US election and NepalWinston Churchill once said: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”
Winston Churchill once said: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” I shared Churchill’s optimism until the United States’ presidential election. Not anymore! Americans elected the worst of all candidates. And it is not the first time they have done this. They elected George W Bush 16 years ago.
On January 20, Donald J Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America. For the next four years, President Trump will set the direction of his country and influence world order. A wrong decision by the president can destabilise the world for a long time. George W Bush’s stupidity, hubris and ignorance led to the rise of the ISIS. His financial policies caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of people suffered.
The rich and the famous
No one knows exactly how Trump will perform, but his public persona and private behaviour invoke the worst fears. Trump was already known in the US even before he declared his candidacy for the Republican Party ticket. He was recognised as the owner of a successful real estate company, the owner of the Miss Universe Pageant and the star of a popular reality show called “The Apprentice”. He loved the limelight and frequented a third-rate radio talk show where women were berated as men’s playthings and where unfettered profanity was the norm of public conversation. He incessantly bragged about his wealth and the “great company I built”. Even before the election, Trump’s core values could be summed as: if you are rich and famous you can do anything. Trump entered politics by leading a year-long campaign which questioned Barack Obama’s birthplace and therefore his legitimacy as president (the US constitution prohibits those born outside the country from running for president).
Trump’s private persona became of public interest when he was nominated for the Republican Party’s ticket and journalists started digging into his personal life. What they uncovered turned out to be even more disgraceful than what was already known. An online poll asking people to describe Trump sums up the man: a vain, egotistical, pompous, narcissistic, sexist, lying, racist, policy-ignorant, foul-mouthed, vengeful and pathological man who judges someone’s success based only on the person’s financial wealth. Evidently, Trump is a man driven only by the basest instincts. Soon this person will become the most powerful individual in the world.
Jeffrey Sachs, a celebrated Columbia University professor, commented in a recent speech in Kathmandu that the Trump presidency might cause a huge ‘brawl’ in the United States. Scholars like him are busy crystal-gazing, guessing the likely impact president Trump will have on the world; yet there is little discussion on the damages already inflicted by Trump’s election. These damages are long-term and affect the very core of democratic values.
The election has severely damaged the image of the United States as a beacon of democracy and strengthened anti-democratic forces in struggling democracies. Take Nepal for example.
There is a huge respect for altruism, humility, integrity and moral character in Nepal. Politicians are expected to be role models, who reflect these values in their public as well as private life. But Nepal’s democracy has repeatedly brought politicians to power who have been replicating ‘Trumpism’ in their conduct even before the arrival of Trump: they play fast and loose with facts, they are manipulative, self-serving and corrupt; money is their only objective in life. The disappointment with these politicians is turning into disappointment with democracy itself.
Trump’s election has deepened the disappointment. It has emboldened politicians to continue with their cunning. It has reinforced the idea that the best politics is repeating lies; value-based politics, ethics and integrity are anachronisms.The spectacle of Republican Party leaders—who had abandoned Trump during the election campaign as a sexist, racist conman—parading around him after his victory has intensified ordinary Nepalis’ disappointment with democracy.
Nepal’s anti-democratic forces have seized the opportunity provided by Trump’s election to denounce democracy. They now point to the ills of democracy by citing Trump’s election. “What does America stand for?,” they ask. What are its core values? Although I live in Canada, I have been taunted with comments like: “This is your democracy!”
Trump’s election has exposed the worst of electoral politics: the inability to prevent the elevation of demagogues to power. History shows that in countries where democracy does not have strong historical roots, the demagogues soon do away with democracy and become authoritarian. Russia slid from full democracy to pseudo democracy after Putin’s election and Duterte is turning the Philippines’s judicial system into a joke. Hitler came to power through a legitimate democratic process.
Democratic roots and the-rule-of-law in the United States are strong. Trump will not be successful in destroying American democracy. But his election has set a terrible example for struggling democracies like in Nepal.
Koirala is a Canada-based Geotechnical Engineer