“The democratic world’s worst nightmare,” Terry Glavin, writing in the Ottawa Citizen asserts, “is not an American election day victory for Trump’s Republicans, which would be catastrophic enough. It’s the prospect of Trump losing but refusing to relinquish power on the pretext of a purportedly illegitimate vote result. It is no longer far-fetched to imagine this happening. Trump himself has come close to making it a campaign promise.“
America is not “the world greatest (largest) democracy,” that’s India, of course, nor is it the oldest, several states, including Iceland, can lay claim to that title … in fact some historians say that the American revolution, circa 1776, was all about securing rights which other Englishmen, living in Britain, had taken for granted since 1688. But America has been a generally exemplary democracy for most of the 240+ years that it has been around … not perfect, far from it, in fact, but America was, always ~ at least in its own eyes ~ was trying to do better; there were, always, substantial majorities of Americans who wanted a freer, fairer, more democratic state.
Mr Glavin says that “it is genuinely conceivable that the American republic will succumb to a violent constitutional collapse or some kind of mutiny during the 79-day twilight zone between the closing of the polls on Nov. 3 and Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. As for what fresh hell would unfold on that day, and what nightmarish crises might cascade afterwards, it’s anybody’s guess.” We shrug when that sort of thing happens in Argentina or Benin or Colombia, but America has always held itself to higher standards … and it has held itself up as an example to others.
But while Terry Glavin concedes that “it is genuinely conceivable that the American republic will succumb to a violent constitutional collapse” he notes, correctly, in my opinion, that the most frightening warnings come as part of the ongoing (since circa 1960) “culture wars” which have turned America upside-down and inside-out as it tries to struggle with the entirely false dichotomy of individual versus collective rights.
Digression: I say “false dichotomy” because all useful, fundamental rights accrue ONLY to each individual. Group rights, collective rights are, always and everywhere and without a single exception, oppressive. No one must ever acquire any right because of her or his race or creed or gender or native language. (There’s a hint for Canadian politicians there.) Nor, of course must anyone be discriminated against for those or a whole hockey-sock full of other reasons. (There’s another hint for Canadian, especially Québec politicians and judges there. Québec’s Bill 21 is oppressive and odious and undemocratic and fundamentally unCanadian and wholly unacceptable in a free and democratic society. If enacted must be struck down by each and every court, one after the other, until it is dead, forever … either that or Canada ceases to be a liberal democracy.)
We need to look at what is happening in America, not what some highly partisan media outlets and some equally partisan “talking heads” say might be happening. Mr Glavin says, and I agree, that “we should keep our heads about us. Just because Americans seem to be losing their minds at the moment, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.” But he cautions us to take note of the fact that President “Trump is expected to challenge the Nov. 3 election results before the U.S. Supreme Court, for which he has just nominated the purportedly sympathetic Judge Amy Coney Barrett, tilting the bench in his favour … [but let’s remember a) that this will not be the fist time the courts have had to determine which vote counts and which doesn’t, and b) most judges decide in most cases to uphold the law, they may have strong political views but most, especially when working in concert, as appeal court and supreme court judges do, usually rule based on the law, even if they have to interpret laws written over 100 or 200 years ago in the light of current events] … And it was chilling to hear him equivocate on Tuesday night when asked whether he’d condemn white supremacist groups, but go on to advise his far-right supporters, including the so-called Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” … [but] … on Tuesday night the one reassuring utterance about the question of Trump’s willingness to accept the verdict of the American electorate in November came during the final moments of the shouting match, from the Democratic Party’s Joe Biden. “Vote whatever way is the best way for you,” Biden counselled the television audience. “Because he will not be able to stop you from determining the outcome of this election.”“
I believe that last statement is true. I suspect that, unless he loses by a real landslide, that Team Trump …
… will use every lever, political, legal and media, to make the result favour him. In a close race I expect Team Biden to do the same. And the race might be close. We recall that in 2016 Senator Clinton won the popular vote (65.8 Million vs. 62.9 Million) but President Trump won the Electoral College ~ all that matters in the US system ~ 304 vs. 227. (We might also recall that in 2019, here in Canada, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives won the popular vote last year (6.23 Million vs. 6.01 for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals) but the Liberal Party still formed the government because it won more seats (157 vs. only 121 for the second place Tories) because that’s all that matters in our system. Both systems are democratic in their own unique ways.)
