As this opinion piece is being written, we are witnessing the fall of a wanna-be despot -soon to be ex-President of the United States -Donald Trump.
Following his electoral defeat in November of last year, Trump tried all manner of skullduggery to hang on to power. All his attempts to overturn the US presidential election results failed. On the day the results were to be certified – December 9, 2020, Trump attempted to violently stop the certification process by ordering his supporters, to violently attack the Capitol building, where the election results were to be certified.
Five persons died in Trump’s plan to take over the Capitol building and prevent the election results being certified. In the end, like all cowards, Trump who promised to lead the mob did not turn up. He was not willing to risk injury to himself, but egged his supporters on to carry out his dastardly deeds. The planned coup failed and the wanna-be dictator, faces the ignominy of being removed from his post via invoking the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution.
These sad events bring to mind the last days of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In March1983, Ceausescu ordered the eviction of Laszlo Tokes, a parish priest in Timosoara for preaching against his (Ceausescu’s) policy of “systemization” - the restructuring of his country’s towns and villages.
Ethnically, Hungarian, Tökés had a long history of criticizing the regime and so when he refused to quit his home, it became a cause célèbre and drew the attention of Ceausescu’s secret police, the notorious Securitate. By December 1989, it was not only his parishioners who were standing guard to protect his flat, linking hands around the property, but ethnic Romanians who swelled into a crowd that filled the surrounding streets.
What followed over the next few days is well known. The mass protests in Timosoara led, in quick succession, to the fall of the once-mighty Ceausescu regime.
Like Ceausescu when his epitaph is written, Trump will in all probability, join the long list of infamous rulers like Idi Amin, the self-proclaimed “President for life” who ruled Uganda for far less time than he hoped. The eight years of his tenure were filled with gross human-rights violations, ethnic persecution with tens of thousands of Ugandans of Indian origin being forced out of the country, killings and unbridled corruption. In the end, Amin relocated to Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003.
In actuality, Americans should have seen Trump’s presidency degenerating into the events of December 9. But perhaps they were too busy laughing at the jokes and memes generated by Trumps speeches and actions, which blinded them from recognizing their President, was behaving like a dictator.
His treatment of immigrant children, separating them from their parents, - as reported in the ‘Guardian’- caged in detention camps on America’s southern border.
Accounts by lawyers and doctors who were allowed brief visits to these hellish places are almost unbearable to read: children deprived of sleep, denied access to blankets or mattresses, not allowed to wash their hands or brush their teeth; toddlers left alone on cold, hard floors, so traumatized they sit in stunned, tearless silence. Breaking up families, caging children in hot, fetid, disease-ridden camps is what dictators do.
Trump’s use of ‘Independence Day’ to stage a military display, in which M1A2 tanks and Bradley armoured vehicles rolled into Washington, while fighter jets and helicopters filled the sky, go against the principle of separation of military and political power.
Such displays are seen in states under dictatorial regimes as in Russia and China or in some Asian countries, like Pakistan and even in Sri Lanka where the distinction between military and political power have either disappeared or are in the process of becoming less distinct.
An instance of these lines blurring were emphasized when our President Gotabaya took umbrage at a political foe for apparently making reference to him in what the President deemed ‘without sufficient respect’.
In a break from his customary demeanour, the President lashed out making reference to the killing of LTTE leader Prabhakaran, in a veiled threat that the perhaps the same fate could befall his political opponents. One does not expect this type of response from democratically elected leaders. It is also a sad comparison, given that one was a terrorist and the other an elected representative of the people.