Friday September 24, 2021

Six months

The six months since November 2020 US elections have been among the most eventful, and not always in a positive way.

For the first time in American history, the losing candidate refuses to accept the results, continuing to propagate the lie that he actually won. This is the kind of behavior often seen in immature, third world democracies – not expected from the self-proclaimed oldest democracy.

An even bigger surprise has been the cult of supporters that has formed around the persona of the corrupt and lying former president. Anyone from within his Republican Party who has called out the lie has been shown the door. A very high percentage of the 74 million who voted for him continue to buy into his lies. Court after court has rejected claims of voter fraud and yet the big lie continues, amplified by the right-wing echo chamber.

In unprecedented action, the former president has been removed from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, thankfully sparing the country the Twitter tirade that would have ensued. While the Twitter ban is permanent because its rules against inciting violence were violated, the ban by Facebook is temporary, though just extended for another six months.

All of this makes one wonder about the stability of US democracy. While I had firm faith in US institutions which withstood fierce attacks by the losing candidate and his right-wing sycophants, we now realize how close the country came to having a democratic election thrown out by corrupt maneuvering. Next time the country may not be so lucky.

Already, based on the ‘Big Lie’, many state legislatures under Republican control have moved to make it harder to vote. Their carefully calculated moves make it particularly hard for lower-income voters and minorities who typically vote for the Democrats. And there is no hope that any legal challenges that may reach the US Supreme Court will overturn voter suppression measures as this court has been packed with Conservatives who will side with state legislatures citing ‘states’ rights.’

For a democracy to function well at least two sane political parties are needed. Given the state of the US Republican Party, it is hard to make this claim today.

Thankfully, last November, American voters not only elected the Democratic presidential candidate, but also gave majorities, even if razor thin, to Democrats in both houses of Congress. Consequently, President Biden has started to pass an ambitious agenda.

There is no clearer contrast in competence between the new administration and the previous one than in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. While the outgoing president sowed doubts about the severity of the threat and the efficacy of countermeasures such as mask wearing, Biden has single-mindedly focused on administration of vaccines. By his 100th day in office 220 million doses had been administered. One can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

However, by no means is the country out of the woods yet. The biggest risk to defeating the virus is the high percentage of people who are not inclined to get vaccinated. According to some polls, about 30 percent of Americans do not intend to get vaccinated. The largest determinant of vaccine hesitancy is being a ‘Trump voter’.

So not only has the former president botched the handling of the pandemic, resulting in almost 600,000 deaths, his toxic legacy continues hurting both democracy and public health. This brings to mind a certain South Asian country sadly dealing with a massive killer outbreak. In developing the vaccine in record time, scientists have delivered. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for ignorance and arrogance.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.