When one moves to America and takes the Oath of Citizenship, it is hard to know that one is signing up for what has now become a mirage of democracy. The two presidential elections of 2016 and 2020 have so shaken our faith as voters and citizens in the credibility and sanctity of America’s democracy that it seems laughable for us to present our polity as the shining star of Bethlehem. We can keep shouting from the rooftops that we are not a banana republic and far above the half-baked democracies in the Third World, but as our recent elections have shown, ours is a deeply corrupt system, one where an unhealthy symbiosis exists between four key pillars of society – Political Parties, the Wealthy, the Media (print, television, radio and internet), and the State (Law Enforcement, Intelligence, and maybe Judiciary).
The four forces working together – under the umbrella term of the Deep State – have skillfully managed to disrupt and destroy one presidency, and determine the next presidency. Short of bringing in the armed forces, they have staged what many deem as a virtual coup. The threat of evicting President Trump from the White House should he refuse to vacate it has been made by no less than Biden – the newly anointed president. Biden said he is absolutely convinced the military would escort Trump from the White House if he loses the election but refuses to leave office.
Trump’s followers are hardly negligible, amounting to over 74 million with several more million possibly lurking in the shadows. These are his supporters who were unable or chose not to vote or whose vote was not counted. Voter intimidation is hardly new to American politics except it is much more rampant and politically lethal now. While none can or should forget the savagery perpetuated in the past on Blacks any time they chose to vote even after they were legally allowed to do so, even so, given the “enlightened” times in which we live today, the punitive and preemptive attacks on pro-Trump voters are ugly – suggestive once again of the noble adage that two wrongs do not make a right.
The manipulation of electoral outcomes occurs in every democracy. It is just that it hurts us more when it happens in America where the most lasting written Constitution in the world is also reputed to be the most laudable and worthy of emulation. Once tampered or breached, the rights and modality guaranteed to us as voters to freely, honestly and credibly elect our representatives become meaningless, and America’s portrayal as a democracy chimerical.
In the wake of the 2016 election, the nation went into an apoplectic shock over an outcome that was radically different from what was predicted. For her and her supporters Hillary Clinton’s loss to a greatly despised and scorned Trump became ‘the nation’s’ loss. Riding roughshod over the radiantly happy feelings of Trump’s supporters over his electoral success, the disgruntled Deep State instantly got down to the deadly task of Resistance – sabotaging Trump and dismantling his presidency. Infiltrating his campaign they entrapped General Flynt and others in subsequently proven to be false claims of conspiring with Russia. Trump’s reign of four years was blackened with every possible suggestion of Russian collusion. That sordid drama entailed no less than the FBI lying to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get repeated permission to spy on Trump’s associates. A Special Prosecutor spent years and millions to investigate but found no clear evidence of conspiracy. But cleverly, he left the door open to the House which then launched Trump’s inconsequential and failed impeachment.
Through all that messy and financially costly derailment, Trump chose to remain focused pursuing and fulfilling a majority of what he promised to his voters. His self-confidence combined with narcissism kept him going and his presidential agenda mostly unfettered. Trump’s personally wealthy background undoubtedly gave him some autonomy, enabling him to ignore the din of the Deep State’s drum-beaters. It also explains the uncensored spontaneity of his extempore comments to the media, and the viciousness of his arrogant tweets when going after anyone who stood up to or against him. Future historians should have a field day using this rich contemporaneous record of Trump’s presidency!
In the third year of his presidency, with near certainty of his re-election due to a prospering economy, just as the Deep State and #Resistance (a popular movement set up specifically to protest and outlaw Trump) started to feel disheartened, God working through China sent a divine gift in the form of a lethal virus. The Corona pandemic seized the world and most of its residents in a savage chokehold, resulting in traumatized societies and collapsed economies, while putting an end to social intercourse as we know it. The fear of contagion necessitated unprecedented social distancing causing higher suicidal rates and disillusionment. Corona’s multifold demeaning and destabilizing effects provided a fertile ground for political turmoil.
If anything, America is superb at organizing. In quick succession, the Deep State forces used their charm and chicanery to go after Trump and to use all available means to end his bid for a second term. The brutal death of a Black suspect at the knee of a ruthless white officer lit a fiery, fiercely enraged response that shook not just the nation but the world. And rightly so, as it caused racial injustice to be exposed as endemic in every society where people of color are asked to coexist with non-colored people. That cause, i.e., of peaceful protest against injustice was just, but not the violent form the protest eventually took. As violence went viral with the destruction of public and private assets, endangering many lives both civilian and police, in comparable proportion it also divided America into those who deem its heritage singularly devilish and others who applaud it even with all its warts and failings. This churning of America unified extremist elements on the left and right, adding to violent encounters in contested urban turfs, occupation of government buildings, and calls for disarming of policing.
Democrats stood by silently watching the death and destruction. In the face of the hasty and irrational call to Defund the Police, Biden and others in his party and the Deep State waffled and made little effort to defuse the volatile situation or soothe and unite opposing elements. Trump predictably stood by his people and pushed for law and order and punitive action against miscreants, but the fear and awe of Black Lives Matter brought the ruling establishment to its knees, with mayors and sheriffs and police chiefs actually being or feeling compelled to bend their knee –a gesture of disrespect to our national flag and anthem.
That is possibly the single most impactful gesture that widened the chasm between Deep State and Trump on the one hand and between Democrats and Republicans on the other. A deeply fractured polity and society could not take the burden of an ethically carried out election amidst the operational challenges posed by Corona. Democrats rapidly changed the voting rules and modalities especially focusing on the contested states, aiming to turn red into blue voting blocs.
On Election Night the feared confusion prevailed as initial vote counts overwhelmingly favored Trump. By the next morning or two, the coin had flipped with Biden leading in the locations where it mattered most. The Deep State chuckled at the success of their electoral maneuvers, while Trump and his supporters railed against the prefixing of the menu and denouncing Democrats for refusing to detect, prevent, avert or redress mismanaged polling and manipulated vote counts.
Convinced that Trump’s bid to get his second term was preempted by several voting related provisions made by and practices resorted to by Democrats in the critical states and counties to shift the numbers against Trump, they went to war against the system. They used their tactics to probe and expose electoral manipulation and to litigate results or seek injunctions against results being declared. Most likely these cases are going nowhere and if they do, they will impact future elections, leaving Trump’s bid to seek a just outcome at a dead-end.
Biden’s win over Trump – if one can call it that – remains unacceptable to the Trump half of America, which bodes ill for our polity. For our Democracy that implies four more years of internecine strife and covert warfare, and the further devaluation of our cherished democratic tradition.
(The author is an Indian American published author and opinion writer.)