Now power-mad Trump is the pot calling the kettle a s**thole


Now power-mad Trump is the pot calling the kettle a s**thole

As world’s fiercest defender of peaceful power transfers, US looks a lot like nations tormented by stubborn strongmen

US President Donald Trump isn't going anywhere, he says.
What democracy? US President Donald Trump isn't going anywhere, he says.
Image: Reuters

In January 2017 Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refused to accept the results of a free and fair election which he had lost comprehensively. After 23 years in power Jammeh simply refused to go. He declared a state of emergency instead.

The US was among many countries across the globe that condemned Jammeh.

“This action is a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of the Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately,” said Mark Toner of the US state department.

Just three and a half years later, the very same scenario could play out in the US. The country that prides itself on being the world’s fiercest defender of regular elections and peaceful transfers of power across the globe now faces the reality that has visited countries such as the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and others referred to by President Donald Trump as “shithole countries”: a strongman president could simply refuse to leave office.

Brian Karem, a reporter for Playboy magazine, asked Trump this week whether he would “commit here today for a peaceful transferral of power after the November election”.

It’s a simple, direct question that should give no democratic leader anywhere in the world reason for pause. Trump would not commit.

“We’re going to have to see what happens,” he answered. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

Why is the most powerful leader in the world alleging corruption in his own system and yet not lifting a finger to fix such a problem if it does indeed exist?

“I understand that, but people are rioting,” pressed the reporter, clearly alarmed that the president of a country that had built its leadership of the world on the propagation of free and fair elections held regularly was now casting doubt on so fundamental a tenet of democratic practice.

Trump would still not commit. Instead, he referred to the process for sending in votes by mail (which he has used in the past) and cast doubts on them, implying that there is wide-ranging fraud in how they are run. Various bodies have said the president is not being truthful on the matter, and there is no proof that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Yet Trump answered Karem by saying: “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful ... there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”

What this means is that the president of the US, possibly the most powerful man in the world, is already casting doubt on the outcomes of an election he is contesting and which many polls suggest he may lose. If he believes that American elections are rigged, why is he not doing something to fix them? Why is the most powerful leader in the world alleging corruption in his own system and yet not lifting a finger to fix such a problem if it does indeed exist?

It’s not the first time that Trump has cast doubt on the outcome of the looming elections. In July he was asked exactly the same question and he answered: “I have to see ... No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time, either.”

He has even suggested that he could stay in power for far longer than just the traditional two terms that American presidents have served. At a rally in August he suggested that the first four years of his presidency should not count because, allegedly, his campaign was spied on. He told supporters: “We are going to win four more years. And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”

There has been widespread condemnation of Trump’s anti-democratic remarks, yet none of his critics actually seems to have a clue about what they would do if he did refuse to step down. He, on the other hand, seems to be beavering away to contest the election results. Despite declaring again and again that he will win, he has moved fast to name a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg as US Supreme Court judge. The appointment, which could happen in the next week or two, would render the court fully conservative. This is the court which would, ultimately, rule on whether the November 3 election is legitimate or not. If Trump is so confident of a win, why is he in such a mad rush to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court?

For a long time people like me said the US would never have a president who flirts with and compliments dictators such as North Korea’s leader. We were all wrong.

The US is not exceptional. When a political leader tells you that he cannot rule out clinging to power when his time to leave comes, learn to believe him.