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2 February 2017

The test of American democracy

By: Daoud Kuttab
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A good system anywhere is best tested when things do not go right.
 
The over 200-year-old US democracy is facing a real test and the early signs are that the system is self correcting.
 
Like any democracy, the US system of governance provides checks and balances, but does not predetermine the results in any single cycle.
 
The same US public that elected the disgraced Richard Nixon also elected John Kennedy.
 
And while an African American whose father was a Muslim immigrant won two four-year terms, we also have an anti-Muslim businessman that received the needed electoral votes to move into the White House.
 
It did not take long for the American public, veteran politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) and federal judges to stand up to racist and bigoted policies dressed up in national security terminology.
 
America, like any sovereign nation, is free to allow in whoever it wants and deny entry to whoever it chooses.
 
But decisions have consequences and the hundreds of thousands of Americans that demonstrated and protested in major cities and at airports know that what is at stake is the very soul of the United States.
 
In fact, the protesters, politicians, civil liberties defenders and federal judges know very well that this is what has made America great and they are opposed to the latest decisions by the Trump administration precisely because they know that principles like the First Amendment, which secures freedom of speech and assembly, and separation of religion from politics, is exactly what is unique about America.
 
Whether it is building a wall and bragging that someone else will pay for it or defaming an entire religion using trumped-up information about a non-existent security threat from these countries is not what made America great and what the founding fathers envisioned.
 
America’s greatness is not in the results of any single electoral cycle.
 
Despite what many people around the world think, when a president is elected by the people, that does not give him absolute powers.
 
His Cabinet must be confirmed by the Senate, his decisions can be contested in the courts and, most importantly, his actions are regularly watched by the public (with the help of an independent media).
 
A president’s approval ratings are the single most important barometer of how the American people think of him.
 
The disapprovals that were demonstrated in the first week of the Trump administration have consequences down the line.
 
Members of Congress who have to face the public every two years know that if this disapproval of the administration continues, they will be punished at the polls when the mid-term elections take place in November 2018.
 
Even at international level, the abuse of power and the rash decisions, statements and tweets can have long-term consequences.
 
The row with the president of Mexico has resulted in the first cancellation of a visit of a head of state to Washington.
 
The people of Britain have forced parliament through a poll that has received nearly 2 million votes to discuss the upcoming state visit of Trump to the UK, with the idea of making it a regular visit rather than a state visit.
 
All this does not do much for the hundreds of Syrian refugees who had just received a visa or whose names were in the pipeline.
 
It fails to help the Jordanian TV star Aroub Sobouh whose Iraqi husband and Iraqi children will not be able to visit relatives in the US.
 
It also means little to the three Jordanian students who were detained and humiliated.
 
Over the years, people in the Middle East have had mixed opinion of America.
 
While many opposed the US foreign policy in Palestine and Iraq, many appreciated what America stood for and wanted to see that type of democracy, human rights and separation of religion from politics applied in their region.
 
During Trump’s first week in office, those who like the American way of life and political system were rightly upset and unhappy.
 
But even for this group who looked up to America as a role model, it is important to remember the words of John Kennedy who said that while democracy is not perfect, the US has never had to put up a wall to prevent its citizens from leaving.
 
Unfortunately, a wall is coming up and policies are being issued to prevent immigrants from coming to a country that prides itself on being a country of immigrants.
 
The good news is that while Americans are respectful to a duly elected president, they are not accepting that a one-time elected official can ruin a successful system that had made America great. That is what people should be looking at; these checks and balances will be the true test of America.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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