By Uchenna Ekwo
Thinking of the events, processes, and outcome of the shutdown of the United States government for 16 days, I cannot but view it from the prism of a coup d’état that was common in most emerging countries of Africa and Latin America in later parts of the 20th century. Shutdown is indeed a euphemism for coup d’état. The method is the same and the outcome could be the same regardless of whether it succeeded or failed.
Usually, when a coup d’état occurs in other countries, United States – the unofficial vanguard of democracy in the world—condemns such unconstitutional means of changing government. But, the recent exercise in the US called government shutdown is the same thing as a coup with a visible coup leader Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas. Like military men who plot coups, Ted Cruz, a gentleman supposedly learned in the law plotted to undermine the Obama administration ignoring the constitution and recent election outcome. One essential ingredient of a coup is that the plotters have utter disregard for the electoral system: what they are unable to achieve through the ballot box, they seek to achieve through the barrel of the gun.
Yes, Cruz and fellow dreamers did not have guns but they had guts to whip their loyalists in line through manipulation and stoking fear in them.
Unlike military coup plotters, Ted Cruz and his fellow troops did not have uniforms or guns but possessed acerbic tongues with which they cajoled law makers to become law breakers. They targeted a validly passed law, endorsed by the Supreme Court and validated in an election just 11 months ago. The fight to erase the Affordable Care Act pejoratively called Obamacare by opponents was flawed tactically as most moderate Republicans acknowledged. Yet, Speaker John Boehner claimed in his surrender statement that “we fought a good fight. We just didn’t win”.
Although Speaker John Boehner raised the white flag, his pseudo forces pledge to remain in the trenches determined to undermine the Obama administration. In fact the de facto coup leader Ted Cruz believed that they failed because some senate republicans refused to take orders from him unlike members of the House of Representatives. In fact Speaker John Boehner commands lesser number of troops within the House Republican conference than Ted Cruz who belongs to the upper legislative body. In the final votes that reopened the government and averted a default in US debts, members of Ted Cruz’s troops numbered 144 as opposed to Boehner’s 90 loyalists. This is telling of the kind of influence that Ted Cruz and fellow travelers wield in the lower chamber.
Usually when a coup attempt fails, the plotters are tried in a military court with predictable outcome. Jail sentence or even outright executions are common forms of punishment for attempting to overthrow a government by force or through illegitimate methods. The good news is that America’s democracy is strong and can withstand the shock unleashed by Ted Cruz and loyalists. The economic pain estimated at $24 billion is shared among the citizens of the republic while the plotters are spared of any form of punishment.
Instead, they received a lecture from their perceived opponent in the battle, President Obama saying “if you don’t like a particular policy or president, go win an election; don’t shutdown government and inflict pain on the people you claim to be fighting for”.
Perhaps, additional punishment in the form of electoral loss in next year’s midterm elections might be in the horizon. Such punishment may not affect the arch leaders of the failed coup but spread to other GOP candidates who were not convinced about the fight in the first place but had to follow their leaders in solidarity.
What is clear, however, is that if the GOP continued with the tactics of intolerance and anger, the Whitehouse will continue to elude it for a long time. In other words, it will remain in opposition for the foreseeable future.
Dr. Uchenna Ekwo wrote from New York