Under autocratic Trump, US democracy is more alive than ever
Michael Chugani says the US president’s divisive politics has energised democracy, rather than eroded it. The fact critics are mobilised to oppose his extreme policies is a sign democracy is thriving in America, which is more than we can say for Hong Kong
American democracy is dying. Blame it on President Donald Trump. As an American, I hear that a lot from local friends who espouse democracy but don’t quite understand how it works. America’s liberal media, too, says Trump is trampling on democracy. That doesn’t bother me since it has a political agenda. What does bug me is that even some respected experts, who should know better, have jumped on the bandwagon.
I am no democracy expert but the way I see it, Trump's autocratic bent has energised rather than eroded democracy. Yes, the country is now politically torn apart like never before. Trump’s supporters are blindly loyal, have racist leanings, despise the liberal left, and love his strongman style.
But Americans appalled by Trump’s “us and them” tactics are fighting back like never before through street protests and court battles against his extreme policies. They are calling out hate groups that have resurfaced under his presidency and are raising campaign money for candidates to take on Trump loyalists in next month’s congressional elections. Tell me that isn’t democracy at its best.
Watch: Trump slams NYT’s op-ed as ‘gutless’
Watch any late night variety show on American television. Chances are you’ll see Trump being bashed. Read the liberal media to see how often they excoriate him. The New York Times even published an article by an anonymous White House official claiming a group of senior Trump aides have joined to thwart his extreme policies.
Beijing went ape and demanded an apology when a Swedish TV station did a satire on the behaviour of mainland tourists after a Chinese family claimed Swedish police and a hotel had mistreated them. The late night TV show Saturday Night Live regularly parodies Trump, who also goes ape but knows that, even as president, there is nothing he can do.
Famed journalist Bob Woodward’s latest book gives an inside look at the dysfunctional Trump White House. Trump’s choice for a Supreme Court judge, Brett Kavanaugh, was put through hell during his Senate confirmation hearing after several women accused him of sexually molesting them during their school years. American democracy is dying? I don’t think so.
We in Hong Kong need not fear any US reprisals when we maul Trump on everything from his trade war with China and sending warships to the South China Sea to his insults against women and implicit support for far-right groups that have encouraged hate crimes. Dare we likewise criticise President Xi Jinping’s policies without fearing reprisals? No need to answer that.
Watch: Xi Jinping unanimously re-elected as China’s president
One thing is for sure. You won’t be denied a US visa for ridiculing Trump, kneeling during the American national anthem, or mocking the US constitution. We revoked the visa of Foreign Correspondents’ Club acting president Victor Mallet simply for hosting a lunch talk by an independence advocate. Who are we to say American democracy is dying?
Some critics, including those here and on the mainland, belittle American democracy for electing a president who lost by nearly three million popular votes to opponent Hillary Clinton. They fail to understand the outcome, seemingly undemocratic, was in fact democracy.
The Electoral College which elected Trump is part of the constitution. The people can change it through a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the 50 states. They have not chosen to do so. That is democracy.
It’s mind-boggling that so many people and world leaders behave as if Trump’s election has knocked the Earth off its axis. Yes, the world has never seen a more arrogant American president. Trump has torn up the rule book the world is accustomed to and written his own. You either play by his rules or face his fury.
But the US constitution doesn’t allow him – unlike Xi – to become president for life. Since American democracy is nowhere near dead, he can be president for eight years at most, if voters let him. Then he’s just history. So please, wake up and smell the still-fresh air of American democracy.
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host