Finance: Research, Policy and Anecdotes

Undermining democracy in the US

The last two weeks have seen a sad political spectacle in the US, where an incumbent president who fairly and squarely lost his bid for re-election, is refusing to accept the results.  One might see this as just the last political chapter of a deranged Donald Trump who has never allowed to get reality in his way. Rudy Giuliani’s press conferences in front of a garden centre and in an overheated room (with his hair dye dripping down his face) will serve as material for Saturday night shows for years to come.  It is clear that the legal path through courts is close to failure.  But there is a much more sinister side to Trump’s attempt to overthrow the democratic verdict.  His attempts to openly pressure Republican legislators and state officials into setting aside legally cast votes and overturn popular majorities in their respective states is as close to a coup that the US has come over the past decades. And as much as one appreciates the few Republicans that are doing the obvious – recognising and congratulating Joe Biden as president-elect – the more worrisome is the fact that most Republican leaders are either silent or openly support Donald Trump in his attempt to overthrow the electoral verdict. It has become clear that the Republican party has taken yet another step towards turning itself into an authoritarian caudillo-type support group for one man.

 

It has also become clear over the past two weeks that these attempts to overthrow the electoral decision will almost certainly fail.  So, chapter closed, heal the nation and move forward?  As much as one can wish for that, I do not think that this will happen.  To the contrary, even if he fails to overthrow the results of the election, Donald Trump and his henchmen will have cast sufficient doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency  - at least in the mind of a large minority of the US population. And that is where the danger for the republic stands.

 

I am aware that it is easy to reject history lessons by Germans for today’s political situation in the US, but there is a dangerous parallel to post-WW I Germany history.  It was the German military leadership who requested on 29 September 1918 that a new democratically legitimised government negotiate a cease fire with the Allied forces, given that German troops were facing defeat. At the same time, the centre-left parties, unions and Jewish groups were blamed for this defeat by having undermined the home support for the successful German troops. This stab-in-the-back myth has been debunked extensively, but was successfully used by conservative groups and parties and – most prominently – by Hitler’s Nazi party to delegitimise centre and centre-left parties that participated in most of the short-lived governments  of the Weimar Republic and ultimately the Weimar Republic itself. It served as justification for more than 300 murders by the terrorist group Organisation Consul.

 

If one considers the infamous (hair dye) conference, there are scary parallels to the stab-in-the back myth – in the case of the US elections, it seemed to have been Venezuelan and Cuban communists, George Soros (the inevitable anti-Semitic link) and “lock-her-up” Hillary Clinton (how could she not be involved?) who are responsible for the election outcome. And Donald Trump’s landslide win (according to his lawyers) resembles the undefeated German troops in 1918.

 

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” Mark Twain is reputed to have said. The risk is not that Donald Trump and his henchmen will be able to overthrow the results of a democratic election, but that they manage to undermine the legitimacy of democratic elections themselves.