January 14, 2021

Global Democracy In Crisis: How Trump Empowers Dictators

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A supporter of President Trump carries a Confederate flag on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the entrance to the Senate after breaching security defenses. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

The world is facing an unprecedented attack on democracy. This is a fact, discernible in old democracies as well as emerging democracies. The recent US Capitol riots that as Congress says, were instigated by President Donald Trump, are only the latest example of how populism and authoritarianism have infiltrated even the most stable democracies.

For the record, the last time the US Capitol was invaded was over 200 years, in 1814, by the British colonial army. The difference between the invasion of 1814 and the one today is quite clear. Whereas the British motive was thought to be in stopping American expansion into British Canada, the modern attack was perpetrated by the US president himself in an effort to overturn an election he lost, seeking to destroy American democracy at its core, at least according to Congressmen and women that impeached him, for the second time, on January 13, 2021.

Trump’s accusers allege that he overtly pressured, both publicly and privately, Republican officials to overturn the Electoral College results, to “find” him the votes he needed to win and decertify Biden’s win of the Electoral College. Trump is also accused of inciting the attack on the Capitol where Congress was in the process of certifying the Electoral College results. For his pain, the president has now been impeached a second time, with only 7 days left in his term, for what articles of impeachment called “inciting insurrection”.
Trump is the only president to have been impeached twice, and possible republican support for conviction in the Senate makes the odds of conviction more likely than his impeachment in 2019. If the Senate fails to convict Trump, either before he leaves office or after, a dangerous precedent will be set for the future: presidents may instigate insurrection at no political cost.

Trump’s attempt to overthrow the US government, despite the failures of his actions, has undoubtedly inspired other strongmen across the globe in their pursuit to maintain power. His constant attacks on the media during his presidential run and his subsequent presidency has enabled him to discredit claims of his impropriety, as well as leading his followers to boycott mainstream media and follow whatever Trump claims to be true.

Besides attacking media he doesn’t like as “fake news”, Trump’s power to promote conspiracies on social media, and have those conspiracies parroted on right wing media outlets such as Fox News, has enabled a distrust in government, and incubated a group of extreme supporters that were willing to storm the capitol on his behalf.

Due to his actions, tactics and attack on democracy, Trump has created what we could call an “equalization of nations”; democratic and nondemocratic. His actions have given the moral high ground to dictators around the world, who have previously faced condemnation from the US regarding their own political repression, attack on the media, political opponents and civil liberties. The damage is enormous as any future condemnation of political violence abroad by the Biden administration will undoubtedly be met with calls of hypocrisy and “clean your house first before you lecture others”.

Of course, these claims of hypocrisy are not unfounded, as the US has for decades now installed ‘America-friendly’ political leaders and institutions in countless countries, supposedly with the intent to promote democracy. Now that there has been a catastrophic failure of a US president, there is distrust among other nations over the effectiveness of US-supported democracy initiatives abroad.

Nations are growing skeptical of American ideals of governance, and leaders will likely and rightly rebuke any lecturing from future presidents on how to run their countries. Thus, although the US narrowly escaped a dark fate, the damage is done.

Due to the Trump damage, it’s difficult to say that the US is still the lodestar of democracy as it used to be, and neither is the EU able to fill the void with recent happenings on the once united continent. This is because many nationalist movements have destabilized the EU recently, including but not limited to, Brexit. Not only has Brexit proved that the largest intergovernmental organization in the world was capable of having a founding member withdraw, but did so with only a 52% vote in a non-binding referendum, creating very bad optics for the formation of future political unions or the destruction of others─like the nascent EAC.

Poland’s rising nationalist movement and its numerous violations of EU law have also strained the EU and the unity that once existed. Russia and China are moving quickly to gain influence in the absence of US and EU leadership, giving opportunities to oppressive regimes to continue their antics, in defiance of sanctions from the US and EU.

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro, a close ally of Trump, has not strongly condemned the violence in the US capitol, but has criticized the US’ foreign policy. Nigeria’s anti-SARS protests have only led to more violence, and political leaders in the state have acted straight from Trump’s playbook, calling credible media organizations “fake news” and subsequently beating and killing demonstrators and journalists. Concurrently, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni recently justified his crackdown on opponents as his country goes to the polls this Wednesday citing “insurrection in the US.” Similarly Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa blasted the US for crippling his country with sanctions on claims of undemocratic behavior when America itself isn’t democratic.

With the US and EU no longer in positions to influence foreign policy on democracy in ways they once used to, smaller countries who adhere to the rule of law and democracy must impose sanctions on those who do not. Whether authoritarian or libertarian, left wing or right wing, governments around the world must support the rule of law and respect the will of the people in free and fair elections. Policy must be drafted to ensure there are no means for politicians to overthrow elections, as there is in the USA.

The American constitution’s provision that the vice president and congress verify the state’s elections is deeply flawed, and is susceptible to misinterpretation that congress can overturn elections. Elected officials should never possess the power to invalidate elections, especially for the seats they hold, or for higher offices. The only branch of government that should possess the power to dispute elections should be the judicial branch. Only then should a super majority of judges rule an election to have been conducted in a malicious manner shall the findings be contested in the congress. Unfounded claims of election fraud and foul play by the losing side should never be grounds to contest an election that has already passed. Those who make claims of unfair elections should work harder to make sure the next election is fair, not attempt a coup after an election lost by over 7 million votes.

Thankfully, the effort to overturn Arizona’s election results failed, but 6 senators (6!) still opposed verifying Arizona’s election results. To word that better, 6 Trump loyalists voted to overturn a fair, highly monitored, and secure election in an effort to change the presidential election results in their favor. These lawmakers are party of the insurrection on behalf of the president, and must be charged with co-conspiracy in their efforts.

World leaders should condemn these senators and congress people for their complicity in Trump’s attempted coup. If they do not, they are indirectly condoning the very act of insurrection by a minority government. Any elected leader, whether elected legitimately or illegitimately, should make sure that future elections are as transparent as possible and win their election fairly as well. Precedent shows that leaders claiming a fair election was illegitimate, is only likely to cause violence and distrust among the public. The losing incumbent should always accept the results of an election, and air their grievances of foul play in court not via violent insurrection.

We, as humans, mustn’t choose between our favored political views and democratic values. We must always fight for democratic systems that instill trust in the electorate, and win our elections fairly and peacefully. This means that sometimes our favorite candidate will lose an election, but we mustn’t call fraud when courts rule those elections to be conducted fairly.

For wider legitimacy, international spectators must always be welcomed and even “stable democracies” should have observers. Then when elections are not conducted fairly, and there is credible evidence for these claims, violence and threats towards elected officials shouldn’t be the answer. These tactics only cause more instability and opportunities for those in power to keep their power, and increase the likelihood for future elections to be wrought with the same problems of those just held.

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