It's not the President who holds America together. Nor is it the Supreme Court, or the two houses of Congress, or political parties, or even the Constitution. Or Wall Street or Silicon Valley. Dispersed across their vast land, individual Americans keep their country going and their leaders within bounds.
During Trump's final few days in office, individual military officers, speaking publicly and from their posts, made a couple of things plain. There was no possibility, they said, of Trump initiating a nuclear or non-nuclear military strike on his own, even though as President he possessed the critical computer-and-code. Subordinates in the chain of military command, it was openly announced, would disobey a manifestly selfish order.
They also indicated that thousands of the National Guard would move to Washington D.C. to enable and protect the Biden-Harris inauguration. It is likely that preparations for such a move were made on or even before January 6, when Trump repeated the falsehoods that he had "won in a landslide" and that "the election had been stolen" from him, and urged "patriots" to march to the Capitol to prevent the certification of Biden's win.
Until the 20th of this month, Trump was the President and indeed the Commander-In-Chief, but he was not the master or owner of a plantation or a corporation. The U.S. was a nation, the people were its owners, and Trump was merely someone placed for a limited term in a prestigious, and no doubt very influential, office. Other Americans appointed or elected to their civil or military offices (also for limited terms) were not only free to do their duty, they were required to do it.
And they were free, in the course of doing their duty, to ignore or even defy a manifestly illegal order from numero uno. Also feeling free to voice their opinion were America's judges, as were other Americans who found themselves in non-governmental chairs of influence, in the media or on a campus, school or voluntary organization.
Often called a nation governed by laws rather than by individuals, the U.S. is also, fortunately, a nation influenced at critical moments by the sense of duty of many of its citizens, including those working for the government.
There was no inevitability to what happened. It was by no means certain that Biden would win, or that his victories in critical battleground states, including those controlled by Republicans, would be acknowledged in the states or at the national level, or by the multi-tiered judiciary. Thanks to multiple individuals simply and courageously doing their duty, the confirmations and certifications came.
The peaceful transfer of power of January 20 was also not inevitable. But it happened. And it was accompanied by a palpable change. Where Trump's focus was all the time on Trump, Trump and more of Trump. Biden on the day of his inauguration ensured that America's cameras were turned towards Covid victims, Covid heroes, and everyday Americans. The character of governance seemed to alter.
Not that Trump will quietly pocket his loss and quarantine himself. "Loser!" was his preferred insult for those questioning or opposing him, and psychologists studying him, including niece Mary Trump, seem to agree that he cannot accept defeat. Moreover, publicity has always been his oxygen.
Additionally, Trump, whose ratings have dipped, seems to need political campaigns for financial survival as well. Trump hasn't contradicted allegations that much of the $200 million or more he raised in recent weeks for "undoing the fraud" of his defeat has gone into personal coffers - which are greatly strained, we are told, by debt.
As of writing, key uncertainties remain. When will the impeachment reach the senate for trial? Will the senate's Democrats persuade enough Republicans for a two-thirds vote without which Trump would stand "acquitted"? Will a senate trial return Trump to centre-stage, or, irrespective of the outcome, illuminate his illegalities?
Archaic rules and conventions govern the U.S. senate. While, thanks to Kamala Harris's vote as the chair, the Democrats have obtained "control" over what is now a 50-50 senate, Chuck Schumer, its new "leader", must settle "organizing" questions with the outgoing leader, Mitch McConnell, before meaningful activity can start in America's upper house.
It must sound unbelievable, yet it is a fact that without such a "settlement" even Biden's package of Covid relief that millions of American families and thousands of its hospitals need cannot be voted upon or authorized. On some vital matters, this wealthy superpower - dream destination for millions on our planet - is slower than a snail.
However, it is also a fact that after prolonged suspense, the U.S. has visibly endorsed justice and the rule of law in a world where power, it seemed, was feeling bolder than ever in its contempt for facts.
Now it seems that the equation has altered a bit in favour of justice, and also of sanity. Part of the fallout inside the U.S. is what appears to be a dramatic shrinkage in the confidence of the former President's "QAnon" backers with their weird beliefs.
Well after Biden's win was certified by the Congress, these "QAnon" adherents evidently believed, according to the Associated Press, in a preemptive coming of "The Storm" which would blow away Biden's swearing-in. When the inauguration happened - and happened calmly, inspiringly and without a hitch - there was disillusionment in their ranks, and the former President was blamed.
Suspense will no doubt continue in the U.S. But toxicity has gone down noticeably.
(Rajmohan Gandhi is presently teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)
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