‘I Will Never Ever Let You Down’
“How did Donald Trump become president of the United States?” Americans to this day are still asking themselves this question. Trump is now running for re-election. In his inaugural address, he said:
I will never ever let you down
Looking back, has he really kept that promise? And what do 4 more years of Trump mean for our nation and the world?
Next month, we will exercise one of our most cherished rights and a foundation of our democracy: the right to vote in a free and fair election. There has been a lot of coordinated disinformation and propaganda to undermine our confidence in the integrity of the election.
It can’t be expected of anyone who doesn’t analyze politics for a living to have enough time on their hands to devote to the consumption of the deluge of information pouring all around us. And although I’m no political analyst, for the past few months, I was fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) enough to be able to do just that. The following is my attempt to bring to your attention some important goings-on in our country that you may, understandably, not be aware of.
An Avoidable Fiasco
The COVID-19 crisis and the needlessly failed response to it laid bare America’s systematic racial, legal, gender, social and economic inequity. The silver lining, if any, is at least it might serve to make Americans think if this administration has our best interests or the public good at heart. The president of the United States downplayed the virus, pushed responsibility onto governors, and then demanded they allow businesses to reopen — too early — in order to make the economy look good before the election. He muzzled and disputed public health experts at the CDC and promoted injecting disinfectant. He encouraged followers not to wear masks to combat the fast-spreading Coronavirus, and recently made false claims about the purported risks of wearing one.
he proclaimed, while overwhelmed health workers and first responders are risking and losing their lives. He’s also hindered our pandemic response at every turn and allowed more than 225,000 Americans to die on his watch. When pressed about it, all the president had to say was “It is what it is!”. Even as infections soar raising fears of a third wave, he shrugs off COVID-19 — just as eagerly as his mask upon leaving Walter Reed — and targets the government’s top pandemic fighter, the director of the NIAID.
The latest blow comes with the recent announcement of delays to additional unemployment benefits and eviction protections. This could have lasting impacts on tens of millions of Americans who without aid can’t cover their rent, food and medical bills.
It’s the Trump Show
Donald Trump has longed for his show, The Apprentice, to be in the spotlight again, and it has been for the past four years: the latest season of the Apprentice starring Trump started on the 16th of June 2015 and is still running! The most recent episode was filmed at Walter Reed.
All jokes aside, I did feel sorry for him when he announced testing positive for the Coronavirus and my son criticized me for it; why should we feel empathy for a man who, as Anand Giridharadas aptly put it,
[…] hosted a super-spreader event to honor a justice who would have the government control your body but refuse the duty to care for it, and when the virus he helped go around came around, he availed of the healthcare he would deny others, financed by the taxes he refuses to pay.
To this president, anyone blocking his way is a villain: the FBI and the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, whistleblowers, elected US public officials, the media, and the list goes on.
He severely damaged America’s credibility and standing. He alienates US allies and befriends autocrats and killers. He pardons war criminals and corrupt politicians. He honored a conspiracy theorist and commuted a self-proclaimed dirty trickster. Perhaps most shamefully, he calls fallen soldiers losers and suckers. Trump’s America not only shuts its doors in the face of the poor, the tired and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, it has separated 5,500 migrant children from their parents.
Following the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump sparked even more outrage when he suggested parity between white supremacists and the largely peaceful protesters on the other side.
Sadly, this is no isolated incident. Over the last three years, far-right domestic terror has become far more deadly. In its 2020 “homeland threat assessment”, the DHS named white supremacist groups as the biggest terror threat to America. And even if we were to absolve the president of having had a hand in this influx, he’s certainly done nothing to stem it, seeing as his best attempt at condemning white supremacists was telling them to “stand back and stand by!”
In the Trump era, hate crimes are not followed by the traditional calls for national unity, but by further partisan divide. Trump’s tweet in April to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and his support to anti-lockdown protesters allowed this divide to manifest dangerously when it inspired an alleged terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan’s Governor, which the FBI fortunately disrupted last week.
