Opinion

The US can’t breathe

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on June 08, 2020

United States President Donald Trump   -  Bloomberg

Trump poses a grave danger to democratic ideals

The US has, since its inception, been a country famous as a nation of laws. It’s followed the dictum of philosopher Thomas Paine who memorably wrote: “As in absolute governments, the king is law, so in free countries, the law ought to be king.” Its delicately balanced constitution was designed to keep a check on ‘overmighty rulers’ who might aspire to be monarch, and it has stood firm for over 200 years with power divided between the legislature, the courts and the presidency. But the Founding Fathers, as the US Constitution-framers are known, clearly never envisaged game-show President Donald Trump, who has shown how flimsy even the best-drafted civil liberty protections can be against an autocrat determined to fling them aside and ignore their existence.

The riots that have been burning their way through US cities weren’t directly triggered by Trump, but by a Minneapolis policeman who lethally put his knee on the neck of a handcuffed Black prisoner. In a scene that’s been replayed countless times on TV, he kept his knee in that asphyxiating position till the very moment an ambulance arrived.

Trump initially made a half-hearted stab about saying the right things. But he quickly became nervous that the riots which erupted would undercut his tough law-and-order image. He was even more embarrassed when the Secret Service hustled him down to a secure bunker and gave the world a memorable image of the lights turned off in the White House while demonstrators shouted slogans outside. The next day, he hit back by bringing in the National Guard to clear out the peaceful protesters so he could perform for the cameras and stage a “tough guy” swagger-walk to the nearby St John’s Church, where he held up a Bible upside down. Trump is one US president who never pretended to be a regular church-goer, but he has also firmly captured the evangelical vote, and his church-front photo-op was only to secure that base.

As a result of these dramatics, Trump has pushed himself to the centre of the race and riot debate. He even threatened to invoke a law not used since 1807 to ring in the army to restore law and order, getting firmly ticked off even by Republican mayors and governors, who could see that his interventions were making a bad situation much worse. Unfortunately, Trump has become a major danger to the country because the Republican Party, made up of straw men, has withered under his influence. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has been quick to do Trump’s bidding and ensure he doesn’t face the slightest check from the legislature’s upper house.

It might be argued Trump is the last kick of White supremacy – the people who believe the US was created for them. Census projections estimate ‘Whites’ will be a minority (49.5 per cent of the population) by 2045. The younger Hispanic population is likely to form about 24.6 per cent of the population by then and Blacks, Asians and other multi-racial people will comprise the rest.

Trump has shown how one outsider can hijack the system — remember Adolf Hitler, too, was voted to power. In the coming months, the US will face the extraordinarily challenging test of emerging from the pandemic and rebuilding its infection-hit economy. These are conditions tailor-made for the rise of a strongman who will promise the earth to a disheartened population.

It’s crucial that the Democrats sink their differences and attract voters at all levels. Should Trump win a second term, it could be that democracy will face extreme danger from a leader who acts according to his whims and ignores the rule of law.

Published on June 08, 2020

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