“This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done. And while there will be time enough to debate our continuing differences, now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us,” Donald Trump - who finds himself in the position Al Gore was on December 13, 2000, when he said these lines – will never say such uniting things.
That day, Al Gore was behind Bush only by 1784 votes in Florida when the recounting he had sought was forcibly halted (watch Netflix’s Get Me Roger Stone). Yet, as this New Observer article notes, he had won the popular vote, an electoral majority outside Florida and, “he could claim that more Floridians intended to vote for him but his winning margin was lost because Palm Beach County’s confusing, butterfly ballot led hundreds of his supporters to mistakenly mark their ballots for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan.”
Yet to do none of these and instead ask his supporters to unite behind George Bush – his political enemy – by saying, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you,” show grace and sportsmanship that can make politics beautiful.
Exactly 20 years later, USA finds itself in a bad case of déjà vu. The ideal thing would have been for the one with fewer votes and seats to graciously bow. But Trump is not Al Gore or any other politician in his country who might have fought bitterly with each other but strove to preserve the integrity of the system and trust in democracy.
Trump, instead, has proven to be a bigger bully and liar than anyone expected, a Commander-in-Chief with nuclear codes who not only refuses to accept legitimate defeat but tacitly asks supporters to take up arms against the very system that elected and kept him, President.
In any nondescript nation, one wouldn’t have bothered about the shenanigans of a septuagenarian yet teenage President. Problem is Trump leads not just the most powerful, most visible democracy; but one that is the centre of liberal capitalism. Hence, what happens till January 2021 when the next President is sworn in, will affect the fate of the world – democratically and economically.
One accusation against America is of trying to shove democracy at unwilling nations. This – liberals of the world have rightly claimed – is in truth the shoving down of capitalism. Perhaps the reason is that capitalism functions best in a free democracy where rule of law reigns supreme. In such a predictable governance system, investment stays safe and unless bogged by extremely corrupt politicians, the populace prospers.
Thus the global democracy index is a far important index for global investors than even the value of a nation’s currency. The currency many fall and rise daily. But if democracy falls, it could take years or decades to get it up on its feet, thus putting every penny invested in that country at risk.
The home of the strongest liberal democracy and liberal capitalism has been USA. The reason you have to agree – whether you like capitalism or not – is because their democracy has survived not just two world wars and a cold war, but a bloody civil war as well, in turn pushing democracy abroad – sometimes through undemocratic, violent methods. Despite its flaws, this liberal democracy championed by America has proven itself to be the most effective and stable political and financial system in the world.
That is, up until now. Today, one man – Donald Trump – threatens not just democracy in his country, but the stability of the entire democratic and financial structure of the world.
To understand this sweeping assertion, let us first consider the worst-case scenario: Trump refuses to concede, pushes the results into a bloody conclusion and by some manoeuvring continues to hold on to the presidency for four or more years. The obvious effect would be on struggling democracies. Four more years of an illiberal Trump would crumple the very idea of decency in global politics. With the US letting go of its role as the policeman of the world, it would be every country for itself. Ultra-nationalism with rise quicker and threaten the very fate of humans because horrors like climate change can only be fought with global cooperation. Legitimate democracies could crumble into majoritarian-democracies, autocratic democracies or open dictatorships.
Once can be passed off as an aberration. Twice becomes a rule. Financial markets – always ultrasensitive to the smallest of fluctuations – would be worst hit in the long run. Currently, the US Dollar is the centre of the financial world. With Trump running amok for four more years – the trust of the world on American democratic and financial systems will further take a hit as that would mean the triumph of Trumpian politics over global cooperation. Each nation would be for itself or worse, would make and break pacts based on narrow selfish interests much like right before the two World Wars.
The trust in the dollar over time could fall to such an extent, that it would stop being a tenable currency to trade in. The void would have to be filled with another powerful currency, which could most likely be Yuan. The centre of the financial world could then shift to China.
There’s nothing wrong with China leading the world markets except one: it dislikes democracies. China has always had a tenuous relationship with democracies, be it India, the US or any European ones. China has a preference for autocracies and dictatorships because it is easier to sway one man over a nation’s populace. The remaining democracies, especially those in Western Europe, will fell the strain and by the time the climate emergency comes home to roost around 2035, liberal democracy could be wiped out from the planet right when it would be needed the most.
Thus, the fight for the next 20-30 years and thus for the fate of humans on the planet, rests on the fight with Trump and Trumpism.
But here’s the problem with even the best-case scenario. Even if Trump is pushed out and Biden wins, we must not forget that though Biden polled the highest votes for any candidates in the history of the US elections, Trump is historically second which means more people in the US trust him than they have any other president in history, be it Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, Bush or Obama.
With such a strong support base and control of the Republican party that has performed well in both the US Senate and House of Representatives, Trump would still call the shots on politics in the US and in 2024 either he or one of his children might come back to fight a dirtier election with much more vitriol, lies and disinformation. Would a system already straining to the hilt, be able to hold off another Trumpian onslaught?
Democrats and Republicans alike – and I’d argue the rest of the world – should start preparing for that eventuality. Because the truth is the genie is out of the bottle. Whether Trump or someone one else does - this form of divisive, indecent politics that was thought to belong to third world countries or fumbling democracies like India, has come home to its oldest, strongest practitioner.
The war against indecency, lies and misinformation is thus on and what will be decided in the next two months, is not just the US presidency, but obliquely, the fate of the world. And if you as a fair thinking individual needs any more inspiration to join this fight, remember that the President already thinks that it is Donald Trump vs. the world. You might as well start thinking in those terms as well.
In his 2000 speech, Al Gore further said, “And I say to our fellow members of the world community: Let no one see this contest as a sign of American weakness. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome… President-elect Bush inherits a nation whose citizens will be ready to assist him in the conduct of his large responsibilities. I personally will be at his disposal.”
It is hard to believe today that the nation that almost elected Al Gore, also almost elected Trump for a second term.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)