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Trump’s Gift to Democracy

Trump’s Gift to Democracy

Ambassador Curtis Ward

Amb. Curtis Ward

(10 August 2023) — Donald Trump as president, and since, has shown us in real time how fragile democracy is. We saw democracy’s fragility manifested through Trump’s words and actions during his presidency, yet many democracy advocates looked aside while most Republicans aided and abetted Trump’s slide into autocracy.

We also learnt of the ignorance of the threat by many, as well as the silence by those who ought to have stood in defense of democracy. We saw the silence of the press, which, constantly under attack, failed to see its freedom eroding in the same context as attacks on democracy. I hearken back to the words of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Redemption Song. “How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?” How much damage shall they do to democracy, while we stand aside and look?

The battle for democracy

The battle for democracy is not over. And this fight will not end anytime soon. It’s an unending struggle. Trump’s anti-democracy policies have taken roots in the Republican Party (GOP) and Trump continues to control his party like a dog wags it’s tail. The remnants of opposition to Trump in the GOP fear Trump’s control of the party’s base. That’s at least 35% of Republican voters. But we should not underestimate the cadre of extremist GOP leadership who themselves are more racist, more misogynistic, more xenophobic, and more anti-democratic, with utter disdain for the rule of law and the will of most Americans than Donald Trump.

Most of the Republican leadership now represents anti-progressive human values and are devoid of basic moral principles. Those few Republicans who don’t share in these extremes must stand up to the extremists and join forces with Democrats or forever lose the little credibility they still have. I applaud those in the GOP leadership who are willing to put their personal political interests in jeopardy to save democracy and preserve the rule of law for the benefit of America.

Indicting Trump a game changer

Despite three criminal multiple-counts felony indictments and more to come, Trump seems on track to be nominated for the third time to be the standard bearer for what’s left of the Republican Party – the once proud Party of presidents Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. These former GOP presidents are cited often by Republicans as the epitome of U.S. presidents, the standards by which all US presidents should be judged. It is ironic that large swathes of GOP members, including local, state and federal elected officials have become Trump’s lemmings in direct opposition to the standards for which they celebrate these past GOP icons.

Indicting or charging a former president is unprecedented in American history. Trump’s criminal behavior has been so egregious he has been indicted on multiple counts in three separate courts, one in Manhattan, New York, and two in Federal Courts – the Southern District of Florida and the U.S. District Court of Washington DC. These indictments somewhat assured that democracy and rule of law have survived Trump’s and the Republican Party’s assault on the foundations of American democracy. These indictments are indicative of the sacrosanctity of the rule of law, a core pillar of democracy, and that no one is above the law.

Given the threats to democracy by the autocratic behavior Donald Trump has exemplified during his presidency and the collateral infectious nature of strongman autocratic rule in other countries, to even suggest Donald Trump has gifted democracy seems to be a contradiction. To equate Trump with positivity on democracy would be an oxymoron. That’s not what I am saying, but my reasoning is quite simple.

Threat to democracy

I have been writing about the threat to democracy and the rule of law since early in the Trump presidency. I have warned about creeping authoritarianism and autocratic leadership around the world, including in the Caribbean. Not enough people have paid attention. Very few concerned citizens have acted to preserve democracy. Some members of the U.S. Democratic Party and pro-democracy forces around the world understood the threat. A few have sought to preserve it by standing up to anti-democratic forces. But the issue has been politicized in America’s partisan milieu rather than a fundamental principle transcending political ideologies. Similar partisan constructs prevail in other countries.

Donald Trump’s now indicted criminal behavior which was manifested in conspiracies to overthrow the will of the voters and prevent a peaceful transfer of power and the resulting violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, the seat of American democracy, on January 6, 2021, not only shocked the world but exposed the fragility of the democratic form of government. The deleterious effects of Trump’s behavior are a game changer; it is a gift to pro-democratic forces. It awakened those who stood on the sidelines with a laissez-faire attitude, miscalculating the strength and endurance of the democratic system. Trump’s gift to democracy has changed the mindset of millions significantly.

Awakened in defense of democracy

In America, and elsewhere in the world people are rising up. In America, Trump must face the reality of the rule of law; that America is a democracy and there is no impunity for criminal behavior. The lesson is, or should be, that there will be no future tolerance for such imperial hubris.

In Ukraine we see the bravery of those who fight the powerful military forces of Russia and Putin’s autocratic regime in defense of their democracy. We see pro-democracy Russian citizens put their freedoms and lives on the line to oppose Putin’s authoritarianism. Putin’s imperial hubris and his illegal invasion of Ukraine has sparked opposition among freedom-loving people around the world. While many of the world’s governments, and the international community collectively, are opposed to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, many leaders of the countries opposed are responding to pro-democracy forces and human rights advocates among their own citizens. Some so-called democracies are giving Putin a pass.

