After Trump, the world needs a new democratic model
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By Letepe Maisela
‘The revolution will not be televised/Will not be televised/Will not be televised/Will not be televised/The revolution will have no rerun, brothers/The revolution will be live……….’
With apologies to Gil Scott-Heron, this revolution of January 6, 2021 was televised. It had commercial breaks and instant reruns. The African-American poet and entertainer must be turning in his grave. President Donald Trump addressed his band of bandits and urged them on like General Custer did back in 1876, when he blew the bugle to make his last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
This time however in the 21st century, It started at a rally at the Ellipse, a park near the White House in Washington DC, in support of Trump, which he personally addressed and television cameras rolled and recorded the entire event.
In full glare of television cameras he implored them to march to the US Capitol building and disrupt proceedings where Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America. Trump openly incited them to do that in order to “save America”.
What followed was chaos of unprecedented levels, resulting not only in the thrashing of the revered building by the mob with some of them waving Confederate flags, but the unfortunate death of five individuals which included a policeman. All this happened with Trump safely ensconced in the White House, coyly tweeting his support and approval of this clumsy coup attempt while probably lunching on his favourite McDonald’s Big Mac meal. But I digress.
My story is actually not about the events of the past week that unfolded in the US capital and shook the global community. World media is pregnant with such news and I did not wish to add my voice to the cacophony. My main gripe is that all this happened in a country that has always been regarded as the ideal of democratic constitutionalism. This has led me to closely examine or study constitutions of the US and similar so-called democratic countries around the world including in Africa and even ours right here in Mzansi.
A common feature in the preambles of most constitutions is their declaration to promote among others a just and democratic social order. Since I am not a constitutional scholar I shall not attempt to dwell on the technicalities of what I can describe as constitutional governance. I would thus simply apply my layman’s understanding.
I was amazed that Trump could openly in full view of the world incite a mob to attack a sitting legislative forum and simply go home and have a good night’s sleep without being awoken by a shouting police raid and barking dogs that we got used to during the apartheid era in South Africa.
As executive head and Commander-in Chief of the US armed forces, I expected him to be immediately reined in or put in a straitjacket considering the immense power he can wield. As one of my cynical friends remarked: “Why would they worry about suspending his Twitter account while his finger remains free to hover around the nuclear war button?” Simply put, how can a constitution allow one individual not only to have such immense powers but lack the checks and balances required to neutralise those powers in emergencies?
While the process to invoke the 25th Amendment is done when a US president dies in office, is unable to discharge his duties due to illness and incapacity or in the case of Trump is removed from office, why was it that Trump was in the interim allowed to continue to participate in his executive duties such as declaring Cuba and Iran as so-called states that support terrorism while also listing the Houthi resistance who control over 80% of Yemen as terrorists?
What if he followed up on such policy declarations with punitive nuclear strikes as that would still be within his prerogative as Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces. This he could have easily done to divert attention from his impending impeachment while buying time. Trump still retained even powers to pardon offenders (even himself?) while in limbo. Why should any so-called democratic constitution allow that?
My furtive study of all of the world’s so-called democratic constitutions revealed one seriously worrying flaw which is lack of a democratic ingredient itself. While all purport to believe in “government for the people by the people”, in practice that seldom,, if ever happens. The often uttered statement that “the people shall govern”, is to me simply empty and populous rhetoric with a strong socialist flavour used, often during electioneering. In reality it hardly applies.
For instance our own South African Constitution openly purports to support that principle and notion of “government for the people by the people”. However, so many landmark legislation has been passed and implemented without the participation of the so-called people. These included the actual compilation of our much celebrated Constitution. These later introduced sections that ended the death penalty, legalised abortion, outlawed corporal punishment both at school and home, promoted gay unions and more.
In Western countries with similar democratic ideals those could at least have been subjected to Referendums before being codified into law but in South Africa and the broader African continent, referendums are a big no-no. So how do people govern or are supposed to other than being simply reduced to voting cattle? One can easily conclude this assertion by simply observing the humungous powers awarded to the political leadership by these constitutions which are not dissimilar to those of emperors and monarchies from the past.
All this is done without any visible or effective checks and balances as I have already mentioned. The Trump insurrection clearly catapulted this phenomenon into open view.
On the African continent, where most countries have adopted constitutions modelled on the European or Western model, we have seen further deterioration of democracy including law and order where the constitution is not only used as a bludgeoning instrument to suppress any political opposition but also to legitimise undemocratic behaviour like changing presidential terms in the quest of staying in power indefinitely, as was the case in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, current day Uganda and most other African countries.
Democracy can never thrive under dictatorship either by a political party or led by the president. This has been attempted even right here on the continent and the outside world, all done under the cover of a democratic dispensation while simply disguising a sophisticated continued form of dictatorship and monarchy.
It is high time that this democratic hypocrisy is revealed and corrected. After Trump, the world is clearly in need of a much revamped democratic model.
* Letepe Maisela is a management consultant and published author of four books. His latest fiction novel called Sperm Donor was published in December 2019.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.