Emerging Constitutional Crisis

Seven months into a year ravaged by a pandemic, the future seems as uncertain as ever. Everyone is pinning their hopes on a vaccine as a miracle return to the “way it was”. A way back to the days of packed stadiums, award shows, movie theaters, parties, bars, planes and trains without a care.

Many in the US, the nation with the highest global death toll, are in denial, and the virus continues to find hosts unhindered. If the present trend continues, about 200,000 people are expected to succumb by the end of the year.

Even though hospitals and medical professionals have become better at managing outcomes, people continue to die. And the daily ticker climbs new heights.

After months of looking at the daily score card, a numbness has set in. People don’t seem to be fazed by the numbers and are settling to a new dark normal. Those who have lost loved ones are devastated and others who have been able to dodge the bullet are careful and are also beginning to get complacent.

The polarization and the politics around how to deal with the virus has almost made it impossible to implement a national methodical approach to deal with this crisis.

When daily mixed messaging from the top muddies a coherent consistent national response, and wearing of a mask becomes a matter of “freedom” one wonders how this crisis will stem. And so people are tuning off and going about their lives, taking risks as they would with anything else.

From denial, delusion to alarm, people in power have botched the response to this catastrophe.

In March the president was quick to label himself a “war time president”, but did little to act like one. With the most death of Americans recorded from a single event since the last big war on his hands, his erratic behavior and philistine actions have only made matters worse. And the people propping him up refuse to see that and are toeing the line defending the indefensible.

While this virus leaks and spreads unabated, there is another crisis emerging on the horizon. This one could be more damaging in its outcome.

A question that started as a rhetorical distant possibility is now becoming a plausibility.

On talk shows, newspapers and news programs, many have raised the question “what if” the November election were sullied, cancelled, postponed or indefinitely suspended by the current president? What if he refuses leave?

Many laugh it off as liberal delusional fantasy, but now three months away from the election, judging by the president’s words, it is seeming like a possibility.

Republicans have often used voter suppression as a skillful tactic to win elections. Low voter turnout has historically benefited the party and they have done everything possible to make this a consistent reality.

From gerrymandering districts, to forcing voter ID cards and raising the specter of fraud in elections when there is next to none, they have tried time and again to make voting difficult for mostly people on the lower rung of society. These maneuvers have disproportionately disenfranchised communities of color in southern states.

With the pandemic being a real impediment to voter turn out, they are making sure yet again it works in their favor. By casting doubt on mail in ballots, even though they are widely used in every election, they are attempting to suppress votes. Especially because recent polls show the president trailing.

When billions of dollars are moved everyday via computer screens, and highly sensitive data is shared through phones and other electronic devices, it is appalling that in the United States the voting process is as primitive as it is. Republicans have favored the status-quo in this regard for reasons that are to their advantage.

The election process remains a contentious issue in a democracy that prides itself as a beacon to the world. Being one the largest democracies in the world, American elections historically have had record low turnouts and little has been done to change this in any meaningful way. Other than celebrities aiding campaigns like “rock the vote”, nothing has been done to address this crucial problem in any systemic way.

When asked in a recent interview if he would concede defeat in the election, the sitting president of America was non-committal. When his Attorney General was asked during a congressional hearing by a sitting congressman, if mail in voting would lead to massive voter fraud, his response was that there was a high risk, if a blanket conversion for the upcoming general election were to take place.

With a pandemic raging since March very little has been done to make sure the elections in November will be certain, conducive and malleable to the crisis. It is now being made all but certain that there will be a low turn out.

Apart from internal threats, there is a continuing danger to the American elections being meddled with from the outside. The present administration continues to downplay this threat.

Acknowledging there is a threat, the Attorney General did not reveal if there was anything being done to combat it in any decisive manner.

The president has always referred to the Russian invasion as a “hoax” and has rarely brought it up in his numerous calls with Vladimir Putin. Even if he did, he has casually accepted the denial offered.

The social unrest that started with the murder of George Floyd is still simmering in parts of the country. The president and his Attorney General have characterized it as “anarchy” and “terrorism”. They have refused to accept there is systemic racism in the nation’s police and have seen calls to de-fund or restructure it as an assault on the criminal justice system.

So they have dug in and with little else to fall back on, have decided to rebrand the president as the “law and order” leader who would make sure Americans are kept safe from rioting mobs tearing down statues with tough militarized measures. This might play well with the base and those afraid of a demographically changing America and a perceived erosion of entitlement and privilege.

As the president casts doubts on the election schedule and his inner coterie goes along with that assessment, some of his ardent supporters and prominent members of his party have politely broken ranks on this issue. Dismissing it by saying “it is just Trump being Trump” and the media is over sensationalizing his remarks.

Throughout history fascism and authoritarianism have sneaked in by quietly suspending democratic norms and institutions, citing internal and external threats.

If for any reason the integrity of the election is damaged by a delay or compromised by declaring it “rigged” or “sullied”, America would enter uncharted territory. The “banana republics” and “failed states” it tends to look down upon, from a position of rule of law and checks and balances, will be a thing of the past. America will not only have the dubious record of burying the largest number of civilians this year, but also will become the largest failed democracy on the planet.

What we know is a drop and what we don’t, is an ocean. From the virus to other mysteries and unexplained phenomenon, this has been the mantra that has defined human existence and constantly challenged us to reason, innovate and evolve.

Behind all the shocking statements and absurd UN-presidential and UN-American rhetoric that is spewed on a daily basis, there is a lot we do not know and probably never will, until may be it is too late.

Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film SALAM can now be seen on Netflix.

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