American democracy is a messy affair

Dr Syed Amir explains why Donald Trump has emerged as a star

American democracy is a messy affair
American democracy operates in a boisterous fashion, especially at the time of presidential elections every four years. President Barack Obama will be completing his second term in office on January 20, 2017, almost one-and-half years from now, but the election campaign is already heating up, with 17 Republicans and five Democrats having joined the race so far, scrambling to secure their party’s nomination in the elections that will be held on November 8, 2016. The elected nominees of the two parties will face each otherin the poll, and one of them will become the next president of the United States.

Two of the candidates this year, Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush, belong to political dynasties. Hilary Clinton is the wife of former president Bill Clinton, and Jeb Bush is the son and brother of two former presidents, George HW Bush, and George W Bush. The Republican field is so crowded that they could not be accommodated on a single platform for a debate aired nationwide on August 6, following an established tradition. There were two debates to accommodate them all.

Members of the Republican Party are mostly working-class middle-aged white voters, who tend to be conservative and religious, and are staunchly opposed to Obama’s liberal, progressive policies, such as environmental protection, social networks to help the poor, and some control over the right to own guns. The party has, not surprisingly, attracted little participation from minorities, such as African-Americans (13.3 percent of the population) or Hispanics (17.1 percent).

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

The Republican presidential candidates are indistinguishable in their fierce opposition to Obama’s policies, vowing to eliminate his signature healthcare law on their first day in office. The Obama administration says it has enabled millions of low-income Americans to obtain health insurance. The Republicans also promise to reverse the nuclear treaty with Iran, if it becomes law, which has been so painstakingly negotiated by the US Secretary of State John Kerry and six world powers, and ratified by the UN Security Council. Above all, they are falling over each other in proclaiming their abiding fealty to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

An unlikely candidate has emerged as a frontrunner among the Republicans – the colorful billionaire real-estate Mogul from New York, Donald Trump. Known mostly for his brash, flamboyant personality, multiple weddings and a stable of girlfriends, he was never considered a serious candidate, and has been the subject of much satire. He previously gained some notoriety for his unsubstantiated claims that President Obama was a Kenyan by birth and thus ineligible to be the US president. The matter, however, was finally laid to rest when the State of Hawaii, where he was born, produced Obama’s official birth certificate.

Trump has now eclipsed all other candidates in Republican opinion polls. Even if he becomes the nominee of the Republican Party, his prospects of victory in the general election remain slim to none.
The US Supreme Court has removed all restrictions on political donations by wealthy donors

What makes Donald Trump a star? For one, he has a lot of money that, unlike others, frees him from the need to spend time and effort in raising donations from individuals and corporations to support his campaign. He is quite unabashed in flouting his wealth, such as his fleet of luxury cars and helicopters. He is also brazen in making lofty promises that are unrealistic and impossible to keep. But his conservative supporters love his style.

One of his favorite subjects is immigration. There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the US, mostly Hispanics from Mexico and Central American countries, who have lived here for many decades and have integrated to a varying degree into the American society. Trump proposes sending them to their home countries, without delineating the practical difficulties involved in uprooting so many people, including women and children, and forcibly shipping them back. He will build a fence along nearly two thousand miles of the Mexican border at a huge expense, but incredibly will make the Mexican government pay for it. Why the Mexican government would pay for a fence that serves the interest of the US, he does not explain.

The field of prospective candidates seeking Democratic nomination is narrower. The most prominent among them is Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator from New York. She has the greatest name recognition, and is the frontrunner. She, however, has been a polarizing figure in the past and the recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans don’t trust her honesty and compassion. She and her husband, the former president Bill Clinton, have amassed millions of dollars in speaking fees since he left office.
Hillary and her husband have amassed millions of dollars in speaking fees

More recently, Hilary Clinton has been enmeshed in a controversy that threatens her status as her party’s top candidate. While serving as President Obama’s secretary of state, she used her personal insecure e-mail account to send and receive messages, instead of the official e-mail server, and some of the messages, it is alleged, were highly confidential. The practice is against the law, but Clinton maintains that none of the messages she exchanged were classified or confidential. The matter is now under investigation by the FBI, but it has eroded some public confidence in her judgment and whether she can be trusted with making critical decisions as president. However, being potentially the first female president, she is supported by women’s groups.

As Clinton’s support fades, there are speculations that the vice president Joe Biden, who has sought presidency twice before, may decide to make a bid one more time. Whether it would be a wise decision is unclear. Many of his friends fear that at age 72, he may not have the stamina to go through a long drawn out campaign. He remains a popular figure in the country, and going through a presidential campaign, which is often brutal and unsparing, will expose him to partisan attacks. If he does not win, that may mar his legacy and reputation.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

The US is one of the most vibrant democracies in the world, but some disquieting developments have been threatening the basis of the democratic process. In a series of decisions, the US Supreme Court has removed all restrictions on the amount of political donations wealthy donors can make to individual candidates or political committees. The result is that now, a few billionaires with a political agenda of their own potentially have the power to sway the elections their way by heavily investing money in advertising for or against candidates.

The highly respected former president, Jimmy Carter, recently warned his countrymen that the “United States is now an ‘oligarchy’ in which unlimited political bribery has created a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.”

Americans can ignore his warning only at their peril.