I have decided to write this article in view of the fact that with less than 100 days to the date of the United States of America’s presidential election on November 8, one of the prominent candidates, Mr Donald Trump of the Republican Party, had to say that it would be “a waste of time” if he lost the election. (CNNReport , August 3, 2016). As a result, the election is likely to end with a crisis of confidence if Trump loses. Such an outcome will be a disservice to democracy all over the Western world generally and the US, its avowed champion, in particular.
But what is democracy? The ancient Greeks, as contemplative thinkers, fashioned out in the City of Athens , a radically people -oriented system of government that was operative from 508 until 322 BCE whereby power was placed in the hands of the people (demos) to debate among themselves, rich or poor and decide on how they wanted to be governed by three important Institutions in the polity as their pillars of Democracy , namely ( a) the Assembly of the Demos (b) the Council of tested Elders numbering 500 and (c ) the People’ s Court . The Assembly gave opportunity to all male citizens of 18 years and above, whose parents and themselves were free citizens and not slaves to speak their minds and exercise their vote regularly. After two centuries, the system broke down due to the inordinate excesses of demagogues led by Demosthenes who perverted the wishes of the people.
Since the modern era, democracy has become the system of governance in the Western world with variants of the system being championed by Britain and the United States of America ever since. The rest of the world has come to respect democracy defined by one of the finest presidents of the USA as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Its greater workability and better success in lifting the innate spirit of man to soar higher to achieve socio-economic exploits not only for himself but for the good of the generality of the governed has endeared the system to its friend or foe the world over.
It is clear from the names, Democratic Party and Republican Party , the two dominant political parties in the USA, that it has always been the intention of the founding fathers and subsequent leaders of the country that their desire was to be governed as a “democratic republic “ as distinct from a “monarchical democracy” that still obtains in Britain from which the US broke away in 1766. With this background, it is my intention to express my observations, reflections and fears for the future of democracy in the US from the prism of an “armchair” dispassionate observer of what has transpired since the campaign for the election of the next President of the greatest ( not largest) democracy in the world started about a year ago.
Incidentally , I also had the opportunity to comment on the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore in the article, “One Shot in the Bush and an Ox is Gored” published that year in The PUNCH.
For the success of democracy, most writers are agreed that there must be some minimum preconditions. Some essential Institutions must exist and function effectively to ensure a level playing field. Political parties must exist as midwives for ushering in the modus operandi of regulating the number of contestants, political party manifestoes and guidelines , practical and ethical arrangement for conduct of elections , funding of party and candidates , and generally satisfying the people’s expectations and making it easy for them to make their preferred choice of the party’s torch-bearer. There must be an overall umpire – like a state organisation and a legal court of last resort for resolution of conflicting interests and disputes. As I will indicate later, my first adverse observation is that imperfections in the setting up and weakness in empowering the political parties vis – a -vis the ambitions of the political gladiators constitute the Achilles’ heel of the American system. Maybe, this is as a result of the respect for individual freedom of choice as against the collective standpoint as a way of American life and living .
Constitutionally, when there is a sitting President not seeking reelection, as Barack Obama in this his second term, it is provided that electioneering for the ensuing year cannot begin earlier than 644 days before the Election Day. Therefore, the candidates of the two major parties entered the race for the 2016 presidential election as follows:- (a) Hillary Clinton: a brilliant Attorney at Law, former US Senator and who, was First Lady as wife of President Bill Clinton later vied against Obama for the Presidency in 2014 and later served as Secretary of State during his first term of office, started her campaign on April 12, 2015, that is 517 days to, or one year and seven months before the Election Day. She was joined by two others in the Democratic Party list including another strong candidate, Bernie Sanders, a serving Senator who calls himself an independent Socialist. ( b) Donald Trump: a reality Television star and a real estate developer, a self-declared “multibillionaire “ who was formerly a member of the Democratic Party, declared his candidacy under the platform of the Republican Party on June 16, 2015, that is 573 days or one year and nearly five months before the election. Joined by a large motley team of contestants originally, 20 thinned down to 16 comprising four serving/former senators, 15 serving /former governors, one businesswoman and one businessman in total. Before the campaign matured, Trump was considered a weak candidate but he turned the table against all odds and to the bewilderment of all. ( c) Until late July 2016, when the candidate of the Libertarian Party, Governor Johnson and his running mate surfaced, the contest was essentially between Clinton and Trump who had been officially adopted as candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively.
However, the electoral campaign of both candidates became some kind of hot, bitter, acrimonious and divisive contest, described by the CNN as “election unlike any before” for several reasons.
Both can be seen as rebels not ready to toe party lines, manifestoes (if any) and ideals. Both tend to succumb to the dictates of the off-the-run young members of both parties and some undecided voters but opinion- moulding or vocal community influentials . Trump champions not only his own vision of government run as a one-man business wary of what many business entrepreneurs of his type call “paralysis of analysis”, jumping into conclusion without careful investigation which may run his effort down the ditch. On the other hand, Sanders sees himself as championing a movement ( don’t call it a revolution ) towards the far -left repugnant to a majority of Americans except the impatient young voters who feel left behind by the system. Both are not party loyalists but their campaign slogans seem to catch the fancies of the young, impatient, undecided voters or new voters who seem at this point in time and history of the American socio-economic landscape to be led by wrong champions. Trump is too self-opinionated to build a cohesive team and too inexplicably dirty- rich to successfully lead a rebellion of “ have-nots”.
However, given the challenges confronting each of the candidates outlined above, Clinton and Trump have had to use their best endeavours to run their campaigns without rubbishing their political parties. This means that they would try to utilise their personal qualities , resources and social and other experiences gained over the years. On doing so, it is observed that there are glaring challenges that can mar the success of their campaigns. They both have clear chips over their shoulders. Clinton having been in the public glare directly or indirectly for nearly 40 years is considered jaded by many of the young , undecided voters and having loyally served Obama lately and so deserving some rest and that having functioned as First Lady during the Presidency of Bill Clinton is considered a surrogate of her husband or that of Obama both of whose approval rating in their second terms would have qualified them for a third innings if the American constitution had permitted. In any case, she is considered generally as an “establishment candidate “ , too smartly knowledgeable to be tainted by political mudslinging or bothered by spurious inquisitions lined up by the Republican Party. On the other hand , Trump, weaker in intellectual prowess , political experience and lacking the social polish of Clinton right from the beginning did not hide his aversion towards research-based policies or what he termed “political correctness”.
Akinyele, OON, wrote in from Decatur, Georgia, USA