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.
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?