Trump inadvertently reinvigorates democracy

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/31 17:03:40

For US President Donald Trump, this may not be the best of times. After 34 days of a government shutdown, the longest in history, the President's willful and high stakes squaring off against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats failed. They refused to give him the money to build his border wall and on January 25 Trump backed down and agreed to reopen the government. 

His supporters are visibly disappointed, and political strategists say this may leave a dent in his 2020 re-election campaign. The president himself, of course, pretends this was not a defeat, even as his approval rating drops below 40 percent. Nevertheless, he hasn't moved his sights off the wall and has vowed to keep fighting for it. After all it was at the center of his campaign promises and maybe what he will be judged on by history, in good and bad ways.

But I wouldn't worry too much if I were the president. One day in the future when we look back at this period, we will all realize that the most important legacy of the 45th President of the US is not a border wall, or Russiagate or "covfefe" or even a robust economy (if that can last). It is his contribution to reinvigorating US democracy.

Please don't rub your eyes. I am not crazy. I saw the headlines saying the opposite, such as "How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way" (The Nation), "David Frum: Will American Democracy Survive Trump?" (The Atlantic), and "Protect our democracy by removing Trump" (San Francisco Chronicle). Indeed, the Washington Post has recently published an op-ed piece by Brian Klaas, an assistant professor of global politics at University College London that listed all the unforgivable atrocities Trump has done to democracy, from nepotism to undermining the rule of law, to calling journalists "enemy of the people." And the headline? "For two years, Trump has been undermining American democracy. Here's a damage report."

This is all true. But when I came back from a month-long vacation in India in late January and found that the Russia investigation was still dragging on, the two parties were still fighting over the shutdown, and nothing else in this country seemed to have changed except that the Democratic field for the 2020 presidential election is now blossoming with the most diverse group of candidates in history, I truly wanted to say "thank you" to the president.

While I was away, six Democrats announced their campaigns, expanding the pool to eight people in total, including four women, one Asian man, one Hispanic man and an openly gay man. Even though we are still a year away from the start of the real war, and many likely participants, such as former vice president Joe Biden, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, haven't announced yet, the voters seem to have already geared up. There is a lot of talk in liberal circles about who has the best chance. There is a level of enthusiasm that I last saw in 2008 when Obama was set to make history.

Obama's victory, although inspiring and encouraging, did push back the opportunities for another minority candidate to be elected in the near future. But the impact of Trump's election has more than offset that.

His inexperience, his fumbling, and yes, his tyranny, however unlikely it may seem, are encouraging more people who have a presidential dream - at the most fundamental level it has people asking if a person like that can be the president, why can't I? Indeed, that was what Andrew Yang, the Asian and only candidate without any political experience among the eight, told me last year when he announced his campaign.

"Trump is unfit to be president but I am inspired by him," Yang said. "Trump showed the voters are willing to elect someone from outside of the political circle in order to bring changes."

And, of course, that's not all. The involuntary magic pill in his oppression of minorities is encouraging them to stand - seven of the eight candidates are women, or from the black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBT communities (I actually think the rapid development of the #MeToo movement owes a "thank you" to Trump's era of oppression as well).

US voters' interest in their democratic system has been diminishing for a long time. The voter turnout levels are often embarrassing. But in the midterm elections last year, a strong rebound saw the turnout increase to 50 percent, the highest since 1914. That trend will almost certainly continue in 2020. 

Ironically, oppression is the best stress test for democracy. And after the test being offered by Trump, US democracy is set to pass with flying colors.

The author is a New York-based journalist.


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