Trump gives China more reason to fear full-scale democracy in HK

February 10, 2017 08:00
US President Donald Trump’s attack on the judge who ruled against his executive order last week is tantamount to attacking the rule of law. Photo: Reuters

Democracy did not elect Hitler as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee claimed during the fierce public opposition to Article 23 national security legislation in 2003 when she was security secretary. 

But democracy did elect Donald Trump as the president of the United States.

His authoritarian behavior during his first few weeks in office is drawing comparisons between him and the German dictator who led the ultra-nationalist, racist, and populist Nazi Party.

The comparisons are not altogether far-fetched. Like Hitler, Trump is an extreme nationalist who used “Putting America First” and “Make America Great Again” as his election campaign slogans.

He ran a hate-filled campaign which relied on populism, racism, and xenophobia to win support from less-educated, rural white voters.

But, of course, that’s as far as the comparison with Hitler can go.

America’s constitution makes it impossible for Trump to mimic Hitler’s horrific excesses. 

Forget about gas chambers, the constitution makes ethnic cleansing impossible and has roadblocks against discrimination based on religion or race.

That’s why we’re now seeing such a fierce legal battle against Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban people from seven Muslim countries.

Legal scholars are near unanimous in agreeing that the ban on Muslims makes it unconstitutional, although it will be up to the courts to ultimately decide if the president has the constitutional power to impose such a ban for national security reasons.

But don’t be lulled into thinking the constitution can fully protect America and the world from this narcissist who even psychiatrists now say is mentally disturbed.

Hitler ruled through fear. He used demagoguery to brainwash his followers.

Trump rules though division. He is a demagogue who challenges the rule of law and even the constitution by ignoring the media and using Twitter instead to reach his loyal followers.

We saw that last week when he attacked a judge who ruled against his Muslim ban by calling him a “so-called judge” and criticizing his ruling as ridiculous.

Trump similarly mocked an American-born judge of Mexican origin during the election campaign by claiming the judge’s ethnicity meant he could not be fair.

It’s one thing for a presidential candidate to attack a judge but another for a president to do so.

Trump’s attack on the judge who ruled against his executive order last week is tantamount to attacking the rule of law.

Can you imagine the outrage here in Hong Kong if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying attacked a judge by name or even the judiciary in general?

Now that democracy has elected a demagogue in a country that prides itself as the leader of the free world, is it time to re-examine Winston Churchill’s words about democracy with 21st century eyes?

The late British leader said in 1947: “Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

What he meant was even though democracy is not perfect, it is much better than other systems.

But is India’s democracy providing a better life for its people than China’s authoritarian system? Is Hong Kong’s semi-democracy system better than Singapore’s semi-authoritarian system?

Trump’s election in a nation that worships democracy hasn’t as yet led to mainstream questioning of the democratic system of government.

Maybe in time it will, if Trump goes too far in using, or abusing, the immense power his election victory has given him.

He has won the White House and his Republican Party now controls both houses of Congress by comfortable margins.  This means he can push through any laws he wants.

The Republican Party has so far bowed to his every demand, not daring to challenge him on anything.

He has even asked his party to use the “nuclear option” – scrapping a rule that requires 60 Senate votes to approve a Supreme Court judge – if the Democratic Party opposes his nominee for the Supreme Court.

Even though the party that controls the Senate can use such a “nuclear option”, actually using it virtually replaces check and balance with authoritarian rule.

While Trump’s victory has very little, if any, political significance for Hong Kong, although it has great significance for China, it will still have opened Beijing’s eyes wider on how unpredictable so-called genuine democracy can be.

Will the central government want unrestrained democracy in Hong Kong? What if such a system produces a separatist as chief executive or someone who can be manipulated to let Hong Kong become a base to undermine China?

These scenarios may seem preposterous to Hong Kong people but they are very real concerns for China.

Trump became president through democracy but it took him just a few weeks in office to tarnish democracy’s good name.

He has given ample reasons for China to fear even more about full-scale democracy in Hong Kong.

And he has given ammunition to those who argue that in today’s world, democracy doesn’t solve but create problems, holds back progress, and is not the best form of government compared to others as Churchill claimed.

Hong Kong’s democracy camp has always relied on the US to champion its cause.

People such as former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, Martin Lee Chu-ming, and Joshua Wong Chi-fung have often made pilgrimages to the US for support in their fight for democracy.

Anson Chan even gushed about being invited by the Republican Party to Trump’s inauguration.

Now that the US is governed by Trump – who has shown himself to be an authoritarian, bigot, bully, and misogynist – can Hong Kong’s democracy advocates, who say they oppose China’s authoritarian rule, consider it morally right to seek US support for their cause?

The peril of democracy is that there is no guarantee only morally upright people will be elected. 

The built-in safeguard is that voters can throw out people like Trump at the next election if they choose to. But that is cold comfort because demagogues can do a lot of damage while in office.

Will Trump’s bizarre presidency make Hong Kong people think twice about their yearning for democracy?

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.