If It Happened Abroad: “Despite Street Protests and Human Rights Concerns, Peaceful Handover of Power to U.S. Strongman after Disputed Elections”
What if the foreign media reported on the Trump Inauguration with the same exoticised, patronising, ominous, and threatening tone that the Western media uses in their coverage of Indian, Russian, and African elections. With a wink to Josh Keating’s “If it happened there” series.
The US capital was rocked by massive protests, as controversial oligarch Donald J Trump was inaugurated as the country’s 45th President, following one of the longest and most bitter election cycles in the history of the West.
Campaigning with the slogan “Make America Great Again” that caught the imagination of millions, Trump, a former slumlord from the teeming metropolis of New York City, succeeded in bringing his party back to power after an eight-year hiatus. Representing the far-right clan of the Republican tribe in the recent elections, the colourful billionaire garnered succeeded in uniting and mobilising broad sections of the powerful Caucasian ethnic group, while also quelling rebels within his own fractious movement such as the rival oligarch and former regional strongman Mitt Romney, political dynasty scion Jeb Bush, and the religious extremist Ted Cruz from the rebellious Texas region. Having purged the established party leadership, Trump replaced them with his own trusted lieutenants and family members, including thuggish media baron Steve Bannon and fellow oligarchs such as Peter Thiel and Jared Kushner (who, as Trump’s son-in-law, is now testing the country’s weak and poorly-defined nepotism laws, having been appointed as a senior presidential advisor with little opposition).
Although the transfer of power between Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama was peaceful, Trump’s road to power was characterised by incitements to violence among his fanatical supporters, reaching its peak in the week before the elections, where he instructed his loyal militias to rise up in rebellion in case his rival Hillary Rodham Clinton of the Democratic clan won the election.
As it so turned out, Trump delivered the Republicans their biggest victory in over a decade, winning the presidential vote from 30 states in comparison to 20 for the Democrats, as they now find themselves in control of not only the Executive branch of government, but with it, the Legislative and Judicial branches as well. What makes this result particularly dramatic is that it was declared despite Trump, with 46 per cent of the vote, winning almost 3 million fewer voters than rival Clinton with 48 per cent, owing to a byzantine electoral system born out the country’s violent independence struggle from colonial rule in the 18th century.
Many aspersions have also been cast on the legitimacy of the electoral process, incredibly, by both candidates. Trump, in the final days running up to the election, claimed “large scale voter fraud” was endemic at voting booths, only to be rubbished by the then-leader in opinion polls, Hillary Clinton. These roles were reversed after the elections, as the Clinton campaign learnt that their candidate received 7 per cent fewer votes in districts with electronic voting machines in crucial states, and were urged by experts and the media to challenge these results. Eventually, 5th placed Green Party candidate Jill Stein launched a formal challenge on these lines, but with little change to the outcome. With the regime blocking entry of neutral election observers from similar federal republics such as India, Russia, Brazil, or Ethiopia, and the elections monitored only by a small delegation from the USA’s European client-states, it is difficult to say if these suspicions were well-founded or not, leading to doubts persisting among many.
Some sections of the international community gleefully observed that US criticism of their elections has come back home, with many Nigerians taking to Twitter to mock the election irregularities. Others recalled the 2012 Russian elections, when in response to American criticism of the country’s electoral process, Vladimir Churov, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Russia, listed the systemic flaws he had identified within US presidential elections, including,
- “a notable lack of election monitors
- the absence of a centralised electoral co-ordination body
- problems with voter registration
- difficulties identifying voters at polling stations
- poorly protected personal data
- defective counting systems”
He then elaborated further,
“The elections for the president of the USA are not direct, not universal, not equal and do not preserve voting secrecy … It’s a stretch of the imagination to talk about the right of American citizens to choose their president.”
Many Americans have profound concerns about Trump, owing to his campaign record wherein he was accused of multiple instances of fraud, boasted of his record of sexual assault, and peppered his speeches with naked racism and incitements to violence, and his shock victory has shaken the country’s liberals in an unprecedented manner. Hence, it is no surprise that protests and demonstrations have broken out across the country ever since the results came out. However, with the regime responding with police brutality despite international condemnation, and with the long gap between the elections and inauguration, many fizzled out without causing much pressure on the incoming Trump administration.
Such an effort may be difficult, though, since analysts predict a harsh crackdown on independent media, foreign NGOs, and grassroots civil society organisations under the Trump regime. Having harnessed the frustrations of the restive Blue Collar caste of the ethnic Caucasian-dominated hinterland, whom enjoy little upward mobility and have been left behind by the government’s attempts to recover from a crippling economic crisis, the new President successfully brushed aside multiple allegations of sexual assault, fraud, and tax evasion, campaigning on a promise to revive the economy and implement harsh anti-minority policies. This has led many civil society organisations and human rights NGOs to fear for the country’s future direction and democratic institutions, enshrined in its Bill of Rights and almost-mythical, centuries-old Constitution — second only to the Bible in the fanatic cult and veneration surrounding it among the semi-literate folk in the rural heartlands and mofussil towns. Margaret Huang, Executive director of Amnesty International USA, on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, had this to say,
“If Trump implements his campaign rhetoric of fear and hate in US policies, there is a real risk that the vast power of the US government could have devastating impacts on people’s human rights.”
