As if 2020 hadn’t already given us enough drama, 2021 suddenly appeared on our television screens on January 6 with a riotous mob rampaging through the US Capitol in Washington DC, disrupting the confirmation by the US Congress of Joe Biden’s election to the presidency. which finally took place early the next morning.
The US is going through its worst constitutional crisis since Richard Nixon’s presidency and the Watergate scandal, if not since the 1861-1865 Civil Warthanks to current President Donald J. Trump.
It is essential to recognize that what happened in the US reflects a deliberately indirect process for electing the president and that, despite the apparent antiquity of the system today, this was the goal of the country’s founders when they created it.
The United States is often called the “the world’s first democracy.” Still, it would be more appropriate to say that the founders intended the country to become an oligarchic republic. Remember, the US didn’t have that “one person, one vote” in the beginning and that until 1913 senators were elected indirectly by the state legislature.
Likewise, each state legislature determines its process for electing its members of the Electoral College, which elects the president, under the U.S. Constitution. In most states, these were initially not determined by public vote.
A very late date in the history of the republic, voters were not elected by popular vote in every state until 1880. In addition, there is a complicated process that follows an election. The U.S. Congress formally adopts each state’s electoral roll on a January date, just before Inauguration Day.
This confirms the results of the presidential elections held in November last year. Each state “certifies” its voters. The Trump-inspired mob staged its uprising on this day, which, had it been successful, would have amounted to a coup. Compare the convenience of Westminster’s parliamentary system to this US presidential election process.
Except in the case of a hung parliamentwhere it can take some time to decide who has the majority and can claim to become prime minister, the handover of power is started immediately on election night (or, in India, on the day of the count), when it becomes clear who has won the election.
In the UK, for example, the Prime Minister and his staff essentially evacuate 10 Downing Street, the official residence, and hand over the keys to the new Prime Minister the next morning in the event of a resounding defeat of a sitting government. Under the Westminster system, the drama we saw in Washington, DC in January is simply unimaginable.
Other nationswhose apparent democratic failings are often criticized by US officials and by US political journalists, were more than a little amused by the shenanigans in the US capital.
The robustness of the US system, despite his well-known weaknesses, Trump’s inability to reverse an election result against him shows through numerous legal challenges and, at the very least, his moral support for insurgents.
— Luis Gonzalez (@LuisGonCT) December 19, 2022
While Trump may still have that some tricks up his sleeve before his successor Joe Biden takes office on January 20 and while at the time of writing this column it is still theoretically possible for him to be even forcibly removed from office through one or more constitutional mechanisms, such as impeachment or the 25th amendment, there is no question that the system worked, despite the the toughest test it has ever faced: a sitting president who refuses to accept insurgent opposition
Given that neither nation is a democracy in any meaningful sense, the arrogance displayed by China and Russia toward US electoral blunders may be laughable. As events unfolded in the US, there was quite a bit of arrogance in India.
However, India is a democracy, albeit one with some known flaws. But let’s not forget that the Emergency (1975-1977), imposed by corrupt and flattering politicians and bureaucrats, was the first – and hopefully the last – time an elected prime minister refused to relinquish control despite an unfavorable court ruling. .
Do we know what would have happened if Indira Gandhi called elections in 1977 instead of extending the state of emergency? Or what if she had resisted losing control after winning? We are fortunate that none of these barely fantastic alternatives have further stretched the limitations of the Indian system.
The strength of any constitutional republic ultimately depends on the caliber of the institutions enshrined in it and the commitment to upholding the rule of law –not only in text but also in spirit– whether that constitutional republic is the United States or India.
Constitutional academics may still disagree on the legitimacy of Indira Gandhi’s use of emergency powers in a strictly legal sense. But the difficulty of the problem was caused by one “involved” permission from the judge.
In contrast, like Trump himself admittedly tedious, even US judges he appointed refused to support his attempt to overturn the election results. Vice President Mike Pence also refused to submit to Trump’s authority. Herein lie the real lessons for other democracies.
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