A recent article from the Financial Times is an excellent specimen of a lot that’s wrong with today’s journalism.
The Strange Death of American Democracy
Martin Wolf, Financial Times, Sep 28
I’m glad it’s in English, because I don’t have to worry about losing anything in translation. Here’s how it opens:
“An American ‘Caesarism’ has now become flesh.” I wrote this in March 2016, even before Donald Trump had become the Republican nominee for the presidency. Today, the transformation of the democratic republic into an autocracy has advanced. By 2024, it might be irreversible. If this does indeed happen, it will change almost everything in the world.
I’d go with oligarchy rather than autocracy, but I agree that the principles of self-government underpinning the American republic have been neglected too long and now appear to be dead or dying. Americans have simply lost either the desire or the will to govern themselves.
But that’s not what Martin Wolf is talking about.
What I think he’s trying to say is that Donald Trump was an autocrat (Oxford: “a ruler who has absolute power”), which only makes me question Wolf’s intelligence. President Trump was routinely blocked and frequently impeached by an oppositional Congress, and many of his executive orders were overturned by the judiciary; the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was his particular nemesis. Also: he lost the presidency. What the hell kind of “absolute power” is that?
Wolf turns to such perceptive analysts of the American experiment as Robert Kagan and David Frum to diagnose the source of this imagined autocracy problem, and their diagnosis will surprise no one: Trump. More specifically, support for the Dread Tyrant Trump by Americans who believe the 2020 election was rigged, and whose “main aim is to shift responsibility for deciding electoral outcomes to Republican-controlled legislatures.”
Martin Wolf is a British septuagenarian and the husband of a baroness. So it’s understandable he wouldn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse of the American people, but you’d think he’d at least have scanned the Constitution at some point. At least the relevant parts, in any case:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.Article I, Section 4, U.S. Constitution
In other words, Wolf is alarmed that some Americans want “to shift responsibility” for elections to the very place where the Constitution placed it.
True enough that Congress is free to “make or alter” the regulations prescribed by the state legislatures, but what’s wrong with Republicans in a Republican state agitating to keep their electoral processes out of the hands of an obviously antagonistic Democratic Congress?
Could Republicans not just as easily deride Congressional Democrats for wanting to take control of elections away from Republican-run state legislatures? Is it not just as opportunistic and partisan?
Checks and balances, me hearties, checks and balances!
But this is mere niggling compared to Wolf’s next contention:
Thus, health permitting, Trump will be the next Republican candidate. He will be backed by a party that is now his tool. Most important, in the words of David Frum, erstwhile speechwriter for George W Bush, “what the United States did not have before 2020 was a large national movement willing to justify mob violence to claim political power. Now it does.” It does so because its members believe their opponents are not “real” Americans. A liberal democracy cannot long endure if a major party believes defeat is illegitimate and must be rendered impossible.
The one thing America did not lack prior to 2020 was a “large national movement willing to justify mob violence to claim political power.” The American left has a long and storied history of using mob violence against its political opponents. The Democratic party has a long and storied history of encouraging and excusing it.
The Democratic party certainly believed their 2016 defeat was illegitimate (“Russia, Russia, Russia!”) and that a repeat had to be rendered impossible. In fact, the entire Trump presidency was declared illegitimate and in need of nullification by the entire Democratic establishment before Trump himself was even sworn into office.
And anyone who thinks the left doesn’t believe their opponents aren’t “real” Americans has clearly never watched American cable television, where superstars like Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Brian Stelter, Joy Reid, Joy Behar, and the whole stable of late night “comics” dehumanize Republicans and conservatives on a daily basis.
I’m not picking nits here: Wolf and Frum are welcome to say whatever they want about Trump supporters or Republicans or conservatives, but to suggest that the particular problems they’re talking about are coming entirely from the right is demonstrably counterfactual.
