US: Politics failed but institutions stood out

The US politics has failed its people, but the institutions have acted the exact way they were designed – protect the country from the personal vendetta of an elected but authoritarian president. The institutions have resisted a full-frontal attack

For the first time in the history of the United States, a president has been impeached twice. Yes, he is President Donald Trump, the president of the most powerful democracy in the world, who has been in the headlines almost every day ever since he solemnly swore that he would faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and would, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

He was very much successful in instigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol Building – the symbol and pride of the American democracy for more than a century. The attack was the result of the powerful steroids that Trump had been injecting into the American democracy for years – since the moment he chose to run for presidency back in 2016.

Trump knowingly injected these in a bid to end the American democracy and establish an authoritarian rule in disguise of democracy. Surprisingly, except for a few, he received almost blanket support from his fellow politicians, advisors, and secretaries. 

He had strong faith in the Republican bureaucrats and judges who, he had hoped, would overturn the result of the November 3 election. But he was so wrong. Little-known bureaucrats and judges are now emerging as superheroes who withstood the demand of an outgoing president.

Trump left no stone unturned to diminish the rule of law and destroy the democratic institutions to stay in power. But the institutions rose beyond their party affiliation and political belief and stood by the constitutional oath they had taken while assuming their offices.

Little-known Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, came in the limelight when he publicly censured advisors of President Trump who insisted that he should fiddle with the ballots won by President-elect Joe Biden. He was back in the news when the Washington Post leaked a damning conversation of President Trump insisting that he should find votes to overrun Biden’s victory in Georgia.

Judge Matthew Brann contemptuously dismissed President Trump’s attempt to block Pennsylvania from certifying the results. His court verdict read, “The court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence………Our people, laws and institutions demand more………..Therefore, I grant defendants’ motions and dismiss plaintiffs’ action with prejudice.”

Though Judge Brann was known as a Republican, President Barack Obama nominated him in 2012 as a judge in the US District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He was also supported by the Republicans.

During his hearing, he replied to a question of Democrat Senator from California Dianne Feinstein that the best judges he had encountered are those whose political beliefs are not at all evident in their manner and decisions in court. He seemed to be a true believer of the US democracy and the institutions.

But Raffensperger and Judge Brann established a very important fact that the democratic institutions that are meant to protect the US democracy are doing their job they are mandated for. They are not lone examples who rose above their personal and political beliefs and stood by the constitution. Since November 3, last year till date, we have seen such individuals in every case where President Trump tried to overturn the election result.

President Trump and his Republican allies had filed 42 lawsuits, alleging that the election was manipulated, but did not win a single one. He did everything he could as an individual and also within the power of the US president to destroy the trust in democratic institutions – the court of law, the bureaucracy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and whatnot. The courts continued to dismiss the election fraud claim and so did the state authorities by certifying the election results.

President Trump has saved the US and its democratic institutions from plunging into ultimate destruction. With almost 47 percent of the popular vote, Trump’s damning legacy of undermining democratic values is likely to survive in the coming years.

But he has lost a strong chance of coming back to the presidential race or influencing Republican politics. The outgoing president was so successful in advancing his personal belief and authoritarian rule that a handful of famed Republican senators also rejected the election result.

Not only this, but a handful of senators also voted to overturn the electoral college result during the January 6 joint session of the Congress. The only explanation for this erratic behaviour is that they wanted to be re-elected in the next congress and did not want to be in the firing line of President Trump.

They were well aware of the influence President Trump had over the party and right-wing voters. Some may have considered it a means of doing groundworks for running in the 2024 election. But it will not be unjust to reach the conclusion that the majority of the Republican lawmakers and voters did not see the assault on democracy coming.

Some might argue that those who attacked the Capitol are not the true face of the US people. Certainly, it is not. But the American democracy and its institutions will have to continue fighting the legacy of President Trump, who dangerously deluded Americans like Ashli Babbitt – shot and killed by the police during the Capitol riot.

She was a military veteran who believed that the election had been stolen from them. Had President Trump been challenged by his fellow Republicans for his lies, the attack on the Capitol could have been averted.

Unfortunately, it did not happen and only a few Republicans publicly criticised the president after the attack.

The second impeachment was the most bipartisan one in the history of the US as 10 House Republicans joined the Democrats. The senate voting may have a different outcome unlike the first one. That however will merely change the fact that a sitting US president has been impeached twice during the incumbency.

One thing is also for sure. The US politics has failed its people, but the institutions have acted the exact way they were designed – protect the country from the personal vendetta of an elected but authoritarian president. The institutions have resisted a full-frontal attack.

In contrast to the US, the credibility and effectiveness of our democratic institutions are on the decline. The people who were meant to be like Raffensperger have got very jaundiced eyes and they only see the yellow.

When President Trump raised the accusation that Raffensperger had “no clue” about election rigging, the latter replied, “Respectfully, President Trump: What you are saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

Bangladesh needs her Raffensperger and Judge Matthew Brann to rebuild the lost trust in our democratic institutions.

This was first published in the Business Standard on 21 January 2010. Click here to read on the newspaper site

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