By Uche Onyebadi
LIKE everything in life, democracy has its downside, good and cherished as it produces the process that plays the midwife to a government that represents the will of the electorate. I stress the notion of process, for we oftentimes dwell on the outcome (the President, Senator, member of the House of Representatives, Mayor, etc.), not paying adequate attention to the fact that what matters in “democracy” in these examples is actually the process that confers some legitimacy on them as symbols and occupants of power and authority.
As a process, democracy does not always yield desired or desirable results; it is just that the process of attaining such an undesirable outcome is fair and equitable. To fully appreciate the logic of this emphasis on the process rather than the outcome, you need to turn to what is currently going on in the US, the country that prides itself as the bastion of democracy. More precisely, the issue is the on-going presidential primary election process of the Grand Old Party (GOP) as the Republican Party is more derisively known.
When the democratic process of choosing the party’s flag-bearer for the 2016 presidential election began early this year, all sorts of characters frog-jumped into the ring and presented themselves as the worthy candidates for the GOP. The list included politicians with credible credentials such as former governors Rick Perry (Texas), Jeb Bush (Florida) and incumbent governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
It also had political neophytes such as Ben Carson and Donald Trump. The prevailing political wisdom about this list then was that much as it was overpopulated by a potpourri of credibility and incredibility, the process of democracy would ensure that at the end of the day, the clowns will be sieved away, leaving the stage to people in whom the party will have some confidence about their ability to face whosoever the Democratic candidate might be. Perhaps what the GOP hierarchy underplayed or ignored was the fact that the democratic ethos was not about who emerged victorious, but the process of victory.
Thus, to their consternation, and against all permutations, the “establishment” political stalwarts who were expected to ride out the rough storms of the process began to disappear into the twilight zone. Today, the man who is at the forefront of candidates likely to be the GOP flag-bearer is Donald Trump.
A few months ago in this column, I wrote this about Trump: “If you have ever had an obstinate fly invade your space and rest on an inconvenient part of your body where killing it might hurt you, then you have a picture of what Trump is doing to the Republican Party. Fact is, Trump was supposed to be one of those people who blow hot in every presidential election cycle and quickly disappear into political obscurity. The problem is that he has refused to bow out of the stage. Indeed, current polls show him running second to Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former U.S. presidents.”
If only I had a political crystal ball, I might have phrased things more authoritatively. The problem for the GOP top officers now is not that Trump “has refused to bow out of the stage” as I had written;3 the trouble is that Trump has so coveted the stage for himself that he has apparently kicked everyone out of it. And, this has continued to make the GOP leaders quite edgy about the party’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election against Hillary Clinton, the possible candidate of the Democratic Party.
Here is last week’s CNN report about where Donald Trump currently stands in the race for the GOP nomination. “Donald Trump is once again alone at the top of the Republican field, according to the latest CNN/ORC Poll, with 36% of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents behind him, while his nearest competitor trails by 20 points.
Three candidates cluster behind Trump in the mid-teens, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 16%, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 14% and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 12%. All other candidates have the support of less than 5% of GOP voters in the race for the Republican Party’s nomination for president.”
Among those classified by CNN as “all other candidates” is Jeb Bush, the man who was almost anointed by the GOP echelon as its preferred candidate at the onset of the race. What is indisputable is that when it comes to policy matters and the art of governance, Bush trumps Trump by an unbridgeable margin. Yet, with regard to the democratic process, Trump triumphs over Bush. And this is where the democratic process becomes an embarrassing quagmire. Left to the GOP officers, Trump must be stopped at all costs from the process. But, alas, they have no way to fulfill what their hearts desire. They are stuck with Trump like a person with a malignant disease he or she cannot wish away.
What the GOP top officers did not factor in their equation about Trump is the fact that the man is an astute manipulator of public opinion; the opinion of the largely ignorant and hysterical public that is at the base of the Republican Party’s supporters. It is to this base that Trump unabashedly addresses all he has to say about being the best candidate for the party.
He cleverly preys on their fears and ignorance. Trump knows that people in this cadre are morbidly afraid of “strangers” among them and attributes all US deficiencies to “foreigners” so Trump readily tells them that he has a “policy” of deporting nearly 12 million “illegal” people in the United States, and they hail him.
He talks about building this imaginary wall along the US-Mexican border to prevent Mexicans from massively flocking into the US, and pledged that he will arm-twist the Mexican government to pay for the construction of the wall, and the same people salute his wisdom without questioning how Trump will accomplish this fantasy. Asked what his plans are to contain the activities of ISIS, the international terrorist organization that has beheaded some of their American captives, Trump merely responded that as president he will “bomb the hell out of them,” and the same people believe that this vague and unintelligent response by Trump is the best America can do to stop ISIS.
Unfortunately, this group might continue to support Trump until he gets the GOP primary endorsement, before the same people suddenly realize that a U.S. president is not voted into office only by Trump’s supporters. Indeed, democracy has its shortcomings.