majority Whites was the code of fascism in the 20th century. Although not exact, it is definitely up to the standards to call Trump one in the 21st century, and it is more correct that you might think.

Famous populist leader Hugo Chávez was fond of the slogan: “With Chávez the people rule”. And that’s definitely what Trump likes to say. A populist leader usually opposes “the people” to a corrupt, self-serving elite in the way Trump does. But, what really distinguishes a leader as a populist is his claim that he and only he represents the real people and in the case of Trump, it’s exactly what he does.

President Trump said in May that the only important thing is the unification of “the people” – because the “other people” don’t mean anything. Breaking down his statement in simple words, Mr. Trump alienated the people who do not share the common (read: populist) view. In other words, they are not people who have the right to be catered to in Donald Trump’s eyes. Also, as Trump explained himself, because he had been in control of the executive, the people control the government. By popular suggestion, all forms of opposition were said to be ‘illegitimate’ – opposing Trump means you oppose the people, also known as his radical supporter base.


To make matters much worse, it is actually in benefit for Donald Trump to see unrest in his country. As long as he can call the people creating unrest ‘un-American’ (even if it is for the greater good of the country) to his supporting crowd, he wins. By definition of Donald Trump, ‘the people’ are the average Trump supporters: ignorant, easily scared, and looking-for-a-better economy-Americans, who are the base of his popularity.


But, as long as he had been there, “divide and rule” continued and America continued to face a true threat to its democracy.

Now, coming back to neo-fascism, what did Donald Trump actually do? Trump injected fear into the hearts of rather vulnerable supporters, the kind who believe everything Trump has to say by heart. In the book How Fascism Works: the Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University, he described how fascist movements usually rely on a myth of rural purity in contrast with urban depravity, a divide that was clearly seen in the midterms of America. He also explained how fascist rulers make believe their supporters about outsider threat if their leader is not there, and that is also definitely what the former President did in his earlier campaigns since 2016.

All these words would’ve been only blabber if reality turned out to be different, if this turned out to be fiction instead of fact. However, that is not the case, as in turn, it is creating more ever-dedicated-supporters of him and he’s giving them an existential crisis to think about everyday.

Now, let’s talk about how the man himself had performed in his administration. Unsurprisingly, not so good either.

While Donald Trump is out there attacking every belief not matching his, 63% of American people out there are living their lives in the “said to be greatest” country in the world with low trust in the federal government, according to a study in 2018.

Trump, as the President of the country, doesn’t even seem to stop accusing the criminal-justice system of the country, which he promised to make better in his campaigns in 2016. The Russian Government has been said to have meddled in the 2016 American elections by boosting the nomination of Donald Trump and harming Hilary Clinton’s one. Regarding this investigation about the alleged collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign officials in 2016 by the FBI, President Trump *tweeted* that it is nothing but a work of ‘criminal deep state’ engaged in a (yes, of course, caps lock) ‘WITCH HUNT’ engineered by the Obama administration.

These certainly do have effects, rather very impactful ones. Statements like these are the ones that fuelled distrust and doubts within the relationship of the White House, the Intelligence Agencies themselves pledging to give security to the President and also, the public belief in the national agencies. In short, this is one of the thousands of ‘very wrong and unthoughtful comments’ the  former president made during his term. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former assistant attorney general under George W Bush, said, “We’ve never had a president attack the intelligence and law enforcement agencies that work for him in this way.”

Let’s come to campaign funding. In 2016, the richest 100th of 1% of Americans – 24,949 very wealthy people – accounted for a record-breaking 40% of all campaign contributions. Why? Because the Republicans promised the big corporations and the cash cows of the country on a giant tax cut in return of the donations. You might think that Trump’s initial campaign policy was low-tax and massive employment for people, but think again, because this has a completely different spectrum compared to wherever you may be looking. 

For the corporations, investments paid off big. Companies like GE contributed $20 million and got back as much as $16 billion in tax savings. For Pfizer, the ratio was bigger with $16 million in donations for the GOP and tax savings upto $39 billion. Groups supported by Charles and the late David Koch donated more than $20m promoting the tax cut, which saved them and their heirs between $1bn and $1.4bn every year.

