Jan 08, 2021 Letters
Most of the world looked on with shock as events unfolded in America on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. But some of us were not so shocked. You see readers, America has done an excellent job at selling its exceptionalism to the rest of us. So, even as rage took over on Wednesday, many well-meaning American leaders, opinion-shapers and journalists were still heard repeating the popular refrain—“This is not America.” And that is the root of the problem for America. Its leaders and gatekeepers have been vociferous in telling us that political deviance is a “Third World” phenomenon; that America and Americans are above such afflictions.
Enters Donald Trump. He did not come to power via a coup—he was duly elected by a majority of the Electoral College. What Trump has done in the last four years is expose to the world the dysfunctionality of the American political system and culture. He has exposed the myth of American political exceptionalism. He has shown how the American presidency is as vulnerable to manipulation like any other presidency in the world. He has shown how one man armed with Executive Power and the support of a critical mass can circumvent the rule of law with consummate ease. He has shown how “democracy” can be as undemocratic as the actors want it to be.
America must own Trump and Trumpism—they can no longer describe his actions as akin to Third World political behaviour. With 74 million people endorsing his candidacy with their votes in 2020, he is essentially American. What we must know is that Trumpism is deeply rooted in the American political tradition—it is not an aberration. Any serious study of American history would reveal that the current dispensation is a familiar refrain. Americans have always violently pushed back against the threat of fundamental change which threatens to overturn deeply held notions of Americanism.
Yes, America has walked this road before. What occurred on Wednesday is very American. The pushback against Emancipation led to the Civil War and the birth of Racial Segregation. More than 600, 000 Americans were killed in the Civil War—American killing American over what to do about the enslavement of some of its citizens. The Supreme Court and the State Governments endorsed Racial Segregation (American Apartheid), which lasted legally for almost eight decades. And all that time, America convinced itself and the rest of the world that it was the gold standard of democracy.
The Supreme Court via the ruling in the Browne case of 1954 declared Segregation unconstitutional, but a majority of Americans did not comply. There was a decade of “Massive Resistance” which saw American “mobs” led by their leaders storming schools and universities to prevent them from admitting African Americans. Many Southern states closed their schools rather than admitting their Black citizens. It was the Martin Luther King-led Civil Rights movement that pulled America out of that period of political deviance, just as Black voters in Georgia has now given America some breathing space in its fight against Trumpism.
The Richard Nixon-Spiro Agnew presidency that arose as part of the backlash against the end of legal segregation was as corrupt and corrosive as the current Trump regime. The new brand of Conservatism birthed by Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency in 1964 recalibrated the doctrine of Manifest Destiny—the bedrock of the American experiment. The Southern Strategy was birthed as the facilitator of modern White Supremacy in high places. Even liberal members of the political elite were forced to bend to its dictates as America entered the 21st century.
Obama rose to power via “deracialization,” whereby he dissociated himself from anything overtly Black. But the backlash to Obama is Trump and Trumpism. Trump reawakened the ghosts of 19th century Manifest Destiny. He was thrust into office by that current in American political culture and he used it to great effect. He rose to power via the Electoral College which is the most undemocratic electoral system in the world. What Trump and his soldiers have done since the election in November is to challenge both the letter and spirit of the Electoral College which was set up by the Founding Fathers to negate the popular vote of the citizens. The rank truth is that Congress has the power to overturn the popular vote. Trump pushed that envelope and opened the door to the events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021.
No amount of deflection by the chattering classes in America and beyond can cover the truth—American democracy like democracies around the world is fragile and can be manipulated to dysfunctionality by any leader backed by powerful forces. Everything in American politics must now respond the forces set in train by Trump, for those forces are rooted in something that is real and living in the country’s psyche.
That the “mob” did not take over the country does not translate into the triumph of democracy as some would have us believe. The objective was not to take over the country; the philosophy has already taken over. The events on Wednesday were aimed at signalling to America and the world that Donald Trump and Trumpism are not a fluke or an aberration. Note the ease with which the Capitol was overtaken. Also, note the cordial treatment of the so-called protestors by the coercive forces. Finally, note that when the mob left, the intellectual authors of the insurrection calmly and routinely resumed their manipulation of the power granted to them under the Electoral College. Biden will have to govern against the backdrop of that truism.
There are lessons for Guyana in what is taking place in America. Our country went through its own self-examination in 2020—a complex development which has been grossly simplified to fit into a partisan matrix. There is no magic in democracy.
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