“Which are more effective, violent or non-violent protests? And how big does a protest have to be, to drive a political leader out of office?
“Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets following a disputed election, in which the president claimed victory. The authorities have reacted with brutality; many demonstrators have been arrested.”
A chilling report.
No, this is not about the election in the United States. The president in question is Alexander Lukashenko and the above comes from a BBC News article. The situation in Belarus is deplorable and there is little doubt in the minds of international observers, including the Canadian government, that Lukashenko stole the election through nefarious means.
But it could be about Trump.
Indeed, analyzing the Belarus and American elections, there are significant similarities. Like Lukashenko, Trump would see his opponents locked up. Like Lukashenko, Trump has no issue with using the police and military against peaceful civilian protests. Like Lukashenko, Trump did not see any problems with tear gassing his own citizens. Nor with protesters dying.
The last few months have been chilling.
And it continues to travel down unprecedented pathways as the Orange Monster flails at his repudiation by the American people. The language he is using to describe the election is intended to inflame his followers and lead to tensions that will have a powerful influence on the United States for years and decades to come.
One of the questions for me comes down to “Is he really that naïve? Does he think people can’t think this one through?”
For example, Trump has repeatedly pointed out he was winning some states and then, magically, the vote count switched into Biden’s favour. Must have been election tampering, says Trump. The Democrats and the fake news media are stealing the election, he screams.
But this is like a baseball coach after the top of the first inning in which his team scores a run declaring “We’ve won!” and when the other teams scores four runs in the bottom of the first inning, well, it must be because they cheated. They’re stealing the game.
In Canada, we are used to this. Early poll counts can often have one candidate or another leading but in the end losing to the eventual winner. We know this happens. Indeed, we had an election and then we counted mail-in ballots that changed the results in some ridings.
This is not stealing an election. It is the way the process is supposed to work. And we don’t have Andrew Wilkinson firing up the masses while crying over the results. Instead, you have a much more dignified approach. Not a slew of lawsuits intended to draw the whole ugly affair out for months on end.
Sure, the election in the United States is theirs and theirs alone. How it is done and managed is their issue. Whether or not the president and his party committed fraud or voter suppression or gerrymandering is for the American people to decide. It is internal politics. And some people might argue it doesn’t matter. After all, we are Canadians.
But it does matter. Our economy is intimately intertwined with the United States. Upwards of 80 per cent of exports in goods and services go south. And similarly, a large chunk of American exports come north. Our companies are their companies. As their economy goes, so goes ours. The more chaos and confusion south of the border, the worse things will be for us.
However, the issue goes well beyond immediate economic considerations. The world is changing. Social media has allowed anyone and everyone to garner supporters to engage in a form of tribalism. At its heart, democracy arose in small gatherings of people – tribes – who managed their lives through communal consensus - tribalism. Anthropologists have argued this democratic approach is our natural form of governance.
While that may be true, all it takes is one man who galvanizes a nation and gains a following of like-minded people to bring democracy crashing down. The only safeguard against such actions is a free and independent press willing to point out the excesses and abuse.
What we are seeing south of the border is the destruction of the free and independent press. This is not entirely Trump’s fault. It has been happening for years with the rise of social media and the willingness of people to take advantage of it for their own gain. But Trump has certainly played the game. And he continues to rant and rave directly to his followers.
What we could be watching this week is the death of democracy. Chilling indeed.