By CAMERON DUODU
Donald trump poses a real problem for the United States.
For hardly ever has there been a candidate nominated for the presidency by one of America’s major parties – the Democrats and the Republicans – who states openly that the election in which he’s running will be “rigged” and that he will only “accept” the result if he wins.
In actual fact, such a declaration ought to be treasonable, for American democracy depends on the candidates agreeing to accept election results. Germane to the “result”, of course, is the court process, which allows candidates to challenge in court, aspects of the election that, according to them, breached the electoral laws.
To mount a legal challenge in court implies that one has accepted the “partial result” but is pursuing the normal course over which an election is run, namely, that the voting takes place; the votes are counted; a result is declared; and the candidate who loses but thinks he only lost because irregularities occurred during the voting/counting processes, wants the courts to affirm that his complaints are genuine. When the courts agree with him that there have been fraudulent practices, then he is declared the winner.
Is this the process which Trump has in mind when he says he may not accept the result? That does not seem to be the case because he has now amplified his statement to the effect that he will accept the result “if I win.” That “if I win” goes against the grain of a democratic election, and Trump has been severely criticised for bringing such an exotic element into the election campaign.
The American political system does not appear, however, to have any mechanism for dealing with such an appalling attitude on the part of a candidate for the presidency. As far as I know, there is no formal pledge required of a candidate – with penalties to be exacted in case the pledge is broken – that forms part of the electoral law.
Which raises the question: if Trump does lose, and by an agreed non-verbal signal, the followers who have been applauding him throughout his campaign – the racists, the gun-lovers, the misogynists and the large body of malcontents who may be described, collectively, as the “loony right” — begin to take up arms to try and seize the White House, what will happen? Should the Republic wait until he actually moves armed forces before clamping him in irons?
These are not idle questions. A man called Hitler poured scorn on the political system of Germany in the 1930s in precisely the same manner as Trump is doing in the US today. Hitler said the German Reich was in hock to international Zionism through the control of the German banks by Jews both within Germany and abroad. Hitler didn’t trust the German army, and created the Nazi Party’s own armed forces, known eventually as the “storm-troopers” which replaced the regular armed forces. Before anyone knew it, Hitler had infiltrated Nazis into every part of the machinery of state and used them to seize state power. Then, he eliminated not only the Jews but all those opposed to him, including constitutionally-elected legislators.
I daresay there were people in Germany who thought that Hitler was merely fond of hyperbole and had no intention of changing the German political system completely and installing himself as dictator. For though there was ample evidence that the Reichstag Fire, which Hitler used as an excuse to wipe out the Communist Party and similar parties was deliberately staged by the Nazis. But the German media looked on largely unconcerned. They were absorbed in fascination as Hitler organised mammoth public demonstrations, which some too as a sign that Hitler truly represented the popular will in Germany.
The American media are caught in a similar trap right now. The public doesn’t seem to get enough of Trump. The TV and radio stations, in particular, are earning huge sums of money from Trump supporters. And where the money is, coverage follows. When the more serious media, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, expose Trump’s lies by “fact-checking” his statements, they are dismissed as instruments that are part of the “election-rigging” process. Trump never ceases to whine against them.
A writer in The Washington Post has described in the following terms, the dilemma in which the American media has found itself, vis-a-vis the threat posed by Trump: “The media’s responsibility for Donald Trump’s political success will be debated for a good long while.” As network boss Les Moonves said of Trump’s candidacy, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”.
The writer noted that almost from the moment Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, he had been “a justifiably huge story.” A lead in the polls became a lead in the delegate count and then, “the nomination of the Republican Party.”
Was he ridiculous? Beyond measure. As long as the reporting about him was sceptical, there was more reason to train the spotlight on him than to pull it away.
But (the writer went on) that’s about to change.
QUOTE: [Trump] is bound to lose the election, and we in the media will lose the rationale that his every utterance warrants notice as a glimpse into the character of a person in contention for the most consequential job in the world. But he will remain the same attention-whoring, head-turning carnival act that he is today. And we will face a moment of truth: Do we care chiefly about promoting constructive discussion and protecting this blessed, beleaguered democracy of ours? Or are we more interested in grovelling for eyeballs and clicks? Just as Trump is a candidate like no other, he may be a test like none before him.
“Mitt Romney didn’t cause any ruckus after his defeat four years ago, and even if he had, he was … a decent man and an able public servant but hardly box-office gold. He moved on. So did we. The situation was much the same with John McCain in 2008, John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000. Once they had definitively lost their bids for the presidency, they no longer asserted any claim to center stage.
“Trump has been a singular boon and singularly potent drug [for the media]. “We need rules for quitting him, guidelines for the circumstances in which coverage of him is legitimate and those in which it isn’t. That distinction is all the more crucial because he seems poised to undermine important institutions and the democratic process itself…. Trump isn’t harmless fodder, not if his words and actions after the campaign match those during it. He has the potential to do great damage and is currently threatening as much. UNQUOTE (– Frank Bruni in the Washington Post)
What sort of “great damage” could Trump cause to the American body-politic? We should never forget that the US has once fought a civil war; that there are many elements in the society that are seriously vulnerable to the constant calls by the right-wing media for anti-minority measures rooted in xenophobia and racism. If Trump led the way – and especially if he could continue to get enough support from the media to convey to them the message that he was done out of the presidential race unjustly because he shares the beliefs they too hold dear, he could make life very awkward for Americans.
And the world, of course. For let us not forget that he could just possibly be the person who had a finger on America’s nuclear button!
That’s an enormously frightening thought indeed. Trump won’t, of course, be the first American politician to send nuclear shivers down the spines of the world. Senator Barry Goldwater once cut almost the same figure as Trump does today in American politics, but good old LBJ (Lyndon Johnson) cut him down to size in the 1964 election. The world must pray that Hillary Clinton – faults and all – will similarly crush Trump, in the coming election and that when she does so, the FBI will keep a close eye on Trump and force him to accept the election result – even though he “hadn’t won”.