Will there be incidents on election day and in the 75+ day interregnum between election day, 3 November 2020, and Inauguration Day, 20 January 2021? Yes, and some will be violent. I expect gangs of (mostly young) people representing the sometimes frightening extremes of the American cultural and political spectrum …
… to be out on the streets, starting very soon, and to be there until after the inauguration of whoever wins, shouting, burning, looting and so so on. I also expect police and even (State controlled National Guard) troops to be there, too …
… will it all end well? No, of course not. The protesters and the police and the soldiers are just humans and there will be provocations and responses, and even the best trained and best disciplined police officers and soldiers ~ and neither are overly common in the USA ~ will overreact. I will not be surprised when there is a death toll that is measured in the dozens or worse, between now and he end of January 2021.
“Like it or not,” Terry Glavin writes, and I agree, 100% “the United States remains the fulcrum upon which the world’s democracies rest – Canada included. Globally, Xi Jinping’s China, commonly in alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Khomeinist Iran, is in the ascendant. Democracy is in eclipse. The Economist Intelligence Unit rates only 22 of the United Nations’ 197 member states as “full democracies,” and the EIU’s Democracy Index, along with the Washington-based Freedom House organization, describes the state of global democracy as “in retreat” … [and] … Freedom House reckons that the retreat has been underway for 14 years. This is obviously far longer than Trump has been in office, but you’d be hard-pressed to name an American president who has been as hostile to democracy, or at the very least indifferent to democracy, as Donald Trump.“
The “retreat from democracy” seems to have begun about the time that President George W Bush was winding down. Many, including me, have argued that America, under President George W Bush, was guilty of “imperial overreach” but, whatever the cause, autocracy has been on the rise since before Xi Jinping assumed control in China ~ he is just riding a wave 15 years ago. Say whatever you like about them, but the men surrounding George W Bush believed in democracy …
… they believed that liberal democracy ~ and they are/were liberals in the proper sense of that word could and should be the norm for peoples all over the world. (People like Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton and Chrystia Freeland are all illiberal.) The Bush team believed that democracy was the natural way for people to govern themselves; many subscribed to the ideas proposed by Francis Fukuyama (himself a member of the now defunct Project for a New American Century from which so much of President George W Bush’s policy ideas sprung) that liberal democracy was ready and able to displace various and sundry sorts of autocracies and that its time had come.
Dr Fukuyama was wrong. The autocrats saw that democracy, especially liberal democracy, is difficult. People may prefer it but, as President Trump is proving, right now, many (most?) people don’t like the fact that they ~ whichever faction they represent ~ cannot always have their way. When the people make choices there will be winners and losers. President Trump does not want to lose, but right now the oddsmakers say he will be a loser (Biden 58% vs. Trump 42%).
Terry Glavin says, and I agree, that “A Biden presidency would not necessarily reverse … [the recent, illiberal trends in American domestic and foreign policies] … but it would at least begin to stanch the losses, if only by reasserting some recognizable American leadership in democracy’s shrinking global spheres of influence … [but while] … A Trump victory would be bad for democracy all ’round, but the real doomsday scenario is a Trump administration that is defeated at the polls, but refuses to relinquish power, plunging the American republic into chaos … [and] … A scenario such as this was unthinkable only a few years ago … [but, sadly] … Not anymore.“
While I share his fears, I am comforted by the fact that there is a “deep state” in America. It is the “administrative state;” it consists of millions of Americans in agencies, large and small, who “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.” They are officials, judges, sailors and soldiers, police officers and, and, and …
… and they wield immense power. Love it or hate it, and some very smart people worry a lot about it, it’s there and highest courts in the USA have confirmed its power and independence. And the individuals in that “administrative state” take their oath of office seriously; they are there to “defend the Constitution and laws of the United States,” not to defend the man who sits in the White House … not even if they, each of them, believes that he was cheated out of his office. The Constitution demands a peaceful turnover of power as the result of a free and fair election. No matter what President Trump might fear and say, there is no indication that the election will be anything but free and fair. The US courts are ruling on this right now, and they are saying, consistently, that President Trump is fear mongering for his own, partisan political reasons. The servants of the “administrative state” are listening.
Personally, and although I think he is a weak candidate, I hope that Joe Biden wins in November. If Donald J Trump wins what I believe it will be a free and fair election, then all of us who are real democrats will shake our heads, sadly, and accept the result. Some may go out to protest, peacefully, but real democrats, people who really care about their country and the free world, will not loot and riot … … they will start preparing, in November 2020, for the next free and fair presidential election in the world’s most famous and most powerful democracy in 2024: