November 20, 2022

American Democracy in Doldrums

B Arjun

DESPITE inflation hovering above 8 per cent, the American voters have not really focused on the performance of the sitting president in the 2022 US mid-term elections. Breaking away from the norm of punishing the sitting president’s party, the electorate has voted tactically to defeat the possibility of the return of Donald Trump. According to political pundits, the 2022 polls are more a referendum on a former leader, Donald Trump and on the future of teetering American democracy.

Before the elections, according to the Washington Post survey “47 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want Trump to be the nominee in 2024.” The prospect of another Trump win in the 2024 presidential elections and the “end of the republic” was beginning to haunt skeptical Republicans as well the Democrats. 

Trump is known to be a bundle of lies and an epitome of incompetence, yet he continues to occupy the American political landscape like a colossus.  That the America’s democracy is teetering is proved by the fact that a politician   with so much political baggage can still aspire to occupy the Oval Office. Trump is twice impeached, accused of fomenting the US Capitol attack, and faces grave legal challenges in multiple cases. Ever since losing the elections in 2022, Trump and his supporters have fuelled lies about rigged ballot boxes with impunity.  

The political situation in America is grim. Despite the setback in midterm elections – loss of many of the candidates endorsed by Trump – the maverick former president refuses to concede defeat and send a strong signal that nobody can write him off yet. 

Not the one to accept defeat gracefully, Trump has called several state elections “voter integrity disaster” and accused his opponents of “trying to steal the election with bad machines and delay”. This is a classic political tactic of the extreme right around the world: spread disinformation about voting as preparation to discredit the election and seize power by force or fraud should you lose.

With Trump and his supporters milking democracy to their advantage and simultaneously undermining it by constantly casting aspersions on the election processes, many American scholars have worriedly described the “The current moment as among the most perilous in modern history for democratic governance”.

DeSantis’s  re-election in a landslide in the mid-terms sealed his credentials as the Republican party's brightest rising star. DeSantis’ 20-point win over his Democratic rival Charlie Crist has drawn huge acclaim from conservative commentators. He is widely expected to run for the party's 2024 White House nomination.

Trump may shrug off responsibility for a candidate's losses, but many in the Republican camp see a window of opportunity to nip the evil in the bud. Those opposed to Trump see Governor Ron DeSanti as a ray of hope to counter Trump’s charisma and popularity among vast swathes of the Republican voter base. 

However, the threat of Trump’s return continues to linger on. And it will certainly not be easy for DeSanti or any other candidate to disregard Trump’s looming presence in the political landscape. Trump maintains a robust political operation, continues to conduct campaign-style rallies across the country and has a loyal, enthusiastic base.

Trump is a person with overt dictatorial tendencies. Senator Ted Cruz has once called him a “man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” Trump is “shrewd and smarter than his critics gave him credit for, possessed of a survival instinct that was likely unmatched in American political history”.

The prospects of Trump’s return to the oval office do not portend well for the international liberal order as well. The support and encouragement that the worldwide Alt-right is likely to receive with Trump at the helm, is already beginning to worry democracies across the globe.  

Trump's return would only add greater fuel to the simmering international situation where big powers are no longer averse to using the threat of use of nuclear weapons with little regard for global peace.  

The Modi government may be one of the few states across the globe that may be happy with Trump’s return to power because the Indo-US relations have not progressed as well as they had flourished under the Trump administration. The US ambassador position in India has remained vacant since January 2021, when President Joe Biden took office. It's the longest that the US has been without a full-time envoy in India since 1950. In the past 22 months, Washington has posted five Chargé d’Affaires to Delhi. Last month the US State Department announced the appointment of yet another Chargé d’Affaires ad interim for India. 

Biden is no longer averse to shaking hands with the Chinese President, Xi Jin Ping and talk in unison  against nuclear use or threats in Ukraine and common acknowledgment that the world expects the United States and China to do more to work together on global challenges, like climate, debt, health, and food insecurity.

A change of heart in Washington with regards to China and Russia is partly dictated by domestic compulsion. Biden and Democrats know that they cannot afford to move into the 2024 election with inflation in double digits. To avoid hyperinflation, America has no choice but to delay the proposed decoupling with the Chinese  economy and stop aiding war in Ukraine. 

Barring the White supremacists, very few the world over would like to see Trump elected in 2024. The Left across the world is already reasserting to halt the right wing juggernaut from rolling on. This fact has been proven by the comeback of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva by defeating the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazilian elections. It’s highly likely that Lula would not have been able to claim victory had Trump been the American president. Bolsonaro would have been actively assisted to successfully rig the vote, or simply attempted a putsch – and a second-term.