Twelve years ago, around this time, I remember having only been in the United States for less than a year when George W. Bush; standing in a podium in front of the white house, concluded his presidential term by welcoming the incoming president and saying “this peaceful transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy” that simple statement, to me, it was as much of a cultural shock as the new language, and learning that people from all over the world call this place home.
By the mere fact of having grown up in Bolivia I had learned to associate democracy and transitions of power -in particular- with violence. So, for me to see the manner in which democracy was carried here was just admirable-it was the first time I had seen something like that. That moment stayed with me and today, during election times, I reflect on why, as a teenager, I had that association and why those words from Bush’s speech still strike me as important.
My parents generations grew up in one of the most tumultuous times of Bolivia’s recent history; starting in the mid ’60s Bolivia had 19 presidents in a period of 21 years. In contrast, during the 15 years I lived in Bolivia I recall only seeing the succession of three presidents. Out of those three, two were force out of office by the people–not a military coup but by the discontent of the people. People that were compelled to gather in masses and demanded the resignation of their leader on the streets, in both cases their demands were met with violence.
To grow up in Bolivia during the ‘90s was to witness how those dictatorships were still present in the minds our parents’ generation. One of the ways in which it manifested itself was in the visible resentment that generation has towards the military, as an institution, and the United States government for enabling them. They saw the United States as a recurring ally to those dictatorships. It is no secret the U. S. cooperated, financed, and at times trained the regimes of those times, one of their most famous collaborations was their help in the bloody Operation Condor. Then later in the ’80s and ’90s the war on drugs which heavily prescribed political reforms that at best were highly unpopular and in most cases proved damaging to the people they were meant to help in Bolivia and in the United States.
Fast-forward to 2016–for me, like for many americans the rise of Donald Trump and the news of the Russians interfering with the elections came as a shock, but what shocked me even more was the disbelief I saw in people. I would lie if I did not tell you that I observed with a little bit of glee the reactions. I remember clearly someone in a weeding telling me “how could this happen here, that is something that happens in third-world countries” (putting the problematic ‘third-world’ term aside) In my mind that sentence made me connect the dots, I concluded later that it was just the faith of this country; whose influence has determined so many elections around the world, to go through the disheartening experience of being in the receiving end of that story. I also remember immediately feeling conflicted for thinking that way. That is something my parents would say, I struggled to reconcile with that thought because although they would be right I know that neither the United States nor any country deserves to have a maniac, as unhinged as Trump, as their leader. However, what I did not have problems reconciling with was the man himself, the new president.
I saw quickly in Donald Trump the archetype of the dictator. It scared me how close he resembled one. The shameless discrediting of the media, the intolerance of any display of opposition, the abuses of power. I kept thinking he is going to want to stay. Even the delusional dictator’s state of mind was there, the fragile and fractured ego that constantly craves for praise was undeniably there. Ironically, the same mind that craves so much turns against friends in matter of seconds. In one instant he can be praising an ally, the next he can be directing fire at it. A complete lack of morals. It was all too clear.
What scared me the most this current elections is that he is surrounded by enablers and today his influence has reached even the highest courts thanks to the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. If he wishes he can seed a loophole to run as many times as he wants. It is not crazy to think attorney general William Barr will be by his side. I hope I am wrong.
I know I said to much too fast but If I can be forgotten to point out the obvious, if Donald Trump wins, he will want to stay for more than 8 years, I am sure of that–and is not too wild to think that he can–. Now if he loses there will no speech praising a peaceful transition of power as a hallmark of democracy. Whatever it happens at the end it will be anything except peaceful, he will fight and we will never hear the phrase “I lost” coming out of his mouth.