America's democracy trumped?

Douglas Gibson writes on the electoral horror show that is the contest for the Republican nomination

Lessons from America?

I am one of those people who believe the world would be immeasurably poorer without the United States of America. Speaking generally, the USA is a force for good and one can only imagine what it would be like if one of the other aspiring world powers took America’s place.

Perhaps this is why the nomination process for candidates for the presidency provides endless entertainment and interest to much of the rest of the world. In the past, I was serving the voters, the taxpayers or my law office clients and did not have the time to pay as much attention to this fascinating battle as I can now.

It is transfixing to see the candidates of the major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, taking each other head on as they seek to win the favour of caucuses and primary election voters. Few countries engage in such a public, drawn-out battle aimed at determining the strongest and most acceptable – and electable – candidate for their party. This is surely a lesson in democracy that could be followed in many other countries; or not, judging by the juvenility and vulgarity of the latest TV debate.

By the time a candidate wins nomination, there is proof that he or she has the toughness and the stamina for this immensely taxing business of fighting an election.

No one who is ill or is weakened because of some undisclosed condition could stand the pace.

No personal secret is likely to remain a secret under the relentless scrutiny of the media, of opponents and of the other party.

Every aspirant’s public and private record will have been examined and any foolishness, any damaging conduct or questionable opinion or action, no matter how long before, will have been exposed to the full glare of publicity and public opinion.

Given this crushing load, it is perhaps surprising that so many still seek to be their party’s nominee to assume the most powerful office in the world.

Aspirants for the leadership of the two parties have rewritten the history books. It was commonly thought that the word “socialist” was anathema to America and no one of any consequence in the States could ever describe himself as a socialist and be a viable candidate.

The unlikely darling of young, liberal America, seventy-four year old Bernie Sanders does just that, giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money, making the path to the nomination immeasurably more difficult for her. Always with flexible views on many issues, Mrs Clinton has had to tack to the left to take account of the millions who find Sanders’s political views fresh and exciting.

Whatever happens in the weeks and months of primary elections and campaigning, Sanders will not win the candidature of the Democratic Party but he has converted his marginalised views to relative mainstream respectability.

The Republican Party, known as the GOP (Grand Old Party), is in a right old mess. The front-runner by a mile is the ghastly Donald Trump, multi-millionaire property developer, casino-owner and star of the TV reality show, “The Apprentice.” Trump has proved in this campaign that a candidate can say anything, no matter how rash, ill considered, ignorant and rude and get away with it.

His millions of supporters like him because he “tells it like it is.” Many overlook the fact that actually, he often tells it like it isn’t.

His view of South Africa, as a potential leader of the world, is as follows, “As I have long been saying, South Africa is a total - and very dangerous mess.” We who live here and some of us who have spent two generations fighting to establish a democracy here know all the things wrong with our country and its politics; but describing it in those terms merely shows the ignorance and the superficiality of the man.

Muslims? He wants to ban them from entering America.

His view of Mexicans and of South Americans? “They’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

That may be Trump’s view, justifying his promise to build a wall between Mexico and the USA and make Mexico pay for it. He seems unaware that 55 million people of Hispanic origin live in America, 64 per cent of whom are of Mexican origin. 1.2 million Hispanic Americans are veterans of the US armed forces. 4.2 million have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 1.3 million have advanced degrees like master’s, professional qualifications or doctorates.

Most outsiders simply cannot credit that Mr Trump is being taken seriously as the candidate of the Republican Party with a real chance of beating Mrs Clinton and becoming the president. The line-up against him is not very inspiring but GOP voters might yet coalesce around either Senator Ted Cruz, or more likely, Senator Marco Rubio, if he survives the primary election in his home state, Florida. (Both of them are Hispanic Americans).

Mitt Romney, who was beaten by Barack Obama four years ago, weighed into the contest recently. Romney is still respected by many Americans who believe that he would have made a good president. At least he looks presidential and knows how to behave. He advised the voters to have nothing to do with Donald Trump. Describing him as a “phony, a fraud,” he went on to say that Trump is “playing the American people for suckers.” The American system is nothing if not robust.

The rest of the world will watch the nominating primaries with varying degrees of approval, disapproval or horror, but one thing is certain: whoever emerges from this battle will have earned the right to contest the election. If I were to vote now, I would hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton, but let’s suspend that decision, as American voters will have to do, until the nomination battle is over and the election campaign proper begins.

Douglas Gibson is a former Opposition Chief Whip and a former ambassador to Thailand

This article first appeared in The Star.