 

With all these savings, we might think that the general people of America were benefitted, whereas the opposite happens (again). Companies, having spent most of their extra cash on stock buybacks and dividends, have given the stock market (as told by Trump himself) a sugar high, but left close to little for average workers.

Workers have been treated poorly. Despite the longest economic expansion in modern history, real salaries have barely risen. The share of corporate profits going to workers still isn’t back to where it was before the 2008 financial crisis. It has never occurred in history before that the corporate profits grow so big and the employee compensation still remains so small that the disparity in the spectrum is unbelievable. 

The so-called “open market” had been taken over by crony capitalism, corporate bailouts, and corporate welfare.

Coming back to America’s democracy again, “imperial presidency” has long been an important phenomenon in America’s democracy and one that congress has failed to change over many years.


The dominant two-party system, toxic partisanship and out-of-touch politicians are blamed for the long-lasting failures of governance. Regarding the presidency, this had been a great problem as well. Systematic problems had been causing great oddities. Trump had been the fifth president to win office despite losing the popular vote, thanks to the archaic, unsustainable, and unaccountably formed electoral college process. The unethical benefits taken by the incumbency are endless too — elected political parties having greater benefits in electoral map-making leading to gerrymandering and other anomalies leading to re-election takes away the gist of equality and democracy itself. Of these, Donald Trump took full-benefit of.

Also, on another side, the average cost of winning a seat in the Senate is $19.4m. Winning a seat in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections would’ve cost an average $1.5m, at least. The need for such an amount of financial backing effectively excludes many would-be candidates from the democratic process and places others in dependence on their financial backers. Thus proving again, to win a place in the American democratic system, you need money and Donald Trump is a prime example.

Again, Trump had also been infamous for excessive, non-transparent, and illegal financing campaigns. There is also untraceable money coming from foreign governments or individuals, via agents and lobbyists — a major concern in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Yet Trumpism lives and the calibre to which President Trump has legitimised sexism, racism, and lie-telling — sets a lasting  benchmark for many. Although one might think that American people have finally understood their better good and voted out Trump, it is not quite true.

Relating back, the true bad impact that Trumpism and his views of populism and neo-fascism is having on his supporters is that he himself is normalising misogynistic views and comments among his supporters. What might happen because of this is that, whether or not Trump is there in power or presidency, his ideas of radicalism are being preached and automatically validated in the daily lives of people. This causes them to share or preach these same ideals among themselves further impacting the authoritarian behaviour and White-supremacist conduct in the society as a whole and making people think that whatever they do is alright.

The most notable example in this case is that of the Black Lives Matter movement. It started with people raising their voices against this kind of behaviour itself. Such public displays of behaviour (Trumpism) create exclusive echo-chambers wherein radicalised and ‘Trumpist’ behaviour is normalised and pervasive. This in turn bolsters his supporters’ conservative mindsets, perpetuating a cycle of Trumpism for the days to come. And when asked about the preacher of these misogynistic ideologies, POTUS himself.
“Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, said. “Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries, who seek…to sow discord and undermine our way of life.” The Senate might still be in control of the Republicans, but will they stand by Trump’s policies as much as they did when he was in power, will their policies change and does Donald Trump have to go?

No one knows. But, the false and baseless accusations by Trump about this year’s elections remain. He has said that he will take the cases to the Supreme Court that has received mostly criticism because, at this point, he is just throwing spaghetti at the wall with the hope that something sticks. But, that’s not how it works. Also, tensions remain as some of the Supreme Court lawyers have been appointed by Trump himself and they have proven to be quite conservative in previous cases.
But whatever happens, Donald Trump has set a benchmark, one which the Republicans have to consider, whether to abide by or not. But whatever happens, Trump has divided the country and almost brought down America in his seemingly small 4 year-term.

P.S. He or Donald Trump Jr. might be back in 2024.

 

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