The Divided States of America
Graham Wilson, a professor of political science at Boston University, had this to say about how partisan identity tends to be the main driver of votes:
This is an extremely divided nation. There are really antagonistic, deeply felt divisions that go beyond the performance of the administration and the performance of the economy to how you think about this country, what it stands for and the component of what makes Americanism.
Neither the presidency nor the Senate currently reflect the will of the American people. The current Senate republican majority represents 15 million fewer people than the democratic minority; 15 states representing 38 million people have 30 Republican senators. Contrast that with California, whose total population of almost 40 million is represented by just two Democratic ones. It’s worth noting that Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. where 4 million, predominantly Black and Hispanic Americans, don’t have representation in the Senate at all.
As for the presidency, in the past 20 years, although a democrat has won the popular vote in 4 out of the 5 elections, we still ended up with 12 years of republicans in the oval office! And that is because of the Electoral College , whose electors are the ones who actually cast ballots on December 14th to determine who becomes president. Its winner-take-all approach can distort the will of the majority and grant disproportionate power to less populous states, which tend to be rural and more conservative.
To combat this, 15 states and the District of Columbia recently joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. They’re pledging to give their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote rather than the one who wins the popular vote in their state. But this won’t take effect until enough states adopt it, which, so far, hasn’t happened.
What is happening, however, is that Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in the six most key battleground states, where both legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans. As it turns out, the electoral college’s winner-take-all approach is neither a law nor is it written in the constitution. As President Trump’s campaign legal advisor went on record to state, republican state legislatures might use this to their advantage by questioning the accuracy of their states’ results. This can lead to things getting so chaotic that neither candidate gets the 270 electoral votes necessary for a win. In such a case, the election goes to the house where each state gets one vote. What this means is that whichever candidate gets 26 votes wins the election — exactly the number of state delegations Republicans currently control.
Not all hope is lost, though — given that Trump loses by a landslide. In which case, all these “maneuvers” can be outmaneuvered.
Other Elections Matter
We always think of elections only in terms of presidential elections. Yet state Legislative races are just as important if not more so. For example, in 2018 Florida voted to restore voting rights to 1.5 Million ex-felons in what had seemed like a major referendum victory. Florida was one of four states which ban ex-felons from voting for life, even after serving their sentence. In 2019, however, Republicans in Florida’s state legislature enacted a bill requiring ex-felons to pay off existing fees before regaining their right to vote — essentially once again disenfranchising many who had just regained it.
And although a federal district court judge later ruled this bill unconstitutional, stating it imposed an unlawful “pay-to-vote system”, that ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals in a 6–4 ruling. Five of the six judges who supported that decision were appointed by President Trump. A reminder of the decisive role that a slew of legal cases could play before the presidential election and, as is so often the case, how this can make it harder for Democrats to vote.
Along similar lines, the president is about to replace a liberal icon with an extremely conservative justice in the supreme court. If the nominee is confirmed, Trump will have picked a quarter of the federal judiciary and a third of the Supreme Court!
If the head of the household plays the tambourine, the household will be in the habit of dancing.
Our Unfettered Commander in Despair
The president’s personal legal and financial problems push him ever more toward an autocrat’s desperation to hold onto power by overriding democracy. Even if Trump isn’t re-elected, he could, as he’s repeatedly indicated, refuse to peacefully leave office and force the result into the courts. And that possibility makes it pretty clear that, for Trump, having an additional Supreme Court appointment is absolutely crucial to his re-election.
But to get there, he needs to sow doubt in the result of the election. A new Harvard study examined how the president harnesses mass media to disseminate and reinforce disinformation about mail-in voter fraud. What the study repeatedly found was that whenever there was a spike in attention to voter fraud, the precipitating event was almost always a statement by President Trump. On the legal front, there are more than 300 ongoing court battles across at least 44 states relating to vote-by-mail in next month’s election.
