Democracy, accountability and the sad result of Donald Trump

DISASTROUS: The chaos of the Trump years shows the dangers of letting accountability drift. Picture: globalnewsart.com/Shutterstock
DISASTROUS: The chaos of the Trump years shows the dangers of letting accountability drift. Picture: globalnewsart.com/Shutterstock

Accountability is fundamental to effective democracy.

If the US is to salvage anything form the ashes of its cherished democracy, Trump and his enablers need to be fully held to account, and penalised, for their contribution to its demise.

Trump was able to lie, misrepresent, boast, promote division and largely ignore the traditional media, yet still control the message - thereby he was able to sustain the support of such a significant section of American voters.

He enjoyed a fairly free rein for his four years, exploiting circumstances and people as he saw his political advantage, with very little accountability.

Only what he said or claimed mattered - all the rest, especially from the traditional media, was "fake news".

He then sought to create unease, or even fear, about alternatives. It didn't seem to matter that he generally failed to deliver on his election promises.

He didn't build the wall along the Mexican border and get the Mexicans to pay for it.

He didn't return the rust-belt states to their former glory. He didn't win a trade war with China - indeed had to spend more than he collected from tariffs on Chinese products to support mid-western farmers hit by Chinese retaliatory tariffs.

He did not contain the nuclear ambitions of North Korea. He didn't bring peace to the Middle East, indeed dangerously tilted the situation even more in favour of Israel.

Although he did stimulate the US economy reaching record low unemployment he was building on Obama, his tax cuts and spending were unfunded blowing out the budget deficit and debt, and his failure to deal effectively (indeed at all) with COVID-19 saw the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, leaving the possibility of a double-dip recession.

Trump was obviously a sore loser, still claiming that electoral fraud cost him the presidency but unable to provide any evidence, and having lost all 60-odd legal cases.

I suspect that Trump knows he cheated (with Russian support) to win in 2016, and simply can't accept that it didn't work again this time.

Trump has consistently encouraged his supporters to "fight", with statements both before and after the election.

He capped this off with his January 6 speech encouraging the march on the Capitol.

Following his sons claiming "we're coming for you", and his lawyer calling for "trial by combat", Trump said: "We will not take it anymore", "you'll never take back your country with weakness. You have to show strength" and urged on the march - clearly impeachable behavior.

Trump's election strategy was voter suppression, to limit voter turnout and otherwise contain votes.

He forced long voter queues especially in poorer Black and Latino areas, restricted voter drop-off points to inconvenient locations and took control of the US Postal Service to contain postal voting - indeed ensuring that some votes were never delivered.

How many millions of votes did this suppress? Isn't this the real voter fraud of the election?

And yet, Biden still won with a landslide of electoral college votes and a margin of some 6 million in the popular vote.

With Pence ruling out invoking the 25th Amendment that would allow Trump to be forcibly removed, and Trump unwilling to resign, it is now imperative that both houses of Congress impeach him - both as a penalty for instigating the insurrection of the Capitol and to prevent him from ever running again.

While, understandably, the focus will be on Trump, he had many enablers in his office, in the public service, in the media and in Congress, all of whom should be called out and made as accountable as possible. Hopefully, Biden won't pardon any of them.

To be clear, I am not being wise after the event. I expressed my concerns about Trump when he ran initially. I described him as an unhealthy blend of a property developer and a reality TV star.

As the former, he used other people's money to fund projects - if they were successful, he made a lot of money, if they failed his backers would lose a lot of money.

As a reality star leading The Apprentice, he lived the fantasy of total control, of being able to fire people at will. Neither were relevant to running the country and I felt he was ignorant as to what would be required.

I doubted that he understood the art of doing a government/political deal, despite his boasts.

There are important lessons from the Trump experience for Australia.

We have some Trump imitators, and there have been many examples of bad, even corrupt, behaviour and many unanswered inquiries and commissions over recent decades for which the system needs to ensure accountability.

Trump shows the dangers of letting these things drift.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story Democracy, accountability and the sad result of Donald Trump first appeared on The Canberra Times.