January 6th and the Free Fall of Democracy.

3 January, 2022
Trump and Kyle Rit­ten­house at Mar-a-Lago after the shoot­er was acquit­ted of all charges in his homi­cide tri­al in Novem­ber (pho­to source: Twitter/TMR).

Mike Booth

Jan­u­ary 6 com­mem­o­rates the Epiphany, tra­di­tion­al­ly the day on which the Three Wise Men arrived from afar to vis­it the Baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frank­in­cense and myrrh. It is a date that usu­al­ly pass­es unno­ticed in the US, but in Spain, where we have lived since the late six­ties, it’s one of the most impor­tant days of the Christ­mas sea­son. It is the day that chil­dren receive their Christ­mas presents. Jan­u­ary 6 is just around the cor­ner and proves to be inter­est­ing in the States, as well. Don­ald J. Trump, who rep­re­sents the gravest dan­ger to Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Cit­i­zens Unit­ed v. FEC deci­sion that the First Amend­ment pro­hibits lim­its on cor­po­rate fund­ing of elec­tions, has promised us a press con­fer­ence. His announce­ment is pre­dictably laced with lies:

I will be hav­ing a news con­fer­ence at Mar-a-Lago on Jan­u­ary 6th… Until then, remem­ber the insur­rec­tion took place on Novem­ber 3, it was a com­plete­ly unarmed protest of the rigged elec­tion that took place on Jan­u­ary 6th.

—Don­ald J. Trump, Mar-a-Lago

Let us attempt to guess at the con­tent of that upcom­ing meet­ing with the press. I think it is safe to say it will be essen­tial­ly more of the same preach­ing to the choir, with the tru­cu­lence fac­tor ratch­eted up. He is on a roll. We will hear unfound­ed accu­sa­tions of stolen elec­tions, insur­rec­tion denials, slan­der­ing of ex-cohorts, whinge­ing vic­tim­ism and thin­ly-veiled exhor­ta­tions to his row­dy uncon­di­tion­al fol­low­ers. It is unlike­ly that he will men­tion that his fam­i­ly busi­ness is fac­ing a 15-count indict­ment by the Man­hat­tan Dis­trict Attor­ney for, among oth­er things, con­spir­a­cy, grand lar­ce­ny, and mul­ti­ple counts of tax fraud and fal­si­fy­ing busi­ness records. Although Trump is present­ly not named in the indict­ment, all threads even­tu­al­ly lead to him.

Judicial Treatment of Rittenhouse Case Smacks of Deteriorating Democracy, Rising Fascism

A year after his gra­tu­itous mur­der with an AR-15 semi­au­to­mat­ic rifle of two activists on the street and his grotesque tri­al, Kyle Rit­ten­house, the sob­bing boy­ish killer of the court­room, now absolved by the court of all charges, is cel­e­brat­ing his celebri­ty in right-wing cir­cles. He was recent­ly the guest of hon­or at Turn­ing Point USA, a con­ser­v­a­tive con­fer­ence in Phoenix, Ari­zona where he received a stand­ing ova­tion. Lat­er the ado­les­cent killer was received by the Pres­i­dent him­self. This sur­re­al series of events rais­es seri­ous ques­tions regard­ing the the ex-pres­i­den­t’s mind-set, the jus­tice impart­ed by the courts and the very authen­tic­i­ty of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. It seems that it is subvertible.

The most wor­ri­some aspect of the ex-Pres­i­den­t’s reen­try into active pol­i­tics is the widened and inten­si­fied sup­port he may have gained over the past year thanks both to his ongo­ing rab­ble rous­ing and Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s flag­ging approval rat­ings. As for “inten­si­fied sup­port” from his base, that could range from pro-Trump poet­ry read­ings in old folks’ homes to civ­il war. Amer­i­can arms sales are at an alarm­ing high again, and they aren’t being pur­chased by antifa demon­stra­tors. Anoth­er fac­tor in the coun­try’s reck­on­ing with Trump is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that he might announce his can­di­da­cy for the 2024 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, some­thing he is free to do at any time. Should he declare, it would com­pli­cate the work of the Con­gress and Depart­ment of Jus­tice in inves­ti­gat­ing him for any and all of his wrongdoings.