In June 2020, the Transition Integrity Project convened a bipartisan group of over 100 current and former senior government and campaign leaders and other experts in a series of “2020 election crisis scenario planning exercises”. The sessions began with scenarios of what might happen on Election Day:
- Ambiguous result
- Clear Biden win
- Narrow Biden win
- A Trump win in the Electoral College coupled with a loss in the popular vote
They then played war games to ponder what might follow. The results of all four games were alarming. The project assessed with a high degree of likelihood that this election promises a combination of stressors that could lead to chaos and escalate violence. You can listen to an interview with the project founders here.
A peaceful transfer of power is necessary for American democracy to survive. But if Trump should fail in his final duty as president, that is, to transfer power peacefully, who will be responsible for carrying out the will of the electorate?
Promises Kept and Unkept
Despite then-presidential-candidate Trump’s anti-establishment message and his frequent promises during the campaign to “drain the swamp”, Trump’s Cabinet picks have included several billionaires and Wealthy Wall Street figures for top administration posts. Norm Eisen of the Brookings Institution once said,
The president said, ‘I’m going to drain the swamp’, and he threw the floodgates open to the alligators.
Since his inauguration, many of his campaign and administration officials have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes. Others were found to have engaged in questionable or unethical conduct or were forced to resign over security clearance issues. No other U.S. president has lost so many members of his cabinet to ethics violations. It’s as the Arabic verse goes, “If the head of the household plays the tambourine, the household will be in the habit of dancing.”
President Trump also promised to improve the nation’s infrastructure. He once tweeted: “The only one to fix the infrastructure of our country is me.” Yet, nothing significant has been done on that front.
Every four years, the ASCE releases the so-called “Infrastructure Report Card”. The 2017 report gave the nation an infrastructure score of D+. Needless to say, nothing to write home about. After four years of the Trump administration, one can only wonder what the grade will be.
On a more tragically ironic front, in his inauguration speech, President Trump laid out a dark vision for an America that is deeply divided. In his own words,
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now
Almost four years later, carnage defines his presidency. Trump is again beating the drum of fear and emphasizing that he alone can restore law and order. After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, protests and unrest have rocked many US cities.
And while the protests certainly saw their share of unruliness, the vast majority of those dangerous, violent anarchists the president warned against were unarmed moms and leaf-blower dads who took to the streets to protect protestors. Nevertheless, Trump’s administration took an unprecedented move and deployed hundreds of federal troops to Portland, Oregon and elsewhere around the country. The goal, as he claimed, to stop the violence. In reality, however, all it did was add fuel to an already tense situation.
That’s why several governors and mayors demanded the removal of federal agents and troops from their streets.
Meanwhile on another planet, after the president had delivered an address in which he threatened military action on American soil, police deployed tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters outside the White House so he could pose with a Bible in front of a church — a stunt to bolster his re-election bid in November.
It’s just 6 years to our nation’s 250th anniversary. There is more than enough reason to be alarmed and worried about her. There are many vulnerabilities in our political and civic life. We have openly forgotten how to listen to each other and discuss the ethical and moral obligations we all have. Our current president regularly demeans, often in very personal ways, people who disagree with him.
To put it not so subtly, for the past few decades, America has been as one almost submerged and gasping for air. Handed over from administration to administration, lifted up by that one just enough above the surface to draw breath, only to be pulled down again by the next. Yet, throughout the years, never once rising completely above the water. Not unlike the pharaohs of old who pridefully tore down the monuments of their predecessors, when the blind undoing of accomplishments past becomes the objective, this stasis we find ourselves in should come as no surprise. In fact, not sinking further then becomes an accomplishment in and of itself.
Will America survive this malfunctioning democracy? Fortunately, unlike authoritarian regimes, we are blessed, still, with a free press.
We are also blessed with various federal law enforcement agencies that are confronting the president and his enablers’ unforgivable attempts to disrupt the electoral process as we speak. We can’t rest yet, but at the very least, we can find solace in the fact that our votes and our rights to cast them are being vigilantly watched over and safe-guarded.
But it’s up to all of us to make the changes needed, no matter how small, to elect public servants who can help us regain our common purpose to build our common future. In the words of Ella Baker,
Give light, and people will find the way
And as for your promise to never ever let the American people down, Mr. President, I for one feel very let down.