February 16, 2020Interesting Dimensions of The American Political Culture!
By Saeed Qureshi
There is a great deal of similarity between A1 Gore (Democratic Party) and President Trump with regards to the fluctuating political fortunes. Al Gore was the Vice President of President Bill Clinton. Clinton served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Al Gore became the Democratic nominee of the 2000 elections. His opponent, the then-Governor of Texas George W. Bush, and the Republican candidate, narrowly won the elections. Gore won the national popular vote but lost the electoral college vote after a bitter legal battle over disputed vote counts in the state of Florida. The election was one of the most controversial in the American history.
The upcoming 2020 presidential elections are being contested by 8 candidates from various political outfits. However, the main contest would be between Donlad Trump as Republican party candidate and Joe Bidon as the Democratic nominee.
A 2019 House impeachment inquiry found that Trump solicited support of the Ukrainian government in order to win the 2020 U.S. presidential elections against his Democratic rival Joe Biden. President Trump held back the financial support to the Ukraine till his condition of throwing mud on Joe Biden and his son was fulfilled.
President Trump was impeached by the House on December 18, 2019, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was acquitted on both charges by the Senate on February 5, 2020. We have yet to watch if there is a possibility of the case going to the apex court for verdict to decide if President Trump was guilty or not and whether he could continue his political role.
Politics in America is the exclusive preserve of the elite with unlimited sources and influence. The battles in politics whether for presidency, Senate, Congress or for prestigious and authoritative jobs are fought on the strength of money. One has to be rich to enter and survive in political arena. The masses influence the elections through the ballot and there ends their role. They however, are the recipients of the enormous rights and privileges guaranteed to them in the American constitution and by the social welfare set up of the society. They may take the help of law, which is the absolute and most powerful helper of the common citizens. All are equal before law and have equal rights of liberty and dignity. But politics becomes a forbidden land for ordinary people, even if they want to participate, as it demands vast wealth, huge funds and intensive lobbying. The politics by virtue of its being limited in a few affluent individuals can be defined as oligarchic or elitist in nature. It can also be defined as plutocratic democracy.
The, president, vice president and all elected members of Congress are supposed to be mostly big business magnates or landlords. Although the concept of a landlord is not used or understood in America in its classic sense, yet it connotes an individual much prosperous and prominently placed in society. The landlords possess ranches spread over hundreds and thousands of acres and live an exceptionally luxurious life. While they are equal with an ordinary citizen of meager means, their life style is markedly on a very high pedestal. These two major divisions in social and economic status are glaring in US society. Neither care for each other. There are equal opportunities for every person to earn as much as one wants to reach the stage of an elite or a wealthy baron. However, it seldom happens. The wealth of rich grows astronomically while of those with limited or modest income either remains static or declines.
The fund-raising is common for contesting for the highest status in politics or administration. It is permissible by law but it has got to be transparent. The politicians practically and indispensably remain in league with the business tycoons and executives of big businesses, gubernatorial corporations and banks for funds and donations which they need for the party and electioneering. On the either hand, the big bosses of multi-billion corporations keep the political leaders in good humor by generously contributing towards their fund-raising appeals. Thus, the interests of the business classes and politicians are complementary. It could therefore, be said that the corporate sector indirectly rules America without giving any inkling to the common man as they also take decisions along with their chosen representatives.
The big companies and corporations influence national issues and decisions from behind the curtains. It is also evident that the politicians who are elected, also themselves own big businesses and thus both economic and political powers converge in the same hands. The members of bureaucracy also own huge businesses. As such they have a personal stake and interests to look after their business when they come into power.
The common American won’t bother who rules, even if they know the link between the politicians and the business giants. All that they are bothered about is the rule of law and comfortable living. They know that by resenting and agitating they cannot knock down the system nor would they like to do so even if they can. Americans are liberal cosmopolitans, which means that they like progress, individual rights yet they would not disturb the power wielders. This is so as the overall objective of the political elite, their conjunction and alliance with the business classes and special interest groups is for the national good and welfare. When it comes to facing law, all are equal.
People are not averse to the rule of the majority as long as they are socially satisfied. If the tax increases beyond acceptable or tolerable limits or if there are more curbs on their pursuits of happiness, they may agitate and react. But the mutual co-existence of the ruling elite and the masses is accepted and respected by both the sides. The elite try to keep the public happy and satisfied. The people restrained by lack of resources to delve in politics seldom question the rule by a few. As stated earlier, the electoral system is expensive and beyond the reach of common man. It inherently speaks for lacunae in the democratic system. The membership of the political parties is open to everyone. While the elite and the wealthy, with limited representation can assume power every one cannot contest elections due to paucity of resources.
The influence and dominance of corporate and industrial sectors in policy and decision making is pervasive domestically but it too affects the externally policies of United States. This is borne out by one example that after the disclosure that China was supplying M-11 missiles to certain countries, the US wanted to do away with the special trade relationship with China. It could not do so under pressure from the entrepreneurs, the investors and all those big business magnates who had made very heavy investments in China. The essence of all recent wars in which US was involved, were basically of economic import. Despite the claims of fighting terrorism that fact remains that the brief war in Afghanistan against Taliban was meant to pave way for the US and the west to exploit the oil and other abundant natural resources of the Central Asian States.
