Opinion

Democracy on the ropes in US election – Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins is an Irish News columnist and former editor of the newspaper.

Former US president Donald Trump (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Three years ago this month, former US President Donald Trump attempted a coup to prevent his duly-elected successor from taking office (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The former owner of the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough put it well. “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Times have changed since Winston Churchill – yes, it was he – made that observation in the House of Commons. He spoke in the aftermath of a brutal war which brought an end to dictatorships in Germany and Italy, but which led to the domination of the Soviet Union across Eastern Europe, and fascism in Spain and Portugal.

Winston Churchill's predictions about alien life and the future of science will surprise you
Winston Churchill Former British prime minister Winston Churchill

You would have thought we’d have learned our lesson from history. But memories are fragile and the extreme right is on the march. Hungary has leapt from the Soviet frying pan into the fire; the Netherlands has endorsed the far right at the polls; and the United States, for so long seen as the champion of free speech and democratic values, has turned in on itself.

Three years ago this month, Donald Trump attempted a coup to prevent his duly-elected successor from taking office. Along the way he corrupted the Republican Party, opened the door to conspiracists, and seized control of the United States Supreme Court.

Next month, that Supreme Court is due to adjudicate on Colorado’s decision to remove Trump from this year’s presidential ballot for contravening the 14th amendment to the US constitution. It prevents those involved in insurrection from holding public office.

Don’t hold your breath for a positive outcome. Three of the nine justices are Trump appointees, and six of them are right-wingers.

President Biden has been pretty blunt about the importance of the 2024 election. It is, he says, about the future of democracy in the United States. He is right about that. Trump is a narcissist determined to mould the state to his own ends. He has said as much on the campaign trail.

The Colorado case will be heard on February 8. By then we will have already had the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Although Trump is facing 91 criminal charges – including trying to subvert the 2020 presidential election – he is way ahead in the race to lead the Republican Party into the next election.

Rioters loyal to Donald Trump gather at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6 2021 (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Capitol Riot Ray Epps Rioters loyal to Donald Trump gather at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6 2021 (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Among the wider electorate, a poll last week for USA Today showed Trump ahead among Hispanics and young people, and Biden’s position among black voters has also been eroded because of his unequivocal support for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The incumbent generally has an advantage, and Biden has a strong record to campaign on, but polls show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for an ageing president.

He has to pull something out of the bag if he is to see off the Trumpites. It’s not just the United States that needs their defeat.

US President Joe Biden (Evan Vucci/AP)
Joe Biden has a strong record to campaign on, but polls show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for an ageing president (Evan Vucci/AP)

On this side of the Atlantic there is also the prospect of a general election. The notion that the United Kingdom is a democracy is fanciful.

You have to go back to the 1930s to find a government elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote. Of the last three prime ministers, only one was endorsed by the electorate, and the current excuse for a national leader does not even have a mandate from his own party membership.



One of the legislative houses is packed with political cronies, hereditary peers and unelected bishops. The other? What can one say about a House of Commons mired in scandal?

At least the electorate in England, Scotland and Wales will have a chance to give their verdict on the Tories later this year.

Rishi Sunak said he treated every request for money when chancellor with ‘scepticism’
Rishi Sunak Voters will get a chance to give their verdict on Rishi Sunak's government in a general election this year (James Manning/PA)

But voters in Northern Ireland will have no say in the election of a government which will make life and death decisions over the lives of people here. In my book, if you cannot vote for or against those who govern you, you do not live in a democracy.

I suspect even the former proprietor of the Londonderry Arms Hotel would agree with me.

The notion that the United Kingdom is a democracy is fanciful