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Is consent of the governed essential?


The US midterm elections ended yesterday and the results will definitely have a profound impact both on the United States and the international community. One only has to imagine possible policy changes with respect to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions in Northeast Asia and Iran, to name but three of the world’s trouble spots related to changes in the composition of the US Congress and state governments.

As Americans voted in droves way ahead of the actual election day, various analyses by political pundits and surveys were discussed to help both voters and observers have a better appreciation of the emerging political situation.

Various predictions were also made, with the general conclusion that there is a trend toward the Republicans and that the House will definitely be controlled by the GOP (“Grand Old Party”) and the Senate will most likely go the same way. Some 435 congressional and 35 Senate seats are up for grabs.

Political commentators point to the “faulty” messaging of Democrats which have portrayed Republicans, cultists within the party such as election deniers (some 300 of them are running as Republican candidates in more than a dozen States), and promoters of conspiracy theories, as the real threats to democracy. Democrats have consistently played up the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection as a Trump initiative that clearly shows Trump’s and his Republican party mates’ contempt and disdain for the rule of law and democratic processes.

Republicans, on the other hand, blame Democrats for the worsening crime situation, especially in major cities like New York. The Democrats, however, go back to Jan. 6, and now, the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of speaker Nancy in their own home. Democrats lay the blame for the violent political climate and rhetoric on the doorsteps of the Republicans. Violence against public officials, Democrats say, is directly attributable to Trump and groups in his orbit like the Oath-keepers and other rightist extremists.

And of course, the economy is always an issue and the party in power either gets blamed or praised for the state of the US economy. The 2022 mid-term election is not an exception. Inflation and high food prices are issues that affect everyone.

But here comes, a day before the Tuesday, Nov. 8 elections, John King, CNN’s Chief National Correspondent who has been covering US elections for over 40 years. In a CNN report, King explains these are the most complicated midterms of his four-decades long career.

King singles out volatility as the main reason why results are more difficult to predict. Employment ratings are high but then came inflation. Then came the controversy on abortion with the US Supreme Court. The Highest Tribunal decided that the right to privacy embodied in the US Constitution as a fundamental right. However, the same Court said the “government retained the power to regulate or restrict abortion access depending on the stage of the pregnancy.” The Trump-dominated supreme court overturned Roe vs. Wade. This politically charged act, favored Democrats and triggered an increase in voter registration among women in suburban areas. As King says, there is this rapid “tug of war” between good news and bad news for the Democrats and Republicans.

The latest development in the US’s toxic political environment is the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of House Democrats since 2004 and the first female Speaker. She is also number two in the line of succession after the Vice-President should the President be rendered incapable of fulfilling his/her presidential duties. The incessant attacks on Pelosi, which culminated in the break-in at the home of the third most powerful official in the US has, whether one likes it or not, “gender undertones.”

It is clear that the attack on Paul is politically motivated despite the cruel comments of Donald Trump, Jr., and billionaire Elon Musk’s conspiracy theory tweets. But, as pointed out by independent newsroom The 19th by writers Barbara Rodriguez and Jennifer Gerson in a report dated Nov. 12, “the man charged with breaking into the (Pacific Heights, San Francisco) home of House Speaker Nancy and husband Paul was reportedly yelling, ‘Where is Nancy?,’ echoing some of those who attacked the capitol on Jan. 6.”

The attacker, later identified by San Francisco police as David DePape, 42, whom perpetual US presidential candidate, tough guy Ted Cruz, later described in a Tweet as a hippie from Berkley. Hours later, the Cruz Tweet, like those of the two Trumps and Musk, were pulled down. DePape later confessed to the police that he planned to hold Speaker Pelosi hostage and ask her some questions. DePape would have broken her (Speaker Nancy) kneecaps if he wasn’t satisfied with her answers, according to police.

Paul Pelosi, 82 years old was taken to the San Francisco General Hospital (which, although not the nearest medical facility to the Pelosi home, reportedly specializes in trauma injuries) after being allegedly beaten with a hammer by “a man who broke into the family’s home.”

A report by The Independent’s Bevan Hurley stated that the attack sparked anger, mockery, lurid conspiracy theories, increased security, warnings of a heightened threat “from domestic extremists in advance of November’s midterm elections, and fears that the extreme rhetoric of far-right groups such as QAnon is increasingly spilling over into violence. In stark contrast to the combative rhetoric of the Trumps and other extremists, Speaker Pelosi called for healing in a brief interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN. It was the first interview the Speaker granted since the attack on her husband who has since gone home to recover from brain surgery. The Speaker refused to view the tapes of the assault saying ‘these are all in the public domain.’”

The details of the attack and the response of 911 have all been narrated on various platforms. At this point, what seems to be timelier is to look perhaps with some dismay at how political discourse or debate has degenerated in what is supposed to be the showcase of democracy in the free world. One recalls the recent assassination attempt on Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan, who was wounded in the leg during a rally when a gunman fired several shots at the stage on which Khan stood. We’re reminded of the call of Chuck Schumer, majority leader of the US Senate, who called a top Trump official in the middle of the Jan. 6 assault to send law enforcement personnel to restore order in the Capitol. Schumer remarked during the call, “Listen we’re starting to look like a third world country.”

Although said in frustration, Schumer may have basis for his remarks, which tends to put developing markets like the Philippines in a bad light with respect to elections, the essence of which is consent of the governed. The American government has always resorted to a call for elections in countries that are ruled by autocrats and dictators but are waging heroic struggles to follow democratic rule. This was the formula in the Philippines, Kenya, and other countries.

Since elections are a basic requirement of democracy, elections must possess certain qualities to be considered credible. One of these is the impartiality and independence of those tasked with managing fair, honest, and transparent elections. Some States in the US fail this test as there are hundreds of election deniers and fake electors now tasked to manage elections in these States. Another metric that ought to be used in judging the fairness of elections is the absence, in general, of coercion. One only has to see images of armed men (wearing flak jackets to signify their readiness for combat) going to polling places in the US, intimidating election officials in the course of searching for voter data and other information that should not be, in the first place, in possession of unauthorized persons. One also sees images of “plain citizens” sitting around ballot drop boxes taking photos of voters in violation of a person’s privacy. The attempts in certain states to deny voting rights to certain minority groups by requiring documents that would require extra expense and effort to produce is one such blatant example of voter denial.

By this time, the future over the next two years of President Biden’s economic and development agenda should be clear: his party has lost control of one or both Houses of Congress or has retained control of one or both Houses. Or Trump and his isolationist, populist, rightist dictatorship-leaning crowd comprised of unelected (and probably, unelectable) characters like Bannon and Stone, shall have prevailed. Or consent of the governed has prevailed.

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.

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