Unknown to the millions of sincere Americans who cast their vote earlier today, the systematic realities of “democracy” is far more worrying than Donald Trump’s victory, writes Abdullah an Andalusi.
Earlier today, millions of Americans went to the polling stations to select the next President of the United States of America. This year saw a difficult choice between apparently “two” candidates: one a populist businessman demagogue whose rhetoric and seemly bigoted policies have alarmingly resonated with a large portion of (‘white’) European Americans, while the other, an experienced politician with a questionable track record while in political office who will no doubt continue the policies of the current administration.
As with every election time, there are a number of myths that most people seem to forget or not realise. The President of the United States (POTUS for short), does not possess absolute power and authority in the US. The US has separate executive, judiciary and legislative branches. POTUS cannot declare war on another country without the approval of Congress (the US government’s lower house). Likewise, POTUS can’t simply just make new laws up, without Congress and the Senate supporting the president.
Much concern was and still is drummed up around Donald Trump, who now apparently has the power to implement severe policies that would discriminate against African Americans, Latino Americans, and American Muslims. There are also fears that Trump would implement foreign policies that will result in many Muslim deaths around the world. However, the question that should be asked is – how is that different to what was happening under eight years of Obama?
Has a mixed ethnicity European/African president in office for eight years prevented recurring and systematic ethnic discrimination against African Americans? Has he been able to repeal the constitutional right of (US) Americans to “bear arms”? Have Latino Americans been treated better than under Obama’s predecessor George Bush? Has the government ceased spying on its own people? The answer is no to aforementioned.
Why is that? Well the clue is in the name of the branch of government occupied by POTUS: “The Executive”. As the name implies, the role of that branch is to execute the laws and functions of the US government, not to make new laws or changes. In fact, the President has almost no ability to change the policies of Police departments, Homeland Security or the NSA.
Under Obama, Muslims have been thrown off airplanes for, well, being visibly “Muslim while flying”. Muslim visitors have been turned away from America either before getting on the plane, or (more cruelly) after arriving in the US. It is common for Muslims to report having been “randomly selected” for screening every time they boarded a flight through the US. Obama has used more drone strikes than George Bush ever did, and the Muslim majority world is in greater turmoil now than ever it was during the Bush administration.
As for restrictions on Mexicans coming to the US, there is already a patrolled border fence on the US’s southern border. All that Trump suggested was to make it bigger and concrete (which he’d have abandoned as a policy once he saw the price tag). Political analyst, Arun Kundnani has already pointed out that everything we feared from Trump is already happening (and increasing).
Trump the businessman
There are also some other considerations people seem to have forgotten. Many videos have resurfaced from years ago of Donald Trump having very liberal views. How then did he do a 180 degree turn during the presidential elections? It’s simple, he’s a businessman, and if there’s one thing a businessman knows how to do, its marketing.
Trump marketed himself to the largest demographic, and the lowest common denominator he could think of, the average European American. And by doing so, many political analysts have observed that he has revealed the underbelly of ethnic discrimination, prejudice, and ethnocentric politics that underpins America.
Of course, what most people don’t realise is that his biggest selling point has been his promises to reinvigorate the American economy with pro-nationalist policies, and provide jobs to the American working class.
This has resonated hugely with many demographics on the ground, and even the left-wing liberal Michael Moore observed this (and blamed the US government for causing this) in his recent documentary.
Trump has highlighted the corruption of the American lobbies and the receptiveness of American politicians to bribes, as well as duplicity and corruption.
Again, Trump’s history raises the same questions, but that’s not the point. Trump exclaims these issues not because he is immune to them, but rather because he knows it resonates with the people and there is useful rhetoric to use.
Now, some conspiracy theories circulated that the Democrats covertly supported Trump and allowed him to gain primacy within the Republican nominations, so that they could ensure that Hillary Clinton would win. There is hardly much evidence to support his. However, I think there is a more straightforward schema to this.
