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9 Sep, 2020 17:27

US democratic mechanisms are failing as there’s no national consensus; election will be contested & unrest will follow

US democratic mechanisms are failing as there’s no national consensus; election will be contested & unrest will follow

Key democratic institutions are losing people’s trust at a remarkable speed in the US, making it increasingly likely that the outcome of the 2020 election will be disputed and followed by a new wave of political instability.

A recent poll by USA Today reveals that 19 percent of Trump supporters and 28 percent of Biden supporters claim they will not accept a victory by the opponent. One hardly needs a crystal ball to predict that the Democrats will yell ‘voter suppression’ and ‘Russian interference’, while the Republicans will make accusations of ‘voting fraud’ and ‘Chinese interference’ – two months before the election has actually taken place.

These sentiments are actively fueled by political leaders. Trump has warned that the increasing use of votes by mail will lead to election fraud, an argument that can be interpreted as setting the stage for contesting an unfavorable election outcome. 

The Democrats are also seemingly preparing to reject an election loss. Hillary Clinton weighed in and advised: “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually, I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is.” 

Also on rt.com Trump & Biden election campaigns mirror CIA-style psyops US used abroad seeking regime change

This represents a natural continuation, as the strategy over the past four years has been to contest the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency instead of engaging in discussions about policy. 

In the opening statements in the impeachment trial against Trump, Democrat Representative Adam Schiff claimed: “The President’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.

The politicized media is also weighing in. The Washington Post argued that “every scenario except a Biden landslide” would result in constitutional crisis and violence. Mark Zuckerberg opined that Facebook and the media should prepare the American people for the prospect that they should wait perhaps for several weeks after the election before confirming the outcome. Others casually argue the military will have to intervene if Trump refuses to leave the White House in a contested election.

How did we get here? A strong sign that a political system is in decline is when the political opposition is referred to as an enemy. Political pluralism expresses itself as healthy democracy when there is the assumption that we are one people or community with common aspirations, although with different ideas how to better the collective self. When there is no longer a consensus about the identity and interests of the nation, the political opposition will likely be despised for attacking the core foundations that define society.

There is therefore a wide consensus among leading scholars that national unity is the precondition for democracy as political pluralism can merely instill instability when elites and society are not unified. National unity requires the majority of the population to have no reservations about what political community they belong to. The political consensus around core ideas is necessary to establish acceptable boundaries for political discourse and temper divisions. Without a national consensus and shared identity, there is no gravitational pull towards a political compromise at the center, and the polarization commences towards different imagined identities.

Observers of Russian politics often point to the fragmentation of national ideals as a source for a political culture that is deeply suspicious against political opposition. The common misunderstanding in the West has been to assume that every attack on politicians or media was a great conspiracy with central decision making, rather than originating from the social inexperience with political opposition. 

However, there are reasons for optimism as a growing national consensus results in political opponents increasingly viewed as legitimate opposition rather than enemies. Still far from perfect, but at least Russia is moving in the right direction.

In the US, but also the broader West, there has been a much longer history and stronger culture for political pluralism. Yet development appears to be going in the opposite direction. Obvious red flags were, for example, when David Cameron denounced Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the opposition in the UK, as a “threat to national security” in 2015. 

In the US, the culture regarding political opposition has deteriorated at a much greater speed, where the two political parties accuse each other with ever-greater frequency of treason and for destroying the most sacred values and ideals of society.

The ability to find a middle-road appears bleak, as Biden’s main election message in the 2020 election is that he is not Trump, while Trump similarly cautions that Biden will destroy America. The political discourse focuses not on policy disagreement, but on saving the soul of the nation from the nefarious opposition that seeks to corrupt it. All aspects of society are subsequently politicized.

The key institutions in a democracy are losing their legitimacy as people do not trust the media, politicians, and now doubt the ability to hold fair elections as each side accuses the other of planning to rig the election or not accept the outcome. The national consensus is fragmenting, which expresses itself in the failure of democratic mechanisms and rise in political radicalism.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.