Opinion: Donald Trump as the scourge of American democracy – By SAM KARGBO
Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers-Aristotle.
In democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme-Aristotle.
According to the late American scholar, William Robert Parks, democracy has only one ultimate goal – the wellbeing of each individual as a distinct and significant item of humanity. That goal, he declared, “rests upon the ancient Christian-Jewish belief that each individual human being, however mean his worldly status, as a son of God has a dignity and worth which is equal to that of every other man.” Building on his thesis, Parks opined that along with the democratic concept of the innate worth of the individual go other propositions concerning the means by which a democratic society is to be achieved. Some of these propositions have become procedural principles which are seemingly unchanging necessities in the maintenance of a democratic state and must be distinguished from mere mechanical devices developed for putting these principles into effect. Parks warned against confusing the means and ends in discussing democracy and fashioning a democratic system. For, whereas the essential end of democracy – the well-being of the individual – is ultimate and changeless, the means for achieving this goal, if they are to be effective, must be continuously modified to fit a changing environment. Thus, a democratic society must have the capacity to distinguish between ends and means if it is to winnow out and retain from the apparatuses of democracy those elements in its structure and functioning which are essential to the preserving and strengthening of a democratic state.
Students of Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species, may not argue with Parks on the wellbeing of the individual being the goal of democracy. Without democracy, societies will be populated by only the fittest or if you may, those favoured in the struggle for life in those societies. For Hobbesian scholars, without democracy, life for the individual will be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Therefore, self-governance of any kind and form must be one that provides a boundary and balance between a central government and all its apparatuses on the one hand and the rights of the individual that enhance his wellbeing.
As Parks would say, confusing the means for the ends of democracy has its dare consequences. The wellbeing of the individual or his equality to all others should be defined within the ambit of the law. In the words of Parks, a “system of rights, of course, assumes the obligation not to impair the rights of others. An individual’s rights must be balanced in terms of the rights of other individuals.” As Abraham Lincoln put it, the “Declaration of Independence defines with ‘tolerable clearness’ the equality of status to which all men are born. It is an equality of rights before the law. Not only is a system of rights an essential in protecting a man’s personality as an individual, but it is also an indispensable factor in the operation of a democratic process. For it is in the possession of the freedom to think, talk, and act that a minority has the opportunity of making itself the majority.”
What has befallen the United States of America, the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, under the reign of the whimsical Donald John Trump emphasises the relevance of Parks’ thesis and propositions. Democracy will forever be a work in progress. There would forever need to rejig the means of achieving and protecting the wellbeing of the individual. For instance, America should first try to do away with its outdated electoral college system.
The trouble with democracy can also be the misconception that the one man, one vote principle is the end of democracy and not a procedural means of achieving the wellbeing of the individual. This misconception has also promoted complementary principles that tend to superimpose the rights of the individual on societies. The erroneous perception that the rights of the individual are superior to and independent of those of the societies in which they live is often manifested in the refusal of the minority to accept and abide by popular decisions arising from processes they freely participated in. That will explain in part why Trump and his mob wanted the clock of the presidential election to be stopped at the point at which Trump was leading in both popular votes and the electoral college votes. To Trump and his mob, what is good for America should be determined by what is good for Trump because Trump is the Republic and its democracy. An exposition of Trump’s political evolution may explain in a better way the dangers of defining or conceptualizing democracy solely from the prism of the rights of the individual.
Against all odds, Donald Trump was made the President of the world’s richest and most powerful country by voters who expressed their individuality and equality with all other Americans through a cumbersome electoral system. Were the voters who voted for him justified? Not quite. Was the system, therefore, wrong? No! But how would America prevent the misfortune of having another Donald Trump? It is hard to tell. The desperate effort to orchestrate a summary impeachment procedure that will justify banning him from ever occupying an American public office can only stop the present Trump but not the future Trumps. The imposition of the electoral college system on popular votes has the intrinsic capacity to produce future Trumps.