Meanwhile, Back at the DOJ

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mer­rick Gar­land may be an hon­est pub­lic ser­vant, but he has yet to announce any inves­ti­ga­tion of Trump’s role in the events of Jan­u­ary 6 or its run-up. What is he wait­ing for? The find­ings of the House Select Com­mit­tee? That would be pru­dent of him. But even pru­dence can be mis­used. If Gar­land con­tin­ues scrupu­lous­ly to wait and the Depart­ment of Jus­tice inves­ti­ga­tion over­laps with 2022 midterm elec­tions, the work of the judi­cia­ry and the Con­gress could be com­pli­cat­ed immea­sur­ably. A for­mer Pres­i­dent as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has a pow­er­ful aura.

Security Agencies and Threats to American Democracy

Anoth­er impor­tant ingre­di­ent in this grue­some stew of dimin­ish­ing Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy is the intel­li­gence agen­cies which, in the­o­ry, had no juris­dic­tion with­in the bor­ders of the Unit­ed States. That the­o­ry turned out to be an oversight/error/lie — take your pick — thanks to the infor­ma­tion that sur­faced in the 2013 NSA domes­tic sur­veil­lance scan­dal brought to light by for­mer secu­ri­ty ana­lyst, Edward Snow­den, today a threat­ened polit­i­cal exile in Moscow, of all places. Con­cerned Amer­i­cans also owe a debt of grat­i­tude to their whistle­blow­ers, though the fore­most one hap­pens to be an Aus­tralian, Julian Assange. He is cur­rent­ly pay­ing a ter­ri­ble price in the lugubri­ous Bel­marsh Prison, south­east of Lon­don, after nine years of per­verse­ly cre­ative deten­tion. There he con­tin­ues to await a deci­sion on his extra­di­tion to the US where he faces a sen­tence that could see him die behind bars. His crime? Jour­nal­ism. His les­son? Don’t piss off the Amer­i­can thugs.

Nor have the Amer­i­can clan­des­tine ser­vices been bril­liant in the exte­ri­or, per­haps doing more harm than good in the cause of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. The democracy/communism dichoto­my prop­a­gat­ed by the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agen­cies after the Sec­ond World War is not valid today, if it ever was, as all the pieces on the chess­board have been moved repeat­ed­ly since then. The US is no longer the good-life haven that it used to be, with its then labor unions, its less cyn­i­cal politi­cians and its more trust­ing elec­torate. Who would dare to com­pare Trump to Eisen­how­er or Biden to Roo­sevelt, or even Truman?

In addi­tion to the CIA and the NSA, the heavy­weights of Amer­i­can spy agen­cies, there are, accord­ing to the US gov­ern­men­t’s own reck­on­ing, 17 more. What anti-democ­ra­cy antics are they up to, besides spy­ing on every moth­er’s son? We don’t know and we may nev­er know because the pre­cise activ­i­ties of these secret ser­vices are, well, secret. Did the CIA play a role in the assas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy and/or his broth­er Robert, over half a cen­tu­ry ago? We still don’t know. What oth­er oper­a­tions are still going on or sched­uled for the future of Amer­i­ca’s dena­tured democracy?

American Decadence Meets Chinese Vigor

Amer­i­can well­be­ing was based on what seemed sol­id pros­per­i­ty, but that well­be­ing was short lived, sub­vert­ed by the Hon­da and the Toy­ota. The behe­moth that was the Amer­i­can auto indus­try col­lapsed in the blink of an his­toric eye and the strip of indus­tri­al cities south of the Great Lakes, once the envy of the world, became the aban­doned and impov­er­ished Rust Belt, left to its own defi­cient devices. Mean­while, Japan­ese, Ger­man and lat­er Chi­nese pros­per­i­ty surged might­i­ly. Today, Chi­nese indus­try is sup­ply­ing the entire world with man­u­fac­tured goods, while lift­ing a pop­u­la­tion of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple out of pover­ty. It is becom­ing clear to every­body — except per­haps many Amer­i­cans them­selves — that the old democracy/communism labels have been rel­e­gat­ed to just that, labels, no longer capa­ble of elic­it­ing the famil­iar old Pavlov­ian response.

The remark­able thing about this trans­for­ma­tion is that the Chi­nese have achieved it by non-mil­i­tary means. While the Amer­i­cans were bank­rupt­ing them­selves with for­eign wars and black ops, their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts were busy man­u­fac­tur­ing kitchen acces­sories and cheap lit­tle cars. They were so suc­cess­ful at it that that they are now export­ing their devel­op­ment mod­el across the world — with­out fir­ing a shot. Their only mil­i­tary con­cerns are the Amer­i­cans sail­ing war­ships gai­ly up and down the Tai­wan Strait and ten­sions with­in what the Chi­nese con­sid­er, not with­out valid rea­sons, their own bor­ders: Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Mean­while, the Amer­i­can oli­garchy has bus­ied itself dis­man­tling what was left of its authen­tic democ­ra­cy. The first vic­tims were the unions, which were a rel­a­tive­ly easy mark dur­ing the col­lapse of Amer­i­can indus­try, with the notable excep­tion of the mil­i­tary arms firms, which have always enjoyed a gale-force tail­wind. Then came the final sub­ver­sion of any pos­si­bil­i­ty of demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment. The cher­ry on the top was the afore­men­tioned Supreme Court 2010 deci­sion in the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed v. FEC case.

High Tech + Big Bucks = Trouble for Democracy

Then some­thing quite unex­pect­ed hap­pened. The prof­its gen­er­at­ed by the ris­ing tide of tech­nol­o­gy cre­at­ed a class of easy-mon­ey bil­lion­aires with the desire and the means to inter­vene direct­ly in Amer­i­ca’s des­tiny. One of them, Robert Mer­cer, found­ed in the UK, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a com­pa­ny that employed bright kids, a bound­less wealth of spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion on mem­bers from Face­book, and big-data tech­niques to cre­ate a sys­tem to inter­vene in the results of elec­tions. So much for democ­ra­cy. You can read the inside sto­ry of this dia­bol­i­cal ven­ture in a charm­ing-if-ter­ri­fy­ing lit­tle book called Mindfu*k, writ­ten by Christo­pher Wylie, one of the first tech­ni­cians to start work on the project at the age of 24. When he real­ized the impli­ca­tions of what he was work­ing on, he quit, moved back to Cana­da and wrote a book. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca no longer exists as a com­pa­ny, but the prod­uct is out there. 

The Atlantic pub­lished a lucid — and fright­en­ing — com­men­tary on the 2022 anniver­sary of Jan­u­ary 6. The essay, typ­i­cal of The Atlantic’s best writ­ing, is long and brainy, writ­ten with the author­i­ty of con­sci­en­tious report­ing with one eye on pos­si­ble future deriv­a­tives. The author is staff writer Bar­ton Gell­man, who also wrote Dark Mir­ror: Edward Snow­den and the Amer­i­can Sur­veil­lance State and Angler: The Cheney Vice Pres­i­den­cy. Enti­tled Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun and sub­ti­tled “Jan­u­ary 6 was prac­tice. Don­ald Trump’s GOP is much bet­ter posi­tioned to sub­vert the next elec­tion,” Gell­man sets the scene:

By way of foun­da­tion for all the rest, Trump and his par­ty have con­vinced a daunt­ing­ly large num­ber of Amer­i­cans that the essen­tial work­ings of democ­ra­cy are cor­rupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheat­ing can thwart their vic­to­ry at the polls, that tyran­ny has usurped their gov­ern­ment, and that vio­lence is a legit­i­mate response.

—Bar­ton Gell­man, The Atlantic

I won’t go into the exten­sive con­tent of this near-prophet­ic essay. You need to read it for yourself.

The Worst-Case Scenario

The Econ­o­mist’s 2019 Democ­ra­cy Index clas­si­fies the Unit­ed States as a “Flawed democ­ra­cy.” It has­n’t improved since then, and the future does not look bright. D.N. Mein­ster writes on Medium.com, Sep­tem­ber 28, 2021:

Com­bined with the Repub­li­can Par­ty embrac­ing insur­rec­tion and reject­ing elec­tions that they don’t win as ille­git­i­mate, the state of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy is bleak. And with­out inter­ven­tion, it will con­tin­ue to decline until, like so many oth­er failed states, we are a democ­ra­cy in name only.

—D.N. Mein­ster on Medium.com

Bar­ring a mer­ci­ful act of God, Don­ald Trump will be the Repub­li­can can­di­date for the pres­i­den­cy in 2024. He has both the par­ty heads and the rank and file firm­ly in his pock­et. Could he win? That’s a scary ques­tion. What is cer­tain is that if he did, the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca would nev­er be even remote­ly the same again. Armed Proud Boys would go bat­shit in the streets and their objec­tives would­n’t be just the odd Black dri­ver with faulty tail lights. The Repub­li­can lead­er­ship would assume they had carte blanche to install a full-blown fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship. Their first step would like­ly be a kristall­nacht on steroids. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty oppo­si­tion would have to ally them­selves with Chi­na and Rus­sia to retake the coun­try. Yes, this is a worst-case sce­nario, but is it entire­ly too out­landish? I left the States for good in 1968, short­ly after being dis­charged from the army, think­ing the coun­try had hit bot­tom. How lit­tle I knew.

What Is to Be Done?

It’s clear by now that no amount of impro­vi­sa­tion nor short-term solu­tions will solve Amer­i­ca’s dwin­dling-democ­ra­cy prob­lems. But is there even time for the nec­es­sary long-term solu­tions, which would entail an inten­sive pro­longed pro­gram of civic edu­ca­tion —and par­tic­i­pa­tion? Iron­i­cal­ly, the clear­est elab­o­ra­tion of a pre­scrip­tion for the ill­ness of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy comes from an Indi­an web­site, maeeshat.in, which main­tains that the essen­tial place to begin the process of nur­tur­ing the nation’s future cit­i­zens is mid­dle school. The arti­cle, enti­tled “The Solu­tion: A Com­pre­hen­sive Civic Learn­ing and Engage­ment Inter­ven­tion Begin­ning in Mid­dle School,” points out some of the fac­tors that led to today’s deficiencies:

…mid­dle school is where the civic learn­ing gap is cur­rent­ly the largest and most prob­lem­at­ic. This is so because the No Child Left Behind leg­is­la­tion and the Com­mon Core Stan­dards, with the empha­sis placed on STEM (Sci­ence, Tech­nol­o­gy, Engi­neer­ing, Math­e­mat­ics), have left civics and cit­i­zen­ship far behind — for the most part, not in the cur­ric­u­la at all.

maeeshat.in

Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy today is so skewed by events that it would be unrec­og­niz­able to the coun­try’s founders. Even if they were to get it right, Amer­i­can-style democ­ra­cy would nev­er be a uni­ver­sal val­ue. It nev­er was. And now there is more cul­tur­al push­back in the world than before, when the Amer­i­cans had the fry­ing pan by the han­dle. In the present state of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy, leak­ing through every seam and riv­et, it will not con­vince any­body who is not on the Amer­i­can pay­roll. From here on out Gringo democ­ra­cy will always exist in the shade of Chi­na’s mixed com­mu­nis­m/s­tate-cap­i­tal­ism system.

Thanks to Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump, just the penul­ti­mate in a long line of defi­cient and/or crooked pres­i­dents, the Unit­ed States has shown its grimy cards. The entire world can now con­tem­plate Amer­i­ca’s cal­lous treat­ment of its neigh­bors world­wide, its fer­al racism, its social inequal­i­ty, and its supine igno­rance. Trump did­n’t cre­ate Amer­i­ca, Amer­i­ca cre­at­ed Trump. That goes a long way toward explain­ing the rock-sol­id loy­al­ty of his fol­low­ers. He has tapped the moth­er lode.

Apart from the clos­et accom­plices, some Amer­i­cans are vic­tims of these real­i­ties but they feel help­less in the face of the larg­er half of a nation raised on Dar­win­ian self-serv­ing prin­ci­ples like free­dom (of mar­kets) and rugged indi­vid­u­al­ism, as well as their own gov­ern­ment play­ing with a stacked deck.

What is Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy today, but a dried, emp­ty chrysalis after the but­ter­fly has depart­ed? At bot­tom, democ­ra­cy is just a means to an end and that end, accord­ing to Thomas Jef­fer­son in the Amer­i­can Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, is “life, lib­er­ty and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness.” Life in a coun­try whose dia­bet­ic cit­i­zens can die if they can’t find the mon­ey to pay for over­priced insulin? Lib­er­ty in the nation with the high­est incar­cer­a­tion rate in the world? And the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness in a place where hap­pi­ness is a zero-sum game in which, in order to insure your own, you have to take some­one else’s?

 

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