This absolute obliviousness to well-established facts doesn’t end there:
Assume that Trump is re-elected, legitimately or by manipulation. One must assume that his naive and incompetent approach to the wielding of power in his first term will not be repeated. He must now understand that he will need devoted loyalists, of whom there will be plenty, to run the departments responsible for justice, homeland security, internal revenue, espionage and defence. He will surely put officers personally loyal to himself in charge of the armed forces. Not least, he will get his loyal Republican party, as it will be, to confirm the people he chooses, if it holds the needed Senate majority, as is highly likely to be the case.
“Legitimately or by manipulation?” Is he off his meds? Haven’t we all been assured the 2020 election was the most immaculate election in American history, the purest expression of voting integrity since the invention of voting? (All the more impressive after Vladimir Putin singlehandedly delivered the 2016 election to Trump by means most foul.)
But put that aside: the implication here is, so far as I can tell, that Trump did not previously understand the need for devoted loyalists. I actually agree with that assessment (although I’m a little puzzled how he could simultaneously be an autocratic president and lacking in devoted loyalists). Joe Biden’s lifetime in national politics served him well in that respect: he swiftly (and without raising many establishment eyebrows) appointed devoted loyalists “to run the departments responsible for justice, homeland security, internal revenue, espionage and defence,” and he “put officers personally loyal to himself in charge of the armed forces.” Not only that: he surrounded the capital with razor wire and armed troops.
Is Wolf prepared to condemn Biden for these things?
But wait, there’s more!
Can a collapse of liberal democracy in the US still be prevented? Possibly. But it will not be as easy as many suppose from the failure of Trump’s attempt to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. He is in full control of his party. Should the normal cycle of politics give the Republicans control of the House and Senate, he will be both protected and served by Congress from 2022. He holds, in principle, a big majority in the Supreme Court. Republicans also control all branches of government in 23 states, while the Democrats control only 15. Kagan pins his hopes on a decision by a sufficiently large number of Republican senators to pass voting rights legislation and on the refusal of the judiciary to overturn such legislation. Yet even those who loathe Trump remain loyal to the party. And, as the debt ceiling debate shows, they are determined to make Biden fail.
Wolf’s worldview is quintessentially leftist: “liberal democracy in the US” can only be saved by establishing a one-party leftist state.
He points out that after the 2022 elections, Republicans could control the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the lion’s share of state legislatures, and that—wonder of wonders!—Republican voters oppose the current Democratic president. All true. And he’s probably right to imply that these conditions would be more likely to facilitate than impede a 2024 Trump election win.
The question is: so what?
Hear Wolf’s cry: “The opposition could win the next election: this must be prevented or democracy will die!”
Which is simply his way of saying that if America’s not being run by Democrats, it’s no longer a democracy.
Think of it: he’s positing a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, a right-leaning Supreme Court, and state legislatures largely under Republican control. All of them duly elected by free and fair elections (or, in the case of the Supreme Court, appointed according to Constitutional guidelines). And he wants all that thrown out so the candidate he doesn’t like can’t win.
And it’s the guy he doesn’t want to win that represents the threat to democracy.
In the words of Arte Johnson:
This is all we’re going to hear from the left all the way up to November 5, 2024.
And if Trump (or any other Republican) wins that election, it’s all we’re going to hear for years after that.
If Biden (or any other Democrat) wins, we’ll simply be required to surrender whatever liberties we’ve still got to protect the country against the ever-looming threat of Republicans.
And that’s totally worth it, you guys, because Republicans are fascists. They want to put y’all back in chains. They want to give you cancer, kill your grandmother, and drown all the puppies. They want to pollute the earth, keep women barefoot and pregnant, make slavery great again, and declare a Holy Christian Caliphate. And they’ll do it all while quaffing champagne from the skulls of their vanquished enemies.
So remember: unless Democrats maintain control of Congress and the Presidency, and can find a way to consign all Republicans to obscurity, forever, American democracy will die and the world will end.