Within every secular liberal democracy in the West, as all other human governments, there is a natural power structure that lies beneath. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s just hierarchies that develop over time as people stabilise a chain of influence and command between the rich and powerful elites and the administration of public institutions. More importantly, the purpose of the creation of America was to protect the wealth of people from being taken from them by “unfair taxes” from the King of England (which was actually just the parliament of England).
However, as protected as the rich now are, there was always one overriding concern: how to protect the rich elites from their own people? In order to prevent the American people from rising up against the government, like the American colonists who rose up against the British government under the pretext that they weren’t represented in UK Parliament, the US government needed to enfranchise the people into the government itself.
The only way to do that was to have the people believe they make a choice in government, and that the government “represents” their interests.
This is despite the fact that the constitution cannot be voted on by the people (and therefore all the protections of the wealth of the rich is above public power).
The fact that the US government has two houses and a constitution (like all Western governments) is unknown to the general public, as to their purposes.
The purpose of the Constitution, Upper House, and independent judiciary is to check the power of (as the founding fathers put it) “the mob”.
However, over time, the lower house of directly elected representatives, can also be controlled by money, election campaign advertising, investment, and powerful party structures, has added another layer of control. This additional layer, allows established party structures (who are funded and directed by elements of the wealth power structure) to weed out “troublemakers” who might use the position of POTUS as a platform to incite grassroots civil revolt, like Bernie Sanders (Democrat) and Ron Paul (Republican).
Party structures also ensure that independent parties or candidates remain small and unknown. One example of this is the fact that most people don’t know that there are six other candidates in the presidential elections! These candidates are either from independent parties or are independent candidates. However, the last three biggest televised presidential debates didn’t include any of them on stage (because these events were organised by well funded media who are private organisations and not beholden to invite anyone else).
In fact, in the US, more so than in European republics (misnamed “democracies”) there is more “fail-safes” against the people directly ruling. The US uses a system where the people don’t directly vote for the POTUS, but for electors as intermediaries who each individually “pledge” to vote for a particular candidate.
One of the intellectual founding fathers of (US) America was John Locke. He believed that the people always place the leader into power – but that could be under any structure, whether monarchy, oligarchy or democracy. In his book, “Two Treatises on Government”, he leaned towards a system of republicanism (elected representatives) because he believed it was a system that would most disincline people to revolt out of all the alternatives, while at the same time preventing the “mob” from removing the wealth from the rich (as a [real] Democracy would do – where all citizens vote on every law).
John Locke made it clear, that the government’s ability to tax (effectively taking the wealth of) the people was only possible if they vote, which gives consent by the people to the government.
This sounded all well and good to the founding fathers of America, however there was one recurring problem – how to make the people vote (consent to) and feel enfranchised in the system?
Therefore, every four years, much pageantry, pomp and circumstance must be generated around elections, in order to make people feel that a special “turning point” is about to happen, and that they must vote.
The concern is if people lose hope in elections, they may search for other means to realise their interests, which could include a radical re-evaluation of the American system itself (something the inherited power structure obviously cannot accept, lest it lose privileges).
Everyone remembers how much public “hope” and fanfare was around Obama’s election. However, afterwards there were eight years of crushing disappointment. The problem was, “how to get people voting again next time?”
Enter Donald Trump
The problem of getting people to vote and continue their consent of the US government after so much disappointment was solved by Donald Trump. He was a polariser, and that’s exactly what the US government and power structure needed.
The media publicised him, and the same media outlets also heavily criticised him, subsequently creating a people who strongly love and support him enough to vote, and those who strongly hate and revile him enough to vote Clinton – and that’s exactly the point.
Every election time, the system doesn’t actually want your voice; there is no place on your ballot to write down your opinions. The system just wants your vote. Whoever you voted for and subsequently wins, you’ll have to accept the outcome of the election because that was the implied condition in the contract of you voting.
Voting is consent, and it is also your “bayah” (pledge of allegiance) to the system.
Abdullah al Andalusi is the founder of the Muslim Debate Initiative. He is an international lecturer, thinker, speaker and debater on Islamic and Muslim issues.