LESSONS FROM THE US

Internal strife the biggest threat to nation-state

In Summary
  • The events in the aftermath of the US elections are indelible proof that democracy is fragile, reversible and is not an end-state
  • Kenyans can relate to America’s post-election crisis. Ethnic bigotry has washed our country to the shores of annihilation
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

President-elect Joseph R Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office tomorrow, January 20, 2021.

Biden will be the oldest man ever to assume the US presidency. Harris will be the first women ever to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. She is also the first woman of colour (Indian American and African American) elected Vice President. Soon to be former President Donald Trump is the first president to lose the popular vote twice.

The 2020 elections also drew the largest increase in voters between two consecutive elections in US history. More than 25 million new voters participated in the 2020 polls compared to 2016. Minorities turned out to vote in historic numbers. And for the first time in 28 years, an incumbent president lost reelection. Trump also became the first candidate since 1896 not to concede defeat.

That lost might be an unfair assertion. As far as Trump is concerned, he won big and with a record-shattering 74.2 million votes compared to Biden’s 81.2 million votes. Rejecting the election outcome, especially in the so-called battleground states, which also saw record turnout among Blacks, Asians and Latinos, raised serious questions about race and white supremacy.

The inexorable decay of civility among politicians and across the political divide in the aftermath of the 2020 election has revealed America in ways some may find shocking. The attack on the US Capitol on the urging of Trump on January 6 was a veritable coup attempt. Somehow, Trump believed that the mob of patriots would overturn the results of the election and instal him as president for a second term.

For Biden’s inauguration, the US Capitol is now a fortress. An estimated 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to protect the President-elect, the VP-elect and invited guests. Potentially, the US government is pitting military forces against ordinary citizens. No one is taking chances after the pro-Trump mob lay siege to the Capitol. Across the US, governors are taking extra steps to secure state and federal buildings.

Why is this important? The events in the aftermath of the US elections are indelible proof that democracy is fragile, reversible and is not an end-state. No country, advanced or low income, is immune from hurtling to the precipice of anarchy and authoritarianism.

What many understood as passionate democratic competition between the Republican and Democratic parties has degenerated into a pathetic culture war and full-blooded, irreconcilable sectarianism. The clear and present danger to the US is not China or Russia or Iran or North Korea. Americans pose the most urgent existential threat to America.

Kenyans can relate to America’s post-election crisis. Ethnic bigotry has washed our country to the shores of annihilation. The post-election violence of 1992 and 2007 are indelibly inscribed in our hearts as monuments of immortal shame.

The most dire and present danger to our country is not external. Our inability to engage in civil political competition is, and will always be, our Achilles heel.

Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The views expressed are the writer’s