Not many things are as difficult to parse – and manifold in their aspects – as democracy. When melded with such concepts as representational and constitutional government, democracy becomes a catchphrase for the freedom of a people to govern themselves through collective decisions, actions and choices symbolised by the ballot box. As a standalone concept, democracy is a process through which people manifest their authority to be governed in a given way by a set of people within a given time frame. Democracy, according to Aristotle, stems from the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be equal. In other words, if we are all human beings, we should be equal in all respects and, thus, should be equally entitled to the freedoms appertaining to being human beings, which include the freedom to make decisions about governance and those things that concern our lives. This conceptualisation of democracy provides one of the justifications for the ‘One person, one vote’ principle and the delineation of constituencies based on population.
Extending the principle of equality to the political firmament in the form of ‘One person, one vote’ has, over time, attracted polarising sentiments. Some elites have strong reservations for the enfranchisement of certain classes of people they consider to be uneducated, uninformed, precipitous, irrational, manipulatable, whimsical or incapable of appreciating the essence of the vote. To worsen the situation of this class of discriminatory elites is that political equality does not allow for the sorting and weighing of votes.
Some scholars aver that the principle of political equality as expressed in the concept of ‘One person, one vote’ is not without its inherent problems and contradictions. In the first place, it is not a clearly defined or determinable principle. It is only promoted as an article of democratic faith. This is so even when it is expressed in the adult suffrage which is a branch of the universal suffrage that gives the right to vote to all adults irrespective of socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, race, colour, religion, beliefs, educational status, conditions of servitude or other limitations with the exceptions of legal disabilities like insanity and, in some cases, criminal convictions.
Secondly, the ‘One person, one vote’ principle presupposes that those with the vote will use it for the common good and have the capacity to relate political issues to the totality of their being or socio-economic lives. But this is hardly the case. Besides being sellable and buyable, the vote is often utilised in pursuit of selfish interests – pursuits unconnected to the socio-economic, cultural realities of the voter’s constituency. There is also the fear that the vote is susceptible to the very issues that hold back national cohesion and are generating the socio-cultural, economic and political toxins or viruses delimiting the actualisation of all fundamental rights, including political freedoms. Whereas the vote in a representational democracy frees the individual from having to participate directly in governance and gives the individual the right to participate indirectly but effectively through the election of the personnel into elective offices who will, in turn, make or execute laws and policies that best support their interests, it can be used for the election of persons whose agenda is to war against perceived enemies. Also, casting justification of the ‘One person, one vote’ principle solely on the notion that it is as inherent as any other right considered fundamental begs the question of why its universality is pegged on age and mental soundness. If children below the suffrage and people with legal disabilities are justifiably excluded, then the hint is given that the vote may be dangerous in the hands of certain people. Another clear contradiction is the capacity of universal suffrage to trample on the individual’s political right since it is blind to an individual or peculiar identities and is slavish to the will of the majority. The right of the majority has the capacity to dilute or neutralise the right of the individual. It is, therefore, not enough to have the right to vote and access to the ballot box to cast the vote. Its susceptibility to dilution diminishes the power of the individual to participate in governance, thus demystifying the mythical powers of the ‘One person, one vote’ principle.
Nowhere in the world have the dangers and contradictions of the ‘One person, one vote’ principle been dramatised in recent times like the United States of America. America has in the presidency of Donald Trump acted out the meaning, power, functions and downside of the vote, brushing aside many within the Republican Party considered broad field contenders, pickpocketing the presidency with less popular votes from Hillary Clinton who was the researchers, political scientists, pundits and political soothsayers’ choice.
Long before becoming the history-setter with his magical defiance of sophisticated scientific surveys, Trump had established himself as an extremely mean predatory and histrionic personality. Despite his litany of failed, fraudulent businesses, Trump passed himself as a property businessman and a reality television celebrity, bringing to bear in his campaign his profiteering instincts. He cashed in on and made a political kill with America’s fault lines. He knew that the majority of rightwing white Americans were yearning for a one-act hero to build and maintain walls against immigrants, blacks, coloured people and Muslims. I summarised his emergence in 2016 in the article I captioned ‘Injudicious Shade of Democracy’.
Trump’s presidency is best captured by Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Executive Director, The Future of Diplomacy Project, in an article entitled ‘The Trump Legacy and Its Consequences’, published on 1 March 2020 by the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where she says:
Even if his administration ends on January 20, 2021, Donald Trump will have created a destructive legacy in foreign and domestic policy the depth of which is unrivalled in modern American history. In three short years, the president has done profound damage to the country’s international credibility and its capacity for moral suasion – key ingredients of the soft power that made it the anchor of liberal western world order of which it was the chief architect 70 years ago. The trauma of the Trump administration’s assault on postwar order will resonate beyond the (first) four years of any Democratic administration and will deepen dramatically, should he be re-elected in November.
The question of whether Trump represents the character and aspirations of the majority of Americans has been answered by the just concluded presidential election. He was rejected at the polls and defeated by Joe Biden of the Democratic party with a margin of more than five Million popular votes. He had more than 72 million votes. That number is more than the number of votes scored by any previous presidential election winner in the USA in recent times. Majority of his votes were cast by white and elderly Americans. It is also estimated that he captured most of the faith-based votes. Some poll surveys estimated that between 76 and 81% of the white Christians voted for Trump. The indication is that his person and deeds in office resonate well within his fan base and the Republican party. The election has justified the boast of Trump that his loyal supporters will stand by him even if he should shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. The lesson for those of us, who think less of Trump or believe that he is unfit to lead the self-proclaimed world’s greatest democracy and largest economy, is that it is in our interest to be concerned about the status of that “ignorant poor man” in the streets. He has the power to shoot down our aspirations for a better country.