On American Democracy and Empire, a Corrective

14 January, 2021
Students march in Baghdad to celebrate the first anniversary of the October revolution (Photo: Mujtaba Suhail courtesy  MEE )

While the dust set­tles after the insur­rec­tion at the Capi­tol Build­ing, in which Trump sup­port­ers tried to stop the elec­toral cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Pres­i­dent-Elect Joe Biden, our colum­nist med­i­tates on the Trump move­ment and the 2019–2021 protests in Iraq—sometimes called the Tishreen Rev­o­lu­tion, Iraqis have con­test­ed cor­rup­tion, unem­ploy­ment and the break­down in pub­lic ser­vices. These protests, akin to those in Lebanon over the past year, esca­lat­ed into full-blown demon­stra­tions call­ing for the over­throw of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, which has respond­ed with such force as to cause many deaths and injuries. 

I. Rida Mahmood

 

Remem­ber W’s speech to the joint ses­sion of Con­gress after 9/11? “Amer­i­cans are ask­ing, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this cham­ber — a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed gov­ern­ment. Their lead­ers are self-appointed.”

For­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­dent George W. Bush appealed to Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism short­ly after he declared war on al-Qae­da in Afghanistan. Two years lat­er, Bush used sim­i­lar rhetoric to mobi­lize Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion behind mil­i­tary action against “the dic­ta­tor of Iraq” who was “not disarming”—despite UN inspec­tors Blix and ElBa­radei repeat­ed­ly stat­ing oth­er­wise in their reports, and despite Sad­dam Hus­sein’s nonex­is­tent ties to al-Qae­da or, by exten­sion, the attacks of 9/11. “The world has a clear inter­est in the spread of demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues,” he said. Once again, Bush turned to democ­ra­cy as the indis­putable ide­al to which humankind aspires, stress­ing it is an ide­al cher­ished and held up to the high­est degree by his admin­is­tra­tion and his par­ty, the GOP.

Numer­ous anti­war pol­i­cy mak­ers and activists around the globe received these overt sen­ti­ments with skep­ti­cism, not nec­es­sar­i­ly stem­ming from loy­al­ty to the dic­ta­tor of Iraq, whose appalling record of human rights abus­es was inar­guably enough to war­rant him the dis­hon­or­able title “Stu­dent of Stal­in.” Rather, they viewed the Bush admin­is­tra­tion’s tac­tics as anoth­er clas­sic exam­ple of embrac­ing dou­ble stan­dards and dis­re­gard for non-Amer­i­can lives, espe­cial­ly those of peo­ple of col­or in devel­op­ing countries.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the human­i­tar­i­an crises that unfold­ed in Iraq over near­ly two decades proved them right in their posi­tion. Most recent­ly, the mass protests that flood­ed the streets of Iraqi cities from Octo­ber 2019 onward have demand­ed an end to the US-imple­ment­ed polit­i­cal sys­tem; mean­while the Iraqi gov­ern­men­t’s bloody response has rein­forced the per­cep­tion that the Repub­li­can-pro­pelled agen­da had a lot to do with per­pet­u­at­ing an already-exist­ing Amer­i­can hege­mo­ny, but very lit­tle to do with pro­mot­ing democ­ra­cy in the country.

And so it is time we ask our­selves, how well is Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy doing at home? And how much do con­ser­v­a­tive mem­bers of the GOP val­ue demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues, really?

Dur­ing the months lead­ing up to the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the cur­rent Repub­li­can pres­i­dent float­ed the idea of stay­ing in office beyond two terms, tak­ing every oppor­tu­ni­ty to voice doubts about the integri­ty of the elec­toral process. Since Novem­ber 2020, when the results were final­ly announced, over a hun­dred elect­ed Repub­li­can offi­cials in dif­fer­ent capac­i­ties embraced Trump’s refusal to con­cede. The Trump enablers par­rot­ed his base­less claims of vot­er fraud, sup­port­ed his vow to chal­lenge the legal­i­ty of those results and over­turn the out­come of the elec­tion. Some GOP offi­cials made head­lines when they alleged­ly called on the sit­ting pres­i­dent to declare mar­tial law, invoke the insur­rec­tion act, or even sus­pend the Constitution.

