Prothom Alo illustration
Prothom Alo illustration

There has been no dearth of villains down the annals of history, but there are a few names that have become synonyms of villainy. Halaku Khan, for example, is a symbol of mediaeval barbarity. In modern times, Hitler and Mussolini are synonymous with fascism and then later came along Chile's Pinochet and Romania's Ceausescu.

And in contemporary times, the popular metaphor for such villainy was Zimbabwe's Mugabe. This leader, just for his personal interests, had ruined the potential of an entire nation. There was nothing to which he did not resort simply to remain in power. After the US elections, people compared Donald Trump to Mugabe because of his erratic behaviour. This comparison was drawn up not only by Democrats, but also by people like the Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power. There are some analysts, though, who these comparisons as a reflection of American's sense of supremacy and question the mindsets and mentalities of people in a country where leaders like Trump gain popularity.

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The heads of government of a few other unfortunate African, Asian and Latin American countries are also being compared to Donald Trump. In those countries it is too dangerous to draw direct comparisons, so they just say that Trump's behaviour "is like that of our politicians."

He may not have accepted the election results, but he is still having to take the preparatory steps to hand over power. In a true democracy, the individual is negligible next to the state

With no evidence at all, Trump has been alleging that the election was rigged. He refuses to accept the results and is pulling out all the stops in his attempt to overturn the election results. He is filing cases in various states and has threatened to go to the Supreme Court. Such behaviour is unprecedented in the US. Many observe his unbelievable activities and try to console themselves by saying, "Trump is like our politicians!" But that is just one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin is that Trump's efforts have failed so far and will certainly end in ultimate failure too. That is because of America's system and the foundation of their institutional democracy. Trump's DNA may be like that of a lot of leaders in this world, but the US state system is not like ours. Over there, each institution functions independently and with dignity. Even a sitting president cannot overturn this.

In this election, Trump scored more votes than any other American president in the past. He secured around 10 million more votes than he did in the last election which he won. There are several Republican senators and leaders, a few ministers and the federal attorney general who back Trump's claims of election fraud. The court has judges whom he appointed and who are openly Republican. Even so, he has been unable to overturn the results anywhere. He has been unable to even come anywhere near to doing so.

He may not have accepted the election results, but he is still having to take the preparatory steps to hand over power. In a true democracy, the individual is negligible next to the state.

Trump had left no stone unturned to question the election. He had proposed to postpone the election, he allowed COVID transmission and racial clashes to exacerbate in order to curb voter turnout and also tried to cancel, restrict and question postal ballots.

After the election he tried to get votes recounted in certain 'battleground' states and filed cases too. But recounting made no difference and there is no possibility of any difference coming about. In the history of America, there is hardly any instance of differences being made by vote recounts. In the two instances that this did occur (the 2008 Senate election in Minnesota and the 2004 Washington governor election), the difference in votes before the recount was less than 500. But the narrowest margin between Trump and Biden in this election was around 12,000 votes in Georgia. But as there is no chance of the recount overturning the results, the results have been certified in this Republican-run state.

Many may be finding similarities between Trump's politics and ours. But at the same time, we must also keep in mind the strength, dignity and responsibility of the institutions over there
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Trump lost the cases in various states on significant points. The judge in Pennsylvania, of his party camp, dismissed his case with a severe reprimand. And then the senator of his party there appealed to him to accept the election results.

When Amy Coney Barrett was appointed to the Supreme Court, the Republicans gained a 6-3 majority. But no one, not even Trump, imagined that these judges would overturn the mandate of the people to ensure Trump's victory. There are certain controversies regarding the US judiciary, but it does not have any such precedent of standing nakedly against public mandate.

What Trump may do now is try to exert his influence in the states where Biden won by a narrow margin and where the Republicans are the majority in the legislature. He may use the state legislature to cancel the people's mandate and snatch the results of the 14 December electoral vote in this manner. He has tried to do so already in Michigan. But two Republican legislators there, even after meeting him, have said that they will not go outside of the law.

Such an unbelievable move is not likely to happen in any other state either. Personal avarice cannot destroy an institution there, and certainly not when it comes to such an important matter as the national election.

We all have seen what Trump has been doing and what is happening in his country. But perhaps we fail to see what has not happened in his country. The voters in Trump's country were not prevented from going to the polling centres nor were his opposition polling agents thrust out of the centres. The police were not used to attack the opposition or file cases against them. It was not possible to use the administration, the court or the election system in the interests of an individual or a party. The voting did not begin even a minute before the election, no one openly stuffed the ballot boxes and the media there was not gagged.

Each and every institution of state there functioned in keeping with the law. Their loyalty to Trump as a person or any other enticement could not deter them from their duty. It hasn't been heard that anyone tried to undertake such disastrous efforts. Individual or vested interests could not overpower the institutions of the state.

Many may be finding similarities between Trump's politics and ours. But at the same time, we must also keep in mind the strength, dignity and responsibility of the institutions over there.

* Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University. This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir