Trump And The World

Donald Trump’s Glaring Disrespect For Democracy

Trumping before Wednesday night's debate in Las Vegas
Trumping before Wednesday night's debate in Las Vegas

-OpEd-

WASHINGTON â€" Donald Trump showed a bit more self-control in the third and final presidential debate Wednesday night than he had in the previous two. His back and forth with Hillary Clinton was more substantive, thanks in part to firm guidance from moderator Chris Wallace. But all of that was overshadowed by Trump's breathtaking refusal to say that he will accept the results of the election.

"I will look at it at the time," he said. "The media is so dishonest and so corrupt . . . they poison the minds of the voters . . . She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency."

Clinton rightly called his stance a "horrifying" repudiation of U.S. democracy. Respecting the will of the voters has since the end of the Civil War allowed for a peaceful transition of power that has made this country the envy of the world.

Next to that, policy issues seem small. Yet the policy discussion was clarifying also, exposing as it did Trump's ignorance of - or is it distaste for? - facts and policy. He again insisted that the North American Free Trade Agreement has sucked jobs from the country, when economists have found otherwise. He indicated the debt would take care of itself under his economic plan because "we will have created a tremendous economic machine," which is pure snake oil. Incoherently, he attacked Clinton for favoring open borders but also favoring a border wall.

In another striking moment, Trump denied that the Russian government has been meddling in this election, refusing to accept the judgment of the country's intelligence community. Clinton said "the most important question" was whether Trump would acknowledge Moscow's interference. Trump at first declined to do so, saying he doubted the reports by U.S. intelligence agencies. He avoided any criticism of Russia's Vladimir Putin, repeatedly insisting it would be "good" to get along with Russia, with no mention of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and other actions that have made getting along difficult.

As if to prove Clinton's point that Trump would withdraw U.S. leadership from the world - to Putin's delight - the Republican nominee doubled down on his insistence that NATO countries and other allies "have to pay up," and he absurdly took credit for forcing reforms on the decades-old alliance. Clinton, by contrast, insisted that the United States benefits from engagement in the world, which used to be a consensus view on presidential debate stages.

When Wallace turned to the scandals that have dominated the past month, Trump incorrectly insisted that the women who have come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct have been "debunked."

Clinton managed to dodge some questions, including on communications that took place between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under her leadership. She rightly said that she would not worsen the national debt as Trump would, but she could not refute Wallace's point that she has no plan to reduce it. She had no clear answer on how she could impose a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace now controlled by Russia.

These are gaps that would have been probed and tested in a normal campaign. They fade to the status of trivia in the face of an opponent who will not accept the basic rules of American democracy.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