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US democracy resilient, will survive onslaught: Experts

WorldUS democracy resilient, will survive onslaught: Experts

Andersen feels that media polls and surveys stating ‘US democracy as fragile and insecure’ are negative public statements.

The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President will go down in American politics as the “breaking point of its national democracy”. President Biden’s choppy journey to the White House, at times turned even stormy. What happened on 6 January for which most of America now “rightly” accuses President Donald Trump of “bringing American democracy to the brink and its lowest status”, doesn’t need more words. But as Biden settles down, he may have realised already that the “most powerful man in the world” tag has come with irreparable damage to American democracy. The list of challenges is unending—a divided America, polarized political environment, fractured social fabric with racial tensions boiling and white supremacy, as President Biden calls it, threatening to turn ugly, not to miss the challenges of restoring public faith in handling the corona crisis and slowdown and the fast rising American death count.
Facing its worse “internal security threat ever”, the FBI and security agencies posted more National Security Guards at the inauguration than in the war zones together where America is currently engaged. It may not have passed many minds that some National Security Guards will be taken off inauguration duty because for their “alleged involvement in the riots”.
The new President and American democracy face the threat and a litmus test for their survival. While the polls and democracy groups are bringing the narrative of “democracy under threat” in the wider public discourse, political scientists and diplomatic experts are, in fact, positive about the “resilience inherent in American democracy”.
Professor Walter Andersen, a former diplomat and South Asia expert in Johns Hopkins University, is optimistic despite the “siege of the Capitol”. He says: “I do not see any real danger to the democratic system in the US. The institutions that sustain a democratic order like a free press, independent political parties and an independent judicial system remain strong as always. Moreover, the US is a federal system in which the states could restrain efforts to assert excessive federal power. During war, the central government has asserted powers which people at the time felt could threaten democracy (such as withdrawal of the writ of habeas corpus during the US Civil War), but these special powers were withdrawn at the conclusion of the war.”
Elaborating his point Andersen says: “War crises however probably remain the major threat to democracy. Donald Trump took actions which many saw as threatening to democracy, but the negative reaction to them was vehement. Political legitimacy in the US depends on adhering to democratic norms and there is resort to courts and the legislative branch if the executive takes actions which are judged as threatening. The three branches of the federal government (executive, judicial and legislative) are each very sensitive to any effort to undermine their powers.”
Echoing Andersen, another expert on political affairs and Director in Hudson Institute, Dr Aparna Pande is confident that American democracy has the strength to survive and it has “indeed bounced back.” Pande says: “Democracy is fragile and the price of democracy is constant vigilance, strengthening institutions, and renewing the faith in the democratic process. Democracies the world over are facing challenges, the United States is no different. While many Americans and others around the world were shocked by what they saw for a few hours on 6 January, they should also have been relieved by what they saw right after—the refusal by American leaders to allow any violent attempt to prevent them from completing their constitutional duties. And two weeks later on 20 January, there was a display of bipartisan support for President Joe Biden, expressing their solidarity and support.”
Andersen feels the media polls and surveys stating “US democracy as fragile and insecure” as negative public statements. “The recent elections where the Democrats replaced Trump and that transition was accepted as legitimate by the vast majority. No doubt that the country is divided politically, but there is also a general agreement that the foundations of the democratic system, including the press, must be sustained.”
Pande sees a hope in how the FBI is taking out “loose cannons and possible threats out of the security duty”. Pande says: “I am not someone who sees this as a real threat to US democracy. Every democracy faces challenges but the US has shown that even if there may have been fraying at the edges, the oldest democracy has built institutions—from the media to the judiciary to the legislature, both at the federal and local levels—that have the ability to withstand such attempts. The immediacy and urgency with which the FBI and other national security personnel are locating the people who were involved in the riots also shows that the system still works.”
But there are challenges still and the new President cannot afford to bypass without addressing, the “subtle white nationalism”. It surely has crept into US politics and social fabric, which is also turning the security heat on immigrants like Indian Americans, who are currently in media spotlight for having a lion’s share in the new administration and their fast growing political and economic influence.
On asked if there is growing racial and social pressures in the US, Andersen agrees, but cautions not to read more into “why so many supported Trump in elections”. He says: “Racial and social tensions are natural in any large system where there are major social shifts. And part of the reason for the shifts in society is the greater wealth, influence and education of groups rising in the system. On example of race, while there is admittedly much to do, there have been some very significant gains over the past few decades. These divisions moreover do not threaten the foundations of the US political order. About 75 million people who voted for Trump are not enthusiastic about a Biden presidency, but they overwhelmingly have accepted Biden as the legitimate President. Case in point was the strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats at the crowd that broke into the Capitol Building.”
Andersen also plays down the “white nationalism threat” saying it is an ambiguous term. “Intermarriage among races in America is increasing significantly, a sure sign that race is becoming less relevant. My own wife is an Indian and our son identifies himself as a middle class ‘American’ who just happens to be of a multiracial background. In fact, I would argue that there has been a long-term move away from race as a form of identity—and that is so because of significantly increased mobility, education and wealth among all racial groups in the US,” says Andersen.
The diplomat-turned-JHU professor also credits Biden’s “vast political experience” as crucial to bridge the racial divide and heal social tensions. “Biden has been an elected representative in Washington for almost five decades and I am confident he knows how to handle the pressures that are on any President. One of Trump’s problems is that he had so little governing experience that he often said/acted inappropriately to situations.”
But many are still playing the guessing game on if the Biden-Trump political war is finally over. Perhaps their speculation is more from the buzz about Trump forming a new political party, something unheard of in American democracy. In all probability, Trump will remain a player, but the question is whether he will be the sole player or even the leader of the Republican opposition now that he is out of power.
Andersen says: “Trump has hinted at the formation of a new party. However, our political system works against third parties and he would almost certainly lose political influence by cutting himself off from the Republican Party. The longer he is out of power, the more his influence will decline—unless the Democrats seek to exclude him from a political role and that could generate a backlash of discontented, who will see him as a symbol of opposition. The smart thing is to forget him and in all likelihood, the US will retain a two-party system.”
Undoubtedly, the US is witnessing its biggest political churning ever, except what it witnessed in the pre-Civil War period of 1840-1860. But as says Andersen: “As long as there are opportunities, people don’t want to destroy the system which benefits them

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