Exercise in democracy or “Bolirkhela”?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the third U.S. presidential debate. Photo: AFP

Imagine two heavyset men in the middle of a mud pool lunging at each other. They huff and puff, throw up their arms in the air screaming obscenities – some in earnest, some to stir their supporters. Finally, after repeated frontal assaults, one of them puts the other down and claims the trophy, sending his supporters into a frenzy. 

This in Chittagong is known as Bolirkhela.

Now imagine an overweight man – about 6 feet 3 inches tall weighing about 236 pounds – and a smaller 5 feet 6 inches woman weighing about 136 pounds – in the same mud pool, though without any actual mud. They too are fighting for a trophy – a much bigger trophy. As they lunge at each other, they huff and puff, spewing a stream of invectives. The man turns to the woman and calls her nasty; she in disgust calls him horrifying. This goes on back and forth for ninety minutes, relenting only when the closing bell rings ding dong. They climb out of the ring, each claiming victory over the other. I did the best, one says. No, I did the best, the other shouts back. The crowd goes home and waits for the next round. 

This, in the United States, is known as an exercise in democracy.

Seriously, what is going in the United States, is nothing less than our very own BolirKhela, except it is so nasty one has to keep children away lest they get curious about groping body parts and other favourite pastimes of the Republican candidate. The two leading candidates – Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and Donald trump on the Republican – have moved heaven and earth in their search for the choicest words. Just consider the following that they have used to describe each other:

Donald Trump: Crooked, dishonest, liar, fraud, disgraceful, nasty, puppet 

Hillary Clinton: prejudiced, racist, hate monger, bigot, white supremacist

Neither of them seems able to mention their opponent without an accompanying epithet. For Trump, it is always "crooked Hillary." For Hillary, her opponent is always "a hate monger" and "bigoted."

Clearly, Mr. Trump has a bigger collection and is more generous with their use. He also gets a kick out of mocking his opponents, whether it is Hillary or a nosey disabled journalist, belittling theme every which way possible. 

Having exhausted all the invectives in his quiver, Donald Trump has now decided to give up all pretense of democratic niceties.  He may not concede if he loses. This he said on live television, at the much ballyhooed third presidential debate, with more than 72 million people watching the antics wide-eyed.   There are massive voter frauds and the mainstream media is out there conspiring with the Hillary camp to steal the election, he claimed. An incredulous Chris Wallace, the moderator of the debate, wanted to make sure the bulky man in the middle had understood the question. We are talking about a cornerstone of America's democracy, he emphasised. Clearly enjoying himself, Mr. Trump conjured up a wicked smile and said, "Well, we will see at the time." Meanwhile, enjoy the suspense. 

The next day he was in Ohio, clarifying himself.  Sure I will accept the election outcome, but only if I win. Thousands of chest thumping people, mostly white and mostly "less educated," screamed, "Amen,  Amen!"

So, what's really going on?

To most Americans, their country is manna from heaven. For years, this country's political leaders have talked about America being "exceptional" and its work – whether selling arms to Saudi Arabia or dropping bombs on poor Vietnamese – God's work. Looking at it now, the "BolirKhela" – of the American variety - does not look much like God's work. 

As we witness in real time the disintegration of the myth about the greatness of American democracy, people are worrying what will happen once this election is over. The most worrying is the scenario in which an angry Trump refuses to concede defeat and millions of his marauding followers take to the street threatening violence.  

The underlying reason for the growing "white anger" is, of course, their political and economic marginalisation. The country is increasingly getting un-white, a prospect deeply resented by the whites who had taken it for granted that they would forever remain in charge. According to US statistics, a majority of Americans would be non-white by 2043. However, if you consider the US population under five, this country is already a non-white majority. According to US census report, by 2015, America's 52.3 per cent children under five were non-whites.

This is a reality the whites cannot accept.

Almost eight years ago, when Barack Obama beat all his white competitors to become the country's first black President, it hit the whites for the first time that the country was slipping out of their grip. The reaction was swift and widespread. He was denounced as illegitimate because he was a 'Muslim and foreign-born'. Ann Coulter, a conservative columnist, called Obama a monkey, and Ted Nugent, a singer and song writer, called him "a subhuman mongrel." That was only hors devours, the main course was yet to come. 

Unsurprisingly, a new political movement was launched called Tea Party, anchored solely on the fear that the country was being "stolen" from them.  In 2014, two Princeton University professors, Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto, published their award-winning book, Change they Can't Believe In, where they demonstrated how the Tea Party movement was fueled by White America's firm belief that they needed to take back their country. Donald Trump simply took the idea of a "stolen country" and made it an anthem for a despairing white nation.

As we watch the American version of our Bolirkhela, one shudders to think how this might end.  The next chapter of this nation is yet to be written, but if its people fail to retake their own country from the Trump maniacs, it would truly be lost.

The writer is a journalist and author based in New York.