How American democracy works
In contrast with the protests that erupted in major US cities after Donald Trump’s election, I recall how it was when George W. Bush won the US presidency in 2000. Working then in Berkeley, California, I noted gloomy reactions among folks of that liberal city. But there was an underlying civility which didn’t burst into noisy protests, as has happened over the Trump victory.
In 2000 the standoff between Bush and Al Gore lasted for some days, when the US Supreme Court ordered a preliminary halt to the Florida canvassing. Thousands were furious at the injustice toward Gore (who won the popular vote) because the irregularities gave Bush the lead. The recount, which was done manually, was ordered because of glitches in the new voting machines. It was a suspenseful time, with legal experts defending Bush and Gore supporters accusing Florida officials of disenfranchising black voters in some counties.
After extended deliberations by the divided Supreme Court, Gore conceded as a prolonged delay would have torn the nation apart. The result was a general acceptance, amid grumbling on one side and jubilation on the other. The controversy lingers today. Some speculate that if the knowledgeable Gore had won, instead of the political tyro Bush (whose main qualification was his link with a Texas dynasty), there might not have been the fiasco over Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, the financial crisis and others.
I was living in Hong Kong when Barack Obama won the US presidency in 2008, and the general jubilation, not just in America but around the world, was thrilling. Although some Americans derided Sweden’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama, the act was generally hailed. This, despite his not having accomplished much yet (besides becoming the first elected black president of the United States), the reason for which the prize is granted. He inspired countless people with his intelligence, eloquence and grace, after the sorry Bush years, and made us feel it was a well-deserved award.
The racism toward Obama is different from the hatred for President John F. Kennedy, which ended with his assassination in 1963. A number of Americans were leery of JFK because he was Catholic; they feared he’d act according to his religion on vital issues like birth control. But he firmly declared he believed in the US constitution which mandates the separation of church and state.
My husband, since deceased, was then with The Associated Press in Bangkok, and I recall seeing the shocking report in his office wires of cheering that erupted in a school in Texas when Kennedy was killed.
Analyses of Trump’s victory include the fact that US demographics have changed drastically. White people are gradually being eclipsed by immigrants from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, fueling much resentment. The economy, which Obama inherited from Bush, has also been wrongly blamed on his watch and thought to continue if Hillary Clinton were elected. Criticisms of her were used to whip up support for Trump.
Like our President Duterte’s use of foul language, demeaning of women, threats to kill miscreants, and insults toward the West, Trump’s personal nastiness has made no difference to his fans. That he has been thrice married, insults women, knows little about the outside world, and has refused to show his tax returns, also lost him no fans.
Social media during Obama’s campaign was even more weaponized during Trump’s. It succeeded in penetrating the electorate, stoking grievances toward the establishment and promoting hatred toward Clinton. By shunning her, Americans missed their chance to have their first female president who has vast experience and knowledge of the world. Much of the opposition showed pure misogyny.
Someone has quipped that a test of genuine American democracy would be if a disabled black Jewish woman were elected president.
But has the American dream turned into a nightmare? Seeing that many still want to emigrate to that country, it seems not.
Isabel T. Escoda, who used to write from Hong Kong, has three books on Filipino women migrant workers. She now lives in Cebu.
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