From their birth, the Americans remain classified into Republicans and Democrats. The fringe or peripheral political parties hardly matter as their vote bank is always limited. Depending upon the administration run by a party, all important posts are mostly filled from the members of the ruling party. So, a kind of political bias constantly runs in the body politic of the society. It should be extremely rare that the members of one party switch over to the other party. The tradition continues with the succeeding generations. Such is the nature of party affiliation and loyalty in the political system of the United States. Party standing in the elections is affected by the votes of the minority or ethnic groups. It is, therefore, up to a party how best and how successfully it can woo the minorities. For instance, president G.W. Bush was over- whelming supported by the Muslim voters particularly, who thought his immigration policies would be beneficial to them. The. church, the family, the civil rights for blacks and other ethnic entities, religious freedom, the abortion, the child care, the old age benefits, and similar other issues dominate the elections. It means that the American public opinion can be swayed with the promises that address the public hopes and aspirations.
Externally however, unless US is not involved in a war or a massive event of high intensity takes place, the Americans would remain passive. That is why initially, action against Saddam Hussain and in Afghanistan brought a surge in the public support for the government in power.
Interestingly, the Americans are both well-informed and ill-informed about the world affairs. During the pre-election media encounters, G.W. Bush in 2000 did not have much information about the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf the 10th president of Pakistan (20 June 2001 to 18 August 2008).Answering a question on the television, he merely said that he did not know his name but all that he knew was that an army general was at the helm in Pakistan.
About the internal situation, the people habitually get their information mostly from TV and the newspapers. The ordinary workers and laborers express their ignorance about the political matters. It is the white-collar population, which remains aware of the daily happenings political and otherwise. The role of myriad special interest groups is highly important in a pluralistic society like America. Those citizens who, by any reason, cannot take part in elections may influence the decision making by joining such organized groups as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, America Legion for Veterans and so of. There are countless such groups which weigh very heavily with the political leaders. Their opinion and sentiments about national issues are well taken.
As such it is all elitism which remains on the surface in politics whether through big interest groups or traditional wealthy political families. It is paradoxical that while politics and economy offer equality of opportunities to all for participation, both remain exclusively open and accessible to the members of the privileged classes. Even in economy there is an equality of opportunity for all. Yet these are only over 100 big business organizations and a limited number of banks that govern the economic realm.
The electioneering is subjected to a set of rules which include the clearly laid down methods by which the funds are raised by the political parties. But like all such countries where there is a limit on election spending and where transparency in collection of funds is a pre-requisite by law, in USA these benchmarks are strictly observed. The government sets aside a specific amount for the final contestants whose spending is closely watched and scrutinized. But funds are also raised through private donations. It is forbidden for the candidates to accept donations from the business classes and entrepreneurs and private contributions Yet on personal and private levels the contributions are given to the candidates of choice. The private wealth of the contestants is in addition to that.
But when it comes to vilifying or smearing the opponents, a no holds barred situation exists. One may go to any limit in heaping all kinds of vicious and vile degradations upon the rivals, particularly the allegation relating to moral turpitude. The definition of moral turpitude is not fixed but primarily it means sexual and fiscal misconduct. The political bout for the seat of Texas governor between Rick Perry and Tony Sanches assumed deplorable proportions. Each one of them tried to paint other as a devil incarnate and in this exercise of insinuation, the facts or truth is seldom cared for .For instance Perry had leveled a very serious charge on Sanchez for pocketing $ 25 million in league with the drug traffickers and then he asked the Texan voters if they could trust such a dishonest person. In return Sanchez dubbed Perry as a rank liar and a species of debased leadership who has disappointed Texans with his poor performance and questionable behavior.
In a way that is a productive exercise as the hidden aspects of a leader’s life come to the public view and thus the voters can form their opinion in an objective manner. It is the local leader which is better judged by the people than that of the national stature, because the electorate of a particular state know them so closely. It so happens that even before the day of casting their votes, the citizens of a particular state, already form their opinion and arrive at a common decision as to whom to vote for. If a voter is asked about the credentials of a candidate, he or she would candidly express his or her opinion and that for whom he or she would cast the vote. That is why the Gallup Polls are invariably correct barring some slight variations. The candidates, who were already in power are judged by their past performance, while the fresh competitors are prejudged for their promises. The people are more appreciative of a person’s personal conduct, which means that if he has not been very successful in his official capacity or on the official assignment, he has been at least upright in his conduct and human relationship.
President Richard Nixon can be considered as the architect of Sino -American contact, which was a milestone in the Americans foreign policy domain. That helped ease tension between the Chinese Communist State and the United States and ultimately helped US to ease out of the whirlpool of Viet Nam war. Yet ironically, he became the most condemned president due to the Watergate affair. Although Watergate will remain a controversial issue, the stigma and charge that he was heading a government, which came to power through fraud, and cheating became the reason for him to step down ignominiously. This allegation completely over-shadowed his sterling achievements for the people of America and for the world peace. He had to leave the presidency in disgrace, although the role of pro-democratic lobbyists was central to the whole scandal.
