Sunday, November 13, 2016

Will the "Founding Fathers" restrain Trump's madness?

"For almost a century in the west, democracy has meant liberal democracy: a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, the separation of powers, the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property. In fact this latter bundle of freedoms-what might be called constitutional liberalism-is historically distinct from democracy. Today the two strands of liberal democracy, interwoven in the western political fabric, are coming apart in the rest of the world. Democracy is flourishing; constitutional liberalism is not."

The above, written in 1997 by Fareed Zakaria in Prospect Magazine, was part of an article which commented on what was seen as a trend in the growth of elective democracies unaccompanied by a parallel growth in constitutional liberalism. He explained:

" 'Suppose the election is declared free and fair,' said Richard Holbrooke on the eve of the 1996 elections in Bosnia, and those elected are “racists or fascists, publicly opposed to peace. That is the dilemma.” Indeed it is-not just in the former Yugoslavia, but around the world. Democratically elected regimes routinely ignore constitutional limits on their powers and deprive their citizens of basic rights. From Peru to the Palestinian Authority, from Sierra Leone to Slovakia, from Pakistan to the Philippines comes the rise of a disturbing phenomenon in international life-illiberal democracy."

The democratic election of those who later become tyrants is a historical phenomenon that is disturbingly common - notably with Hitler but also more recently with Marcos in The Philippines or Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Perhaps Vladimir Putin (the iffiness of Russian elections notwithstanding) is another. 

Which brings us to Donald Trump. There are two problems. Was his election truly democratic ? Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial margin - only the archaic US electoral system denied her. The second question is will Trump do what he said he would do?

There is little merit in railing against the Electoral College. It's daft, designed for a different age but it can't be changed retrospectively. It applied to the 2016 election and that's it. 

But what about Trump? He isn't a politician. His election platform and his speeches were rants full of impractical proposals. Some of it was bigoted, vile nonsense. It was certainly not "constitutionally liberal" If he attempts to implement half of it he will move into tyranny. He will certainly struggle to do this as the American constitution does have checks and balances from Congress and the Judiciary. The hands of the President are tied - the Founding Fathers were smart enough to see the need for this. No President has slipped into dictatorship - Richard Nixon (dysfunctional but not a tyrant) had to go.

The Trump election is a disaster. But I doubt that the American people have elected a man who will ride roughshod  over democratic processes and checks and balances. Not because he might not like to, but because the Constitution won't let him.  That said perhaps they said that about other elected tyrants ? 😱