Such a view was echoed by the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, who warned,
“This inauguration opens up a dangerous and uncertain new era for the United States. Even if President Trump acts only on 10 per cent of the most problematic of his campaign proposals, it will cause a momentous setback for human rights at home and abroad. The onus is now on elected officials and the public to demand respect for rights that the President-elect seems to have put in his crosshairs.”
What compounds this risk is the ineffective response from the opposition, who are still reeling from a shock defeat after a series of electoral miscalculations saw them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Clinton campaign was, to borrow The Economist’s description of Rahul Gandhi’s similar debacle in 2014 so familiar to Indian voters, “poorly advised without even decent media-management skills or the ability to present a strong campaign message”.
The election result has thus left the country’s second major power faction, the ironically-named Democratic Party, in disarray. Divisions within the party had been seen well over a year ago, as a contested power struggle within the party saw the veteran social democrat Bernie Sanders and his supporters among the Millennial tribe lose out to centre-right Hillary Clinton in dubious circumstances following allegations of vote rigging and manipulation by party supremo Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Schultz, who, like Hillary Clinton, is known to be close to corporate interests, was forced to resign months later, under pressure from Bernie Sanders following a much-publicised leak of email correspondence detailing the ways in which the party’s internal democracy had been undermined.
At the time, the Editor of Current Affairs magazine, Nathan J Robinson, had been the lone voice warning against Clinton’s nomination over Bernie Sanders for the Democrats, saying,
“[A] Clinton match-up is highly likely to be an unmitigated electoral disaster … Every one of Clinton’s (considerable) weaknesses plays to every one of Trump’s strengths, whereas every one of Trump’s (few) weaknesses plays to every one of Sanders’s strengths. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, running Clinton against Trump is a disastrous, suicidal proposition.
[Trump’s] campaigning style makes Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s dream opponent. She gives him an endless amount to work with. The emails, Benghazi, Whitewater, Iraq, the Lewinsky scandal, Chinagate, Travelgate, the missing law firm records, Jeffrey Epstein, Kissinger, Marc Rich, Haiti, Clinton Foundation tax errors, Clinton Foundation conflicts of interest, “We were broke when we left the White House,” Goldman Sachs … There is enough material in Hillary Clinton’s background for Donald Trump to run with six times over.”
Nevertheless, by this time, the party machinery had been transferred fully into the hands of the Clinton presidential campaign, as she, despite the overwhelming support of the media and international community, constantly found herself on the defensive against allegations related to her previous appointment as Secretary of State and her husband Bill Clinton’s series of scandals as President during the 1990s, leaving Trump with a free hand to mobilise white working class voters with a message of economic optimism combined with hostile rhetoric towards marginalised communities such as the country’s significant African-American and Muslim minorities. This cornering into a defensive campaign was further compounded when a second series of email leaks compromised the campaign’s chief John Podesta, and then when the country’s internal intelligence service re-opened an investigation into security breaches and malpractice by Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Upon Nathan Robinson’s prediction coming true almost to the letter on election day, the knives were out among party activists and officials, leaving the Democrats fragmented precisely at the juncture that the country needed a constructive opposition. Since then, Clinton campaign-affiliated officials and journalists have single-mindedly focused on apportioning the blame for their electoral loss on the mysterious foreign hand, accusing Russian intelligence services of manipulating the election, but with little evidence to back up their claim and even less claim to a moral high ground, with Hillary Clinton’s husband having being the architect of widespread interference and electoral fraud in the Russian Presidential election of 1996 to favour pro-business Boris Yeltsin against the leftist leader Gennady Zyuganov, an election with clear echoes today. Meanwhile, pro-Sanders activists and unionists have been organising politically to create a new leftist movement called the Democratic Socialists of America to counter Trump’s brand of harsh economic and social policies at the political level, but find themselves struggling for voter attention, having been given the cold shoulder by the corporate media.
Yet, despite the absence of a centralised leadership, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both attending Trump’s inauguration, many voters have come out to challenge the results, with the Women’s March on Washington being the pre-eminent of those on Inauguration Day. Such protests may yet be an opportunity for opponents of the Trump regime, as some analysts and intelligence experts are believed to be holding out hope that these protests could be harnessed into a “colour revolution” or Euromaidan movement to promote liberal democratic forces, of the sort that the US itself has deployed abroad so successfully in the former Soviet Union. Alternatively, with the right guidance, these protestors could also form the core of a “moderate” opposition, of the sort supported by Western governments and NGOs since the Arab Spring, with much success in countries such as Libya and Syria.
On the day of his inauguration as President, Donald Trump at times tried to strike a unifying and reconciliatory tone towards the ethnic minorities whom he had attacked on his campaign trail, leading some to suggest that the office of the Presidency will moderate his tone and policies. The international community hopes this is the case, but Trump would do well to remember that regime change, much like Islamist terrorism, was born in the policy-making halls of Washington D.C., and may well return to its birthplace for its zenith.
This piece was first published on Medium and has been republished here with permission.