The majlis: If this is US democracy, you can keep it

At the end of the debate, I was left cheated. Is this the best the US can do? Are these two individuals truly the best of their generation?
Whoever the American electorate votes for, it will affect everybody, especially in the Middle East. Jewel Samad / AFP
Whoever the American electorate votes for, it will affect everybody, especially in the Middle East. Jewel Samad / AFP

Like people all over the world, I set my alarm on Tuesday to go off at an the unreasonably early 4.45am, to make sure I didn’t miss a moment of the United States presidential debate. Not because I’m an American citizen, or because I’ve studied or lived there for any period of time. I wanted, probably needed, to watch, because it matters.

Whoever the American electorate votes for, it will affect everybody, especially in the Middle East. Wars fought in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as well as the unresolved elephant in the room, Palestine, will be determined by the attitude, outlook, and temperament of the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I was transfixed by my screen, focusing intensely on every word and every indication of personality that could be ascertained through 90 minutes of intensely rehearsed scripts.

At the end of the debate, I was left cheated. Is this the best the US can do? Are these two individuals truly the best of their generation?

Mr Trump made up his own facts, his own version of history, and even his own version of the English language by using a word I haven’t heard since kindergarten. We had a kid who would say “bigly” every time he wanted to express that something was very large. I guess that kid grew up to be Donald Trump.

Mrs Clinton is Washington as we know it, but not as we love it. With her, we can almost guarantee another four years – and, heaven forbid, eight years – of political gridlock in Washington, where nothing gets resolved, and all bets are off until 2020.

Why am I, as an Emirati, so incensed by all of this? Besides the aforementioned reality that it matters, there is something about democracy in the past decade or so that has left me desperately evaluating the best form of government any country could have.

When the US elected George W Bush, I shuddered, but accepted that any electorate could be hoodwinked once. When they re-elected him, I was devastated. How could you fool 300 million well-educated, well-informed, relatively wealthy individuals at the same time (I can see the flaw in my own argument there). Time heals everything they say, so come 2008 the US redeemed itself. They voted in a man who has a funky sounding name, has a Muslim middle name, and who even looks like some of the guys from my neighbourhood. The optimism was infectious, and when the Nobel committee agreed that this was a seismic moment of opportunity for the human race, I was imagining Mount Rushmore being prepared to add one more face to the four that are already there.

Everything unravelled after that. With democracy ushering in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Brexit in the UK, and now possibly voting Donald Trump to the presidency of the US, I can comfortably say that if this is democracy, you can keep it.

When things are going well, it’s easy to keep the well oiled wheels of government ticking away nicely. But when there are challenges, that is when you want a system that will allow the best to rise to the top, which is not what we have seen in the past few years: Austria is about to vote in a far-right president, Marine Le Pen is the most viable presidential contender in France, and the Italians have voted in mayors in major cities who are members of a party started by, and you can’t make this up, a clown (OK, comedian). We need to remember that democracy gave us Mussolini, Hitler, and countless other madmen and psychopaths.

Ammar Shams has an undergraduate degree in economics and postgraduate degree in law, with a focus in Islamic Law. He worked in the oil-and-gas industry, and in HR for the federal and local government.

If you have a good story to tell or an interesting issue to debate, contact Ashley Lane on alane@thenational.ae.

Published: September 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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