The battle on the ballot - GulfToday

The battle on the ballot

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Trump’s latest destructive objective is to sabotage postal voting during the covid pandemic when polling booth voting can be dangerous.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party are presiding over the systematic “Lebanonization” of the US by promoting unsuitable people to key jobs on the basis of their loyalty to him and dismantling key state institutions.

Lebanon once had respectable institutions and politicians who tried to serve the interests of the country despite its division along sectarian lines. The civil war and its aftermath finished off both Lebanon’s institutions and altered the makeup of its political elite. The current ruling clique — which includes children and grandchildren of the post-independence generation as well as newcomers — has been mired in corruption and mismanagement at all levels. The focus of elite members is “me first” and, indeed, for many “me only.” Like Trump.

The “me-first-me-only” game played with lies and distortions has in the US resulted in Lebanese-style mismanagement and corruption. Now that the US presidential race has entered its final phase with the formal nominations of Trump and his Democratic party rival Joe Biden, Trump’s lies and distortions have begun to multiply. While Biden will attempt to expose them, he will also have to successfully tout a plan for reverting to the pre-Trump era and building better institutions.

The Democrats should but may not have been given a boost by major developments which should but may not give voters pause over casting ballots for Trump. The first development is the indictment for fraud and money laundering of former Trump campaign manager and White House chief aide Steve Bannon.

He and two associates launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise private funds to build sections of Trump’s promised wall on the border with Mexico but filched hundreds of thousands of the millions donated. During his 2016 campaign Trump pledged to appoint “the very best people” to key positions in his administration. Instead, he has chosen billionaires intent on benefitting and dodgy figures. Bannon is the sixth to be indicted.

Trump has also followed the Lebanese pattern of elevating to top jobs men and women who do his bidding which, in some cases, has meant running down institutions they have been chosen to run. Among these are agencies battling climate change, regulating polluters, and protecting consumers from rapacious firms producing harmful products. He has recently accused the federal Food and Drugs Administration of blocking enrolment in clinical trials for corona vaccines and therapeutics and is stepping up attacks on scientists who do not subscribe to his fantasies about Covid-19.

Trump’s latest destructive intervention has been in the operations of one of the United States’ oldest institutions, the Post Office, established as an  independent organisation in 1775 by Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the republic. Trump’s objective is to sabotage postal voting during the covid pandemic when polling booth voting can be dangerous.

Trump rightly or wrongly believes that more Democrats favour postal balloting than Republicans. This effort, more than any other of his destructive actions, has generated a massive backlash which has compelled Trump’s Post Master appointee Louis Dejoy to halt the process of removing express sorting machines from post offices and post boxes from neighbourhoods and cutting postal employees’ hours of work at a time the post office has been especially busy due to the pandemic when citizens seek to minimise risk of infection by shunning malls, pharmacies and shops. Many receive pension cheques and medical supplies and pay bills by post.

During his 2016 and 2020 campaigns and his time in office, Trump has relied on deep divisions within US society equivalent to sectarian divisions in Lebanon. He has adopted policies which appeal to White underdogs and conservatives who feel threatened by rising Black and Brown minorities and resentful of the educated elite which, under former President Barack Obama, and predecessors has played the major role in running the country. Trump has used this approach to capture the Republican Party, turn it into a vehicle for right-wing radicals, and threaten Republican dissidents with excommunication of they do not follow his lead. Under earlier presidents, policies were often decided by bipartisan negotiations and compromise. Today Trump achieves his ends through diktat by issuing executive orders.

Throughout his three year-plus reign, Trump has blurred the lines between the executive, on one hand, and the legislature and judiciary, on the other, interfering with the checks-and-balances which are designed to prevent the US from descending into autocracy. He has torn down its very foundations as the Lebanese elite has destroyed the foundations of Lebanon.

Trump has withdrawn the US from major international climate change and commercial agreements, alienated Nato allies, waged a trade war with China, and intervened negatively in this region. Trump has not made “American great” again but weakened its global standing.

Many Lebanese and US citizens regard their self-centred leaders themselves as serious threats to their countries. During interviews in 2018 and 2019, Trump’s elder sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a former federal judge, told her niece Mary Trump that Donald “has no principles” and “you can’t trust him.” She said he is not only “phoney” but also “cruel.” Mary Trump secretly recorded the words of her aunt and only published them a week ago.

During last week’s virtual convention Democratic candidate Biden appealed to voters as a decent man with an open record of achievements and failings who seeks to guide the US back to normalcy if Trump is defeated in the November election. He has promised to return to bipartisan politics and repair damage inflicted by Trump on the country, the government and administration. Biden’s pledge to return the US to sanity is hardly dramatic at a time drama is needed if the Democrats are to oust a politician who makes a drama of everything concerning himself — even his sister’s remarks — in order to remain in the public eye and mind.

While low key Biden’s message has resonated with committed Democrats, a poll conducted between July 27 – Aug.2 well before the Democratic “convention,” revealed that 56 per cent of respondents who intended to vote for Biden because he is “not Trump.” Only 19 per cent of voters said they would support Trump because he’s “not Biden.” The poll also found Biden leading Trump by eight points, 53 per cent as compared to 45 per cent. Since Biden’s lead has shrunk since then, a second Trump victory cannot be ruled out. This would be a tragedy for the US and a disaster for the international community. Former US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power observed that world leaders and citizens now distrust the “American people” because they vote for Trump.

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