Democracy on Trial

Democracy on Trial

Tuesday, November 3, 2020 9:35 pm

Biden and Trump

Professor Adebayo Lamikanra

 By Adebayo Lamikanra

When the Founding Fathers of the United States sat down to write the articles of the Constitution that was to drive the new country they were giving birth to, they must have been terrified by the intrinsic dysfunction which was exhibited by the monarchies that ruled in Europe at that time. To start with, they were rebels, rejecting in the most extreme manner possible, the imposed authority of the King of England to whom they owed all manner of taxes and to whom they obliged to bend their collective knees. Even two and a half centuries down the line, their harsh discomfiture with their situation is still palpable and their decision to risk their liberty and very life is still understandable and even commendable. As they set out to chart a course for their new country of their dreams, it was clear that the adoption of monarchy with its attendant tendency to degenerate into autocracy was out of the question but they must have had a massive headache because at that point in history, there did not seem to be a clear, or even a hint of an alternative. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the difficulty faced by the writers of the Constitution of the United States appears no less daunting than it was when they sat down to compose the instrument of their freedom from the tyranny which bound them very fast to a king whose heavy and demanding authority they could feel from more than three thousand miles away.

In the first place the ancestors of those men around the table had cast themselves adrift on the frigid waters of the North Atlantic in the hope of finding the freedom with which they could practice their religion in the New World. The nebulous concept of the freedom of religion and not prosperity was the principle that drove them out of Plymouth on the Mayflower because when they arrived at their destination, they had little more than the tattered clothes on their backs. That they survived in the New World was due to the helping hand extended to them by the indigenous people they encountered in their new abode. That their help was pivotal to the survival of the first colonists in their Jamestown settlement is shown by the fact that the festival of Thanksgiving in honour of their hosts is still celebrated annually today and indeed is the cornerstone of US citizenship. Those pioneers came to find freedom from monarchical interference in their lives, that they found prosperity along the way was an unforeseen addition to express themselves to the best of their ability.

The Founding Fathers of the American Republic did not have any current example to guide them in their work and had to go back more than three thousand years in history to lay the foundation of their proposed state on the principles which guided the city state of Athens. The ancient city states of Greece are the acknowledged cradle of Western thought and civilization but even there, a consensus of opinion about the government of free men did not exist. In Sparta where the rule of law was enforced by sharp spear points, an oligarchy, that is, the rule by a few men was predominant. In Athens, they experimented with autocracy by a popularly acclaimed dictator, the shining example being Pericles who led the city to what was acclaimed to be the golden age of Athens. But, the greatest contribution of Athens to political theory and practice was a system that the Greeks called democracy which did away with the ruling class entirely as all mature males were conscripted to participate in the government of the state. The theory of democracy was found to be very attractive to the founders of the USA who made a fetish of personal freedom.

Americans go to the polls on 3/11/2020 (today) to elect a new president as prescribed by the constitution but already there are signs that all is far from well with the Republic. The incumbent president is threatening to reject the results of the elections should he lose. With virtually all polls suggesting that he is likely to lose, very interesting times are loading in the land of Democracy.

The Founding Fathers convinced themselves that they were the people and decided to write the Constitution which was binding on all the people who lived in the USA at that time. That had to be a joke because wide swathes of the population were blithely unaware of what was being done in their name. The vast majority of the population; the poor, all women of whatever colour or status and of course slaves was rigorously excluded from that exercise as they had been in Athens all those many years before. The actual writing of the Constitution was delegated to a young red headed Virginian, Thomas Jefferson who owned more than a hundred slaves on his estate, Monticello and went on further to father no less than six children with one f his slaves, a lady known to history as Sally Hemings. He took her into his bed when she was fourteen years old (today, that is regarded as statutory rape) and their children were also regarded as slaves! It is true that some of the men round that table were uncomfortable with the institution of slavery especially after averring that all men and had inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They thought they had solved the problem of the black people in their country by deciding that the Blacks were to be regarded as being three fifths of a man, nowhere near being equal to white men but more valuable than mules.  Nearly a hundred years later when the slaves were given their freedom, the Constitution had to be amended to acknowledge the humanity of black men and their right to vote but no woman, black or white had the right to vote in presidential elections until another constitutional amendment gave them that right in 1920. From the point of view of a Nigerian just looking on, that document which was signed as long ago as 1776 was fatally flawed and for more than two hundred years, the American version of democracy has bought the glitter of unparalleled success with her undoubted prosperity.

For the last one hundred years and more, the USA has been by far the largest economy in the world so that the majority of her citizens have a standard of living which is beyond the imagination of the billions of people living at subsistence level or less in other parts of the world. Dazzled by the prospects of being lifted into the orbit of a high spending economy, multitudes of immigrants from all over the world have ended up in the nation to become part of the much touted American dream. What those immigrant crave is life more abundant, very much at variance with the sentiments that drove the original Pilgrim fathers to America; they were looking for the freedom of religious practice which had eluded them in the land of their birth. This was accommodated in the Constitution which separated the Church and State but even this has not prevented the intrusion of the Church in matters of State to such an extent that the largest minority group,  one that exerts greater influence than their minority status suggests are the Pentecostal preachers and leaders because they pander to the prosperity aspirations of their teeming flocks showing that the life jacket that prevents the Republic from slipping under the waves is a strong and growing economy. In the new global world, a dominant economy which makes it possible for Americans to consume more than 20% of global resources even if their population is only 4.2% of global populations. It now appears that the world is simply not able to continue to support American prosperity. How this will affect the health of the Republic is a situation that will play out in the near future.

Americans go to the polls on 3/11/2020 (today) to elect a new president as prescribed by the constitution but already there are signs that all is far from well with the Republic. The incumbent president is threatening to reject the results of the elections should he lose. With virtually all polls suggesting that he is likely to lose, very interesting times are loading in the land of Democracy.

-Professor Adebayo Lamikanra, Faculty of Pharmacy, OAU, Ile-Ife. 08037000773

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