Who will guard the guards?
In just over one month’s time, there is supposed to be a changing of the guard in Washington DC, USA with the
inauguration of a new administration. There, the defeated Donald Trump presidency is due to expire following its decisive defeat in last month’s elections and the president-elect Joseph Biden will be sworn in to assume the reins of power in the US capital.
Normally this is a smooth operation and indeed there are constitutional provisions providing for a peaceful transition and handover. After all, the United States of America is the self-appointed “guardian of democracy” not only in this hemisphere but in the entire world. It monitors elections worldwide, either directly or through instruments such as the Organisation of American States (OAS), grades and decides of the quality of democracy in other countries and even hands out sanctions to those who do not meet its own standards.
However the tragicomedy which is taking place in the USA since its presidential elections has left those who swear at the altar of western democracy and American democratic institutions in an almost complete state of shock. The USA held its elections on November 3, pre-dating our own general elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines by two days.
But while the dust has settled on our political process and even all but the most rabid have returned to normalcy, a new government has been sworn in, parliament has met and we are going out about our business trying both to ward off the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue to provide support to thea most vulnerable groups, nothing of the sort is taking place in the USA. What we are witnessing is a virtual “tale of two administrations” and a fundamental challenge to the very institutions of American democracy.
For the first time since the founding of the USA, an outgoing administration is refusing to ride off into the sunset and is using all means, fair and foul to hang on to power. It is tantamount to an attempted coup, replete with support from armed insurrectionists. Who could have imagined this, and what would the USA have said and done if such a state of affairs were to occur in any other part of our hemisphere?
Isn’t this the country which is hell-bent on bringing Venezuela to its knees because it does not recognize its government or lawfully-held elections? Isn’t this the same country which forced an elected President of Haiti into exile and sent in its armed forces to ensure the preservation of “democracy” there? Isn’t this the same country which refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of Cuban political institutions because they do not conform to US standards?
There are many among us who actually supported Donald Trump and all his supposed anti-establishment ranting. Others considered him a mild aberration, excusing even his blatant racism and some even suffered him as some sort of buffoon and clown. Those who held these views have been proven to be badly mistaken for by his very actions post-November 3, the defeated President has demonstrated that he knows what he is doing and is testing to the very limit the institutions of American democracy, prepared to rely on the support of the most authoritarian, racist and backward elements in a vain attempt to remain in power at the head of an elitist administration.
In the process the very foundations of US democracy are being challenged and its fundamental weaknesses exposed. It has reached the stage where even the constitutional provisions bequeathed by the “founding fathers” are being brought into question. Thus the relevance of the quaint provision for an electoral college, as yet another layer between the direct exercise of the franchise by voters and the access to power by those directly chosen by voters, is now openly under scrutiny. How democratic is this provision?
Similarly the extreme provision for “states rights” and the bizarre interpretation of individual human rights which allows individuals to flout health regulations and protocols at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives cannot be justified in the face of the tragic circumstances of the current pandemic. Surely, all these need revisiting as does the dangerous idea of the “right to bear arms” used as a pretext to intimidate and enforce minority rule.
If anything, the sad developments in the USA provide us with the opportunity of once again revisiting our own democratic institutions and practices. We can no longer ignore weaknesses and deficiencies in our own constitutional provisions and political practices. We must not wait until there is some impasse before we address such weaknesses.
Finally, the hypocrisy of the self-appointed “guardians of democracy” is now blatantly exposed, for who is to “guard the guards”?
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.