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.

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