Donald John Trump has every bit of the American gene. His father, Frederick Christ Trump, was born in New York in 1905 to German immigrants, Elizabeth Christ and Frederick Trump, and his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, was a Scottish immigrant. Both parents lived off the American profitable property business and died at the ripe ages of 94 and 88 respectively. Of Donald’s four siblings, only the second oldest, Frederick Christ Trump, who died at a relatively young age of 43, would not pass for the description of a successful Trump. Indeed, Donald Trump is recorded to have said that he lived not wanting to be like the alcoholic Fred. The eldest, Maryanne Trump Barry, who is heading to the remarkable age of 84 years, is a retired Federal judge. The third oldest, Elizabeth Trump Grau, who is heading to her 79th year, is a retired banker. Donald’s only younger brother, Robert Trump, who died on 15 August 2020, at the age of 71, grew up in the family estate business. It is, therefore, not right to say that the Trumps are a rogues’ gallery. But as this story unfolds, it would be seen that Trump is only amplifying some of the traits that are intrinsic to his lineage.
Donald Trump’s immigrant grandfather was said to have escaped three-year compulsory military service in his home country, Germany, and arrived on a steamboat in America on October 7, 1885, and became an American citizen seven years later in 1892. Frederick was among the over one million Germans who migrated to America in the late 18th century. The land of opportunities promoted Frederick from barber to a successful restaurateur, hotelier, entrepreneur, gold rush prospector and New York real-estate investor. Tragically, the adventurous Frederick died at the age of 49 on 30 May 1918 during the first wave of the Spanish flu pandemic.
Frederick Christ Trump, Donald’s father, was the first of the two sons of the immigrant Frederick Trump who became one of New York’s most successful real estate businessmen.
An African saying goes, “A lion will not give birth to a goat,” meaning a person does not only inherit genes but much of their human makeup. What has pockmarked the life and times of Donald Trump are scandals. Relating that to his family tree, it is easy to see that the scandals are not original to him. For a long time, the Trumps denied their German ancestry and falsely projected a Swedish ancestry either to prevent offsetting their relationship with the Jewish community in which they flourished or to hide the fact their patriarch was a dodger who flew from the mandatory military duty and was stripped of his German citizenship because of that infamous act. The family has also expended efforts in erasing the immigrant’s participation in the liquor and sex profitable business of the early 1890s Seattle.
Frederick Christ Trump who inherited and transformed the patriarch’s business into a billion-dollar business was not without his scandals. Besides probes concerning profiteering or cases on violations of housing ethics and tax fraud, he was also associated with the racist and white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. This is specifically interesting. Fred Trump was born into an immigrant family into an America that offered his parents and himself the American dream that made their lives better, richer and fuller, regardless of their origin, or circumstances of their birth. He however did not believe that coloured Americans were deserving of the American dream. For him, America should be for the whites and was therefore willing to put out himself to associate with the Ku Klux Klan to promote and defend white power and privilege.
If Frederick C. Trump was a grifter or rogue, or racist, the predatory Donald Trump, who rebranded the Trump business into a Trump organisation, became one of the most artful swindlers and liars in the history of mankind. Long before he declared his intentions to contest for the presidency, it was common knowledge that his moral account was in red; but he was electable because he hated Barack Hussein Obama, his black predecessor. The American electorate had a reasonable doubt about his mental stability, but he was electable because he hated immigrants. There was hardly any American who did not know that the histrionic Trump was a compulsive liar with no capacity, to tell the truth, but he was electable because he hated Muslims. He never for once hid his divisive character; but he was electable because there have always been Americans dying inside their hearts because of America’s multi-racial, multi-religious composition. Not a significant fraction of Americans believed that he was fit for the world’s most powerful office, but he was electable because he hated America’s alliances and business partnerships across the globe. He has never pretended to be a Christian but he symbolises the white evangelicals’ sword against those desacralizing governance. He was electable because he was rightly viewed as capable of catalyzing that part of the American divide that does not subscribe to the ideals of the American dream.
Donald Trump is, therefore, is an accident but a deliberate product of the American fault lines. Vile and petulant, he has never been a pretender or virtue signaler. Life has always been about himself – a scorpion given wings by an electorate that has always wanted an alternative America: one for white evangelicals and supremacist. Trump personifies an atavistic America enabled by America’s electoral system.
But for the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have been much more difficult for Joe Biden to galvanise an America that would give him a number over and above Trump’s over 74 million popular votes. Trump has succeeded in bringing alternative Americans from their closets. He has regrouped and weaponised them into a lethal fraternity against Liberal America. He has fed them with the right conspiracy theories that have reduced them to an American intifada. His dog-whistling language is understood by suicide bombers to the extent that he could easily raise an army to pull down the Capitol – the symbol of America’s democracy. Trump is indeed the scourge of American democracy.