Wednesday 16 October 2019

Ishaan Tharoor: 'Impeachment struggle part of a global crisis for democracy'

Conspiracy theory: Donald Trump Jr and his ex-wife Vanessa. Photo: Reuters
Conspiracy theory: Donald Trump Jr and his ex-wife Vanessa. Photo: Reuters

Ishaan Tharoor

Donald Trump is cornered and lashing out. Just this week, he has demanded the arrest of political rivals, raged about a "coup" against him and kept firing his incessant fusillades at the "corrupt" and "fake" press.

Trump sees the impending congressional impeachment inquiry as a "hoax"; most sober analysts believe House Democrats now have a clear-cut case to prove the president's abuse of power, as evidence of Trump seeking to pressure a foreign government into giving him dirt on a domestic opponent keeps piling up.

On Thursday, in front of cameras and reporters on the White House lawn, he openly called on governments in Ukraine and China to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family.

But Trump may hope the atmospherics of the showdown - rather than the facts - are still in his favour.

Backed by the right-wing media, Trump intends to hunker down in America's polarised battlefield and fight for his survival, even if that means dragging the country's institutions into the morass.

The bulk of Republican politicians remain too afraid to turn against him, while administration officials and federal bureaucrats see their personal fate tethered to his moods.

"The implicit day-to-day charge for many Trump advisers is simple," reported my colleagues at the White House. "Figure out how to handle or even polish Trump's whims and statements, but do not have any illusion that you can temper his relentless personality, heavy consumption of cable news or thirst for political combat."

Trump's disregard for long-standing norms leaves US politics in a somewhat unfamiliar place.

"Authoritarian regimes have this problem all the time ... when all government activity is the product of the id of the leader," Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, said. "But in a republic, that's unusual."

If there is a central theme to the age of Trump, it's precisely that: What was unusual in sophisticated republican democracies is becoming increasingly commonplace.

And not just in the United States. The impeachment saga convulsing Washington - where an embattled leader is calling into question the very legitimacy of those opponents challenging his conduct - has, to a certain extent, analogues elsewhere.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, complained of a "witch hunt" launched by his rivals as the country's attorney general pursues possible corruption charges against him.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who came to power via the votes of a fraction of a fraction of the public - smeared MPs thwarting Brexit as agents of "surrender" and "betrayal".

On both sides of the pond, talk of 'deep state' conspiracy theories is rife, often with an all-too-familiar undertone.

Donald Trump Jr, the president's son, laid the impeachment inquiry at the feet of Jewish financier George Soros - whose support of liberal causes over the years has made him a frequent target of anti-Semites and nativists.

On Thursday, Jacob Rees-Mogg, current leader of the House of Commons, conspiratorially cited Soros as a supposed enemy of Brexit and backer of its British opponents. The remarks led to calls from Jewish politicians in Britain for Rees-Mogg to resign.

There are immediate consequences to such demagoguery, not least in the form of far-right terrorist attacks and violence carried out by people inflamed by this sort of rhetoric.

But there's also a long-term toll, one that's more imperceptible, yet no less corrosive, to the body politic.

It's the kind of erosion on display in places such as Hungary, Poland and Turkey, where majoritarian, nationalist politicians have steadily undermined democratic institutions and liberal norms.

"The death of democracy is now typically administered in a thousand cuts," wrote the Stanford political scientist Larry Diamond earlier this year.

You don't need to look further than Trump's Twitter timeline. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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