In Israel, a country often referred to as the only democracy in the Middle East, the citizens have erupted in opposition to their rightwing extremist prime minister’s, Benjamin Netanyahu, threats to the rule of law and democracy. Hundreds of thousands have been engaged in prolonged enraged protests forcing Netanyahu to reverse his position, at least temporarily. And who could forget the Arab Spring of 2010-2012, when millions among anti-corruption forces demanded democracy and reforms of the electoral processes, and for other freedoms? That remains a work in progress. We have seen large protests in India and in Iran.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Global Protest Tracker records, since 2017, over 400 significant anti-government protests worldwide, with more than 132 countries experiencing significant protests. These protests take place in every region on every continent. The drumbeat for democracy and good governance is everywhere.

Corrupt leaders around the world use their powers to suppress and erode democracy, and to suppress citizens’ protests. They accord themselves impunity from the rule of law. In a democratic system of government, no one is above the law. It is the citizens who hold the power in a democracy. It is important to constantly remind the people of their responsibility to hold their elected representatives accountable. It is the citizens responsibility to demand good governance and oppose corruption. This is especially true where partisan politics is used as a tool for subjugation of people power. And this has become true in the nascent democracies of the Caribbean where patronage often trumps principles.

People power and the referendum

In America we see a trend where the voters are rejecting erosion of democracy and encroachment on their rights. This rejection by Americans, inclusive of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents is quite profound. We see decisions of the ultra-conservative U.S. Supreme Court being tested on ballots in conservative Republican-controlled states. Progressive forces are winning what are essentially referenda on democracy. Most voters in conservative controlled states – Kansas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Montana, with Ohio on tract to do so – have voted to preserve certain rights denied by the Supreme Court’s decision in repealing Roe v. Wade. Others in less-conservative states Michigan and Vermont, and liberal California have done likewise.

The role and power of referenda as an important element of the democratic system should not be underestimated. Certain critical changes needed to move a country’s history into nationhood, true national identity and development, and preservation of people power require the support and consensus of its citizens. This is only achievable through referenda. Why then do some political leaders, including in the Caribbean, seem to fear the power of the people to decide important issues through the referendum process? Why is there a price factored into preserving democracy. We should never accept a government’s excuse that the cost of conducting a referendum is too high when an issue demanding the exercise and decision of the citizens is the best and perhaps the only way to determine the people’s will.

If we believe in government of the people, by the people, and for the people anywhere in the world then we must have confidence in a fully informed citizenry making the right decisions. It is incumbent on governments to be transparent in their decision-making and their actions. It is incumbent on advocacy groups to honestly elucidate issues in ways most citizens comprehend, including the impact of those issues on their lives which they may otherwise have difficulty understanding. It is the responsibility of the free press to inform the public without partisan bias or prejudicing one class to favor another. It is upholding democracy which is paramount. People’s lives matter.

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There is no price too high for preserving democracy. Don’t fool the people by saying a referendum is unaffordable in the same breath you pretend to hold democracy sacrosanct. The citizenry of a truly democratic country must not have to wait every four or five years to decide on who to trust to act in their staid. The citizens of a democratic country must have the power of recall of elected officials for good cause before expiration of their elected term of office. There must be opportunity to impeach and remove from office those elected and otherwise entrenched public officials found to have engaged in acts contrary to good governance, criminal behavior, or conduct in violation of societal norms.

Marcus Garvey said in 1937, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery … none but ourselves can free our minds.” Decades later Jamaican reggae icon, Bob Marley,  recognized that many were yet to achieve this plateau. He admonished those who seemed to be stuck in that inferiority complex by reminding them of Garvey’s philosophy, when in Redemption Song he repeated Garvey’s message, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”

In a true democracy elected officials are temporary stewards of government. They are not gifted with irrevocable power. They are empowered to act on behalf of the citizens and not in their own self-interests. They must always be accountable to the people. The people by electing them do not cede their democratic rights to them. Democracy guarantees that power always rests with the people. We must free our minds and embrace these precepts, and join in the drumbeat for democracy in every corner of the world.

(c) Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

About the author

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward is a former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs (1999-2002) serving on the UN Security Council for two years. He served three years as Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. He is an Attorney-at-Law and International Consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in national and international legal and policy frameworks for effective implementation of United Nations (UN) and other international anti-terrorism mandates; the legal and administrative requirements to effectively implement and enforce anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); extensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations multilateral and U.S.-imposed unilateral sanctions; and the imperatives for Rule of Law and governance. He is a geopolitical and international security analyst, and a human rights, democracy, and anticorruption advocate.

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