The pressure groups in America are always on the lookout of undermining the dignity of such a leader whose policies or political behavior goes against their interests. If these policies conform to their wishes, he is spared despite wrong doings. But if he shows defiance and persists in his policies, which go against the powerful special interest lobbies and groups, he at an opportune moment is subjected to a tirade of character assassination and unusual odium. Invariably there are backdoor maneuverings that some time stem a tide against a candidate for an office. But once the accusations come in the public limelight, there is no escape for the accused. The courts too are absolutely strict in deciding matters purely on the merit and fair-play.
Basically, it is the corporate interests which endear or demonize a leader. As such he or she is exposed to some wrong doings and thus remains vulnerable to making compromises. Retracting from such issues as opposition to communism and supporting democracy is tantamount to violating the spirit of the American liberal conversates and to certain extent from the constitution of the United States. Every candidate exhibits the image of a person who respects and practices moral values, who loves families, is compassionate for elderly and children and less privileged sections of the society. The elections in America have remained as a tough contest between self-glorification and condemnation or censure of the opponents.
Reagan got elected twice due to his strong and beneficial economic policies. Partially one can give him the credit for the downfall of communism and defeat of Soviet Union in Afghanistan, although the process started during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter. His economic policies suited the big business interests particularly the weapon producers and dealers. Despite his remarkable achievement, attempt was made on his life. George Bush was not only a favorite candidate for the presidency as he not only destroyed the military might of Iraq (built by America during Iraq Iran war) in 1991, but was able to attain the much-coveted goal of maintaining American military presence in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Such a presence was unthinkable due to the Muslim sentiment against the United States.
The role of press both print and electronic in molding or at least influencing the American public opinion is formidable Although the press can be adjudged as completely free it does convey and represent the interests of various lobbies that are very strong in the USA. Such groups can be ethnic, corporate, religious or patriotic. It is up to the press to treat an ordinary affair or happening in a big way or a big event in an ordinary manner. The element of sensationalizing crime, sex and the competition of the celebrities, most notably the politicians is the favorite pastime of a particular brand of press in United States. It is extremely difficult to tame, bridle or appease this brand of media because the more one may rebuke them the more, they turn hostile.
The press is independent and ruthless, both partial and impartial and reigning supreme. Ironically the huge press organizations, the powerful elite and rich members of strong ethnic groups own business empires. But they cannot force and persuade the working journalists at the lower level to go by their wishes and preferences. As a matter of fact, politicians, by and large, and even on the whole remains hostage to the press. Since dissent cannot be suppressed, politicians can expect any kind of treatment from the press.
What demolished President Richard Nixon were the media and the press. It was again the press which kept Clinton constantly on fire. The sexual misconduct of church has invariably come under the close scrutiny and unsparing critique of the press. As a result; one can witness the miserable plight of the church and the reformatory measures that have been set into motion.
The judiciary can come into picture when there is a dispute or an interpretation is needed about a certain caveat, interpretation of laws, action or decisions of the governments and the departments and the bills passed in Senate or the House. As stated above the decision of the Supreme Court about the 2000 election in favor of G.W. Bush was a landmark decision. It indeed helped averting a serious crisis which could have rocked the entire American political system. That decision is still being viewed at the public level as not being in consonance with the ground realities. But Al Gore the rival candidate from the Democratic Party, accepted it in good faith. Thus, a big controversy was averted in the national interest. Such is the spirit and candor of the American political system which solicits accommodation, sacrifice and tolerance.
Primarily it is the Congress, which disposes off the business concerning the elected representatives and Senators with regard to any dispute about their credentials. But finally, it is the judiciary which disqualifies the corrupt members of the Senate or house. For example, in July 2015 a federal judge sentenced Malcolm Smith to seven years in prison, by decreeing “that the former state Senate majority leader corrupted the political process by trying to buy his way onto the ballot in a crooked bid to become mayor of New York City.)
The white population (of British origin) or the descendants of the first discoverers or conquerors constitute 72 % of the total population of about 3oo million Americans. The black population is 12 per cent while the Hispanics are 11 %, at present. Keeping in view, the strong heterogeneous trends, it is inconceivable that black or Hispanic can assume the presidency of the United States in the foreseeable future. Although the Hispanic population is growing fast, yet even by the year 2050, their number is projected to be 30 % and black Africans trailing behind with 15 % of the whole population. The other ethnic groups would be in the vicinity of 5%. It means that although while the white population would come down to 50% from the present level, they would still be numerically in a position to hold on to power if the majority of the whites vote for the white candidate.
In another 50 years the integration of Hispanics, the white migrants from East and West Europe would be so merged and integrated that it would be utterly difficult to distinguish the white non-Hispanics and the Hispanics. The demographic complexion having undergone a big change, the Hispanics stand a bright chance to get into power as equal partners or at least capture the Presidency by that time There could be as well a possibility that the racial divide and bias might vanish and white Hispanics may find themselves in majority to pursue the political ends one of which would be to capture the presidency through electoral process. The black and Asian population would, however, still remain marginalized for pretty longer period of time. They could change their culture but not the pigments.