Such calls were very alarm­ing for obvi­ous rea­sons. Through­out the past four years, many con­ser­v­a­tives dis­missed and ridiculed the sug­ges­tion that Trump has an author­i­tar­i­an streak. How­ev­er, his final months in the Oval Office, which cli­maxed into the hor­rif­ic events on the Capi­tol Build­ing on Jan­u­ary 6, 2021, clear­ly indi­cate that US democ­ra­cy has indeed sus­tained quite a few seri­ous injuries at the hands of the cur­rent administration. 

“Even before this week’s qua­si-coup attempt,” wrote Joshua Keat­ing ear­li­er this month, “glob­al observers were gen­er­al­ly in agree­ment that, at the very least, U.S. demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions have erod­ed in recent years, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to vot­ing rights, mass incar­cer­a­tion, the treat­ment of immi­grants, and eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty.” These claims are thor­ough­ly sub­stan­ti­at­ed in a spe­cial report by The Democ­ra­cy Project of Free­dom House, issued in 2018. A more recent exam­ple can be found by tak­ing a quick look at the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s heavy-hand­ed response to the peace­ful racial jus­tice protests of last summer—in stark con­trast with the relaxed response to the dead­ly riot at the Capi­tol Building.

The next US Sec­re­tary of State Antony Blinken prefers to think of the past four years as an “aber­ra­tion and not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what Amer­i­ca is and aspires to be.” How­ev­er, the riot at the Capi­tol Build­ing in Wash­ing­ton D.C. and its after­math might have exposed a deep-seat­ed author­i­tar­i­an, anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic mind­set among Republicans—one that pre­dates Trump.

The GOP’s anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic ten­den­cies are inter­twined with the par­ty’s sub­servience to the inter­ests of the nation’s wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans (think about Ronald Rea­gan’s tax cuts for the rich and trick­le-down eco­nom­ics). Yet the par­ty has man­aged to attract work­ing-class vot­ers by accen­tu­at­ing social and cul­tur­al divi­sions, enliven­ing out­rage against a grow­ing list of specters, includ­ing sav­age and par­a­sitic immi­grants. Over the past few decades, the GOP’s poli­cies have paved the way for the unpar­al­leled inequal­i­ty affect­ing Amer­i­cans’ eco­nom­ic real­i­ty and, con­se­quent­ly, the extent of their polit­i­cal impact. The MAGA move­ment, there­fore, is not a cause but a con­se­quence, and its instan­ta­neous van­ish­ing with Trump’s polit­i­cal demise is unlikely.

The good news is, the elec­tion results were offi­cial­ly cer­ti­fied few hours after the hor­rif­ic attacks on the US Capi­tol, and we will have a new pres­i­dent on Jan­u­ary 20th. Today, Trump has been impeached for a sec­ond time, backed by House Democ­rats and 10 Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives, for incit­ing the dead­ly riot. The bad news is, not near­ly enough Repub­li­cans have dis­tanced them­selves from the pres­i­dent, most like­ly as a last-minute maneu­ver to remain in the polit­i­cal game. As the hypocrisy of the GOP is becom­ing clear­er by the minute, it should not come as a sur­prise when hear­ing pro­tes­tors on the oth­er side of the world speak of their frus­tra­tion with their present, the future hand­ed to them by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, their desire to mobi­lize against their own polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic elites, their demand for the ouster of the rul­ing elite, and their calls for reform­ing the US-imple­ment­ed polit­i­cal sys­tem which, some 17 years ago, promised them democracy.

The views expressed by inde­pen­dent colum­nists do not rep­re­sent the offi­cial pol­i­cy of TMR. Com­ments wel­come below. Have some­thing on your mind? Query us.