Lessons from American midterm elections
In the aftermath of the November 6 midterm elections in the United States of America, which placed the House of Representatives in the hands of the Democratic Party and left the Senate under Republican control, it is germane to examine the entire process and distil whatever lessons there are for our nascent democracy.
At issue in the election was the very soul of American ideals. Should America keep its doors open to forces of liberalism, which the Republicans argue are contaminating the founding spirit of the nation? On the other hand, does shutting the doors of America to the world not contradict the very basis of the American nation? Should a nation founded by immigrants shut its doors to immigrants in search of a better life?
President Donald Trump appeared an unlikely hero until he technically won the presidential election in 2015. He ran as a populist demagogue in a country that was founded on deep idealism, a country that has often been portrayed as a light set on a hill. Trump won the Electoral College votes while his greatest rival, Hilary Clinton got the popular vote by a wide margin. Since then he has continued to pursue policies that have caused deep divisions in America and across the world. Those who love him do so with a passion. His agenda therefore appears to have split America down the middle. The spirit of extreme nationalism, which Trump stands for, has also stoked feelings of racism at the expense of the minorities, including the Blacks and Latinos.
Trump has been stridently against mass migration of disadvantaged peoples and free and unfettered trade. He has repudiated trade agreements with allies, terminated the agreement collectively reached with Iran, warmed up to traditional American foes, moved the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while creating an atmosphere that makes anti-Semitism thrive at home; he has also demonised the Democratic Party and the media. He is like no other American president in modern history. It was against this background that the American nation went into the midterm elections. Thus the election was a report card on the two-year old administration of Donald Trump.
The Republicans kept control of the Senate, gaining some extra seats in the process. At last count, the results were 51 to 46 in favour of the GOP. They lost the House with 197 seats to the 223 by the Democrats who have vowed to restore their oversight functions as a way of curbing the excesses of the incumbent President. Trump must now learn how to deal with a House controlled by the opposition party. In all, the American people have spoken. Trump himself has declared that it is time to unite the country. No doubt his rhetoric has been bitterly divisive, a point he has expressed regrets about. Combative at all times without any attempts at compromise; the world has watched aghast as America under Trump has gradually become a friend of the foe and foe to friends.
Indeed, there are some sobering lessons for us at this time. The pre-election period was tense; yet we did not witness defections or the notorious carpet-crossing among politicians. Party stalwarts stood by their leader because he had been elected freely by the electorate. Although some disagreed with the tactics of the president they did so with restraint and on point of principle. There were intense debates across the country on core issues. The press was on top of the political situation in spite of the bashing the media received from President Trump. In areas where the president was unpopular we did not witness contestants suddenly crossing to the other party to win an election. Principles we dare say win the day in any polity that is worth its salt.
In all of this, the people have counted a great deal. Politicians campaigned on issues, local or otherwise. The two dominant parties did not attempt to impose candidates on the electorate. The election process though not perfect allowed early voting and an early release of results. The level of technology deployed to elections made it appear seamless. There was no visible national election body charged with conducting elections and announcing results. The bodies are there but muted for there is a system that works through the rule of law and democratic culture. Each county or state government took charge of elections within their domain. This was real federalism at play. It is an ideal to which the free world must strive. The integrity of the entire process was also the concern of all.
Through nearly 250 years of democratic governance electioneering has become institutionalised. It is true that some states have been accused of disenfranchising minorities through the so-called ‘gerrymandering,’ a process, which denies voting access to some minorities. In the spirit of freedom, justice and equity this has been challenged in law courts in some cases. If America must continue to lead the world, its processes must be open, fair and transparent to all.
The Democratic Party will now be obliged and emboldened to exercise oversight functions, which had been near impossible when the Republicans controlled both chambers of the Congress. This new regime will force Trump into developing a bipartisan approach to legislation. Although the office of the president is constitutionally endowed with enormous powers he must subject himself to the people through Congress as their elected representatives. No president is bigger than the people that the very influential Congress represents.
What is more didactic, in a democratic country, one voice does not say it all. A thousand ideas may be expressed by the different contending forces. Yet the majority would have its way. And the institutions must be allowed to function. Men of character must stand up at all times to be counted when it matters. Rigging an election should be an anathema and a thing of the past, in the circumstances.
Therefore, elections in Nigeria too should be technology-driven to minimise human infraction. Money politics is destructive and can never help to build democracy. The people should learn to protect their ballot. Politicians should think Nigeria and remember that there is a future. That future can only be guaranteed if the leaders create an atmosphere of prosperity, justice, equity, fairness and rule of law.
No doubt, the United States mid-term election results prove the triumph of the people power. The point, which has ultimately been made, is that both political parties are fundamentally interested in the welfare of the people. They differ in their methods, approaches and ideologies. Nigerian politicians should, in this regard, put service above personal interest. No nation has ever realised its full economic and political potentials when self-interest is placed above the overall security and survival of the collective. That is another message of inspiration from America, where democracy is still being nurtured as one of their leaders once defined it as, ‘government of the people by the people and for the people.’
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