If you have never read Alexis de Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ I suggest that you give it a try. Published in 1831, it is the result of a nine month visit to the US during which the author studied American society and politics.
The functioning of US democracy has often been a point of reference to scholars of constitutional politics. The separation of powers, the rule of law, representation, function perfectly in the great American Republic.
It is one reason why the sight of a man in a buffalo costume heading an insurrection on Capitol Hill was shocking. Crucially, neither the mob nor its constituent parts was the most shocking aspect of what happened last week. That would be the fact that this seditious insurrection against all that is constitutional had been blatantly instigated by the 45th President of the US.
De Tocqueville would have lessons of a different kind to write home about today. Many lessons in fact. Paramount among them would be the lesson of a man who has not for one minute respected the role that he was supposed to fill.
Donald Trump has never really been the President of the US but rather he has turned the Office into his own personal, private dominion debasing the crucial role that Office holds within the constitutional balance of power.
A second, equally crucial, lesson is the weakness of a bipartite system when all-or-nothing considerations expose the inability of members of one Party to control what is obviously an unhinged leadership.
Much of Trump’s GOP entourage failed to rein in his megalomaniac ambitions to the point that even after the rabble had wreaked havoc in Congress, a core of the Republicans was still standing by Trump’s fantastical claims that he was the legitimate winner.
The dangerous leader was backed till the end by a team of spineless politicians who were still with their feelers out trying to understand how much of the popular support Trump could still muster.
The deluded outgoing President tweeted for as long as he was allowed to do so. His stranglehold on the masses who still believed in him (blindly) was practically guaranteed by his 26,000 tweets over four years.
When Twitter (and other social media) ultimately realised the immense damage this man’s two left thumbs were causing to the Republic, his account was finally permanently suspended. Yes, that does leave many of us asking what power these social media behemoths have over our right of expression, but we have finally silenced the monster.
While the disquisitions on whether we have a new universal right to make fools of ourselves on social media platforms might make for an interesting credit in constitutional and human rights law, it is an undeniable fact that action – real action – on the mountain of lies that Trump managed to sell over time came too late in the day.
Fake news checks, counter-information had definitely not been enough when it came to countering the effect of an unhinged man and his ideas on democracy.
And the American Republic was a hair’s breadth away from civil strife thanks to the man who has absolutely no clue of what the sanctity of the rule of law and the Constitution is about.
Trump’s trump card, if you forgive the pun, throughout his time in power has been his ability to sell untruths to the public. When unchecked, his lies went a very long way.
We saw what this meant in his final days in power and his repeated mantra of rigged elections that he had supposedly won by a landslide. Independent media often did its job trying to counter this propaganda, but it was scarcely enough.
The role of the media in checking the actions of our politicians can never be sufficiently underlined. Which is why I read with dismay of the way The Shift is being stonewalled by the Department of Information in Malta.
Requests for information by The Shift have been turned down based on the illegal reasoning that The Shift is not registered with the department that falls under the Prime Minister’s Office. Every now and then this issue of ‘accreditation’ crops up in the Maltese political landscape.
Attempts at controlling who or what can be considered as media and press have taken many forms. Governments or political parties’ attempt to ostracise what they deem to be unfriendly media, often by not inviting them to their press conferences or by blocking them outright. This lack of transparency is wrong on many levels. It betrays the fear of the political class of being monitored and held accountable.
I also read of an initiative by a media house to challenge NET and ONE TV stations and their very existence. This is a welcome action that should form part of a wider reform away from the bipartisan stranglehold on every aspect of our Constitution.
In this day and age, knowledge is crucial for the formation of ideas. The press and the media are crucial tools that could help shape a better future. In the wrong hands, or when not afforded sufficient protection, they will only serve as tools for the tyrants to oppress the people.