Sometime in 2018, a well-regarded professor of politics in an American university told this writer he would not be surprised if President Donald Trump secured a second term in office. The economy was doing very well, and the economy has always been the top priority in American electoral decision. Quite a number of former presidents had failed to win reelection because of unfavourable economic circumstances. The global perception of Trump as an unorthodox American President made the suggestion of his possible reelection something of curious interest.
However, two critical events in the 2020 election year could be said to have conspired in putting an end to the highly controversial presidency of Donald Trump. The murder of George Floyd in May, by a brutal white policeman, galvanised the awareness and determination of African-Americans to a new reality. The Black Lives Matter sentiment earned global sympathy and its consequences for the November presidential election could hardly be underestimated. Trump did not manage the crisis that erupted in the aftermath of the police killing in a manner that would have suggested he was a president of all Americans, irrespective of race. The opposition exploited this, while the aggrieved African-Americans registered and voted massively than they had hitherto done even in the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
The second event is the invasion of our space by the coronavirus pandemic which has continued to claim lives all over the world. America has been one of the most badly hit nations, not least because of its population and seemingly nonchalant attitude of President Trump to the crisis. He tended to underestimate the deadliness of the disease by not prioritising the advice of medical experts. Even where he should have been seen to be leading by example, his antics trivialised the wearing of face masks as a protective cover for the spread of the disease. Rightly or wrongly, his opponents blamed him for tens of thousands of COVID-19 deaths.
Had the aforementioned events not come at the time they did, President Trump might still have managed to secure a second term in office. The opinion polls did not give him a chance, but his performance in the election, running President-elect Joe Biden very close, suggests it was a job not well-done by the pollsters. America has always been a divided nation along diverse sentiments.
The rise of Trump as a dominant figure in 21st American politics has been that of a character who has been able to exploit those divisions to political advantage. He has more or less become a cult figure to millions of Americans, especially those white Americans who claim to be superior to others.
When Trump sought and won the presidency in 2016, he was described as the most combative presidential candidate since Andrew Jackson, 1789-1797, and, uniquely the only president to have come into office without having held a previous political and military position. The latter attribute makes him an amateur that he proved to be in his management of private staff and relationship with politicians and political leaders worldwide. He hired and fired his staff like a businessman solely motivated by personal profit. In the words of Professor Richard Neustadt, “The Presidency is not a place for amateur. The type of expertise can hardly be acquired without deep experience in political office. The presidency is a place for men of politics but by no means is it a place for every politician.”
Of course, if one may add to the eloquent statement of Professor Neustadt, the presidency cannot be a place for men and women of untested character. The combative and aggressive nature of Trump infiltrated into the global arena where diplomacy suffered a major assault. He decided on countries whose nationals could come and those whose could not come into America and had to contend with challenges in the law courts by ideological and political opponents. His philosophy of America First which undoubtedly resonated with millions of Americans at home, meant America was gradually losing ground as the preeminent nation of the world it has been for many decades, and this to the delight of rival global powers.
Another aspect of his combative nature was his apparent unwillingness to strike a cordial relationship between his presidency and the press, relying on monotonous tweets for the conveyance of his messages. To be fair to Trump, the press seems to have always been antagonistic to his person.
Trump may have been the worst thing to have happened to the image of American democracy in recent memory. America is revered as one important nation of the world where the transfer of political power from one leader to another has hardly been problematic. Political contestants were known to have conceded defeat and congratulated their rivals even before the counting of votes was concluded. President Trump has proved to be a conspicuous exception to this beautiful aspect of American democracy. He continues to rant, without any authenticated proof, that his victory was stolen from him. He had made criminal and unconstitutional efforts to have votes overturned in his favour. The greatest show of shame in all of this was when his supporters stormed Capitol Hill, apparently with his endorsement and encouragement, to attempt to prevent the final ritual in the certification of the election of Joe Biden. The undemocratic leaders of the world will, for a very long time, justify their authoritarianism with what they saw in America.