Those who watched this week’s Presidential debate would have had to listen hard to believe they were watching an American Presidential Debate and not a backwater debate from some backwater country. The absence of decorum was embarrassing.
One of the two contestants came to fight dirty. He succeeded. The other wanted to rise above the fray. He did not succeed. At the end, both got muddied. Yet, one of the two will be the American President for the next four years.
Americans in the main go to the polls on November 3 which is roughly a month from today. I used the term ‘in the main’ advisedly because voting has already started in some states through either absentee or mail-in ballot system. This system allows Americans to exercise their franchise at their convenience wherever they may be. Using technology to push frontiers has always been the American way. It is a sign of the times in America that what had been taken as ‘a given’ in the past has now suddenly become contentious. A country that is home to IT; a country that virtually created the virtual world – excuse what looks like tautology – is pushing for a physical presence of voters at the polling units during this Covid 19 era!
This is not the only thing that raises an eyebrow about the forthcoming election. The way the whole election is unfolding raises concern. First, we have to look at things in context. America is not the oldest democracy. It is not the largest. It is however the most forceful proponent of democracy. America has always espoused the virtues of democracy to the world, often punishing countries for what it sees as lack of democratic governance.
Nigerians have lost count of how many times America has either urged us or warned us whenever we seem to deviate from the democratic path. And to be fair, America had stood up stoutly as the bastion of democracy. Americans had stood up as individuals and as a collective, to defend the tenets of their democracy. I was just getting into journalism when the Watergate broke. I was awed about the role the press played, especially those two courageous journalists who risked so much to expose the President.
It made me proud of the profession I was getting into. I admired the role Washington Post played even more after I read in the memoirs of its publisher where she recounted the pressures she went through from the presidency at the time. I also admired the President’s men who would rather be fired than acquiesce to the dictates of their boss. For the records, Nixon himself had defended democracy when he refused to contest the outcome of a tight election that could have gone either way. So had Al Gore. So had Hillary Clinton. So in always respecting its electoral cycle, America has earned its democratic stripes. In always accepting the outcome of its election no matter how contentious, America has earned the right to pontificate.
But what worries me as an outsider looking in and as admirer of many things America, is what seems to be an unmasking of America. Or put more brutally, the skinning and laying bare of America. The shearing of that lovely wool which the rest of the world has admired over the years. It is the wool of democratic governance. And the wool of that alluring intangible which America has adorned over time called the ‘American dream’.
American government runs on three tiers. Or four if you count the press. These tiers warehouse the checks and balances which protect governance and by extension, the American people. As powerful as the Office of the President of the US (PROTUS) is, these tiers are designed to prevent dictatorship and demagoguery.
And the constitution, strengthened by several amendments, gives bite and relevance to these tiers. Then there is the American dream. The notion that any son of an immigrant can rise to any height in America, including the Presidency as exemplified by Barak Obama.
It represents an ideal of a truly egalitarian society. These two pillars which America presents to the world have been burnished into a shining metal. But it is all proving to be a sepulchral whitewash. The pillars are crumbling before the eyes of the world.