In the following two articles, Daniel Lazare looks at the legacy of ‘Repocratic’ politics. in the USA. In the first he emphasises the role of the US constitution in creating the stalemate in US politics. In the second he shows how Trump has boxed Biden in over US Middle East policy. This follows the Democrats’ success in boxing Trump in over his attempt to form an agreement with Putin’s Russia, the better to contain a rising Chinese imperialism and to break the EU’s protectionist hold over much of Europe.
1. A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED
American politics can be confusing, and here are just a few examples why:
- January 2017: Democratic Congressman John Lewis calls Donald Trump illegitimate a week prior to inauguration day, on the grounds that “the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton”. The New York Times happily agrees, as do Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. But then just last week, a Times editorial assails Republicans for questioning Biden’s legitimacy, because by doing so they “are undermining the rule of law”.1 .
- November 2018: Liberal media outlets slam Republican congressman David Nunes for issuing a report charging the FBI with deliberately misleading a top-secret national-security court with regard to its explosive Russiagate investigation. The New York Times dismisses Nunes’s findings as a “nothingburger”, Vox says, “There is absolutely nothing here”, while Rolling Stone magazine describes him as “Trump and Putin’s most useful idiot on Capitol Hill”. Less than 12 months later, Michael Horowitz, the department of justice’s highly regarded inspector general, releases another report about the FBI’s dealings with the national-security court, and, lo and behold, it turns out that Nunes was largely correct after all. Even Jeff Bezos’s Trumpophobic Washington Post is forced to admit that Horowitz “vindicated … a fair amount” of what Nunes had to say.2
- October 2020: Pro-Democratic media outlets are outraged when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post reveals that emails found in a laptop owned by Hunter Biden indicate that he used his father’s name to drum up business in China and the Ukraine. The neocon journalist, Anne Applebaum, says, “There’s no ‘there’ there”, tax-supported National Public Radio says it will not “waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions”, while the corporate press in general applauds, as Facebook and Twitter block the story and shut the Post out of its own account. But, when Hunter discloses that he is under investigation for tax fraud, the tune changes. Instead of dismissing the story as “Russian disinformation”, the Times sombrely notes that the investigation into the younger Biden’s business affairs puts the president-elect in “a no-win situation that could prove distracting at best and politically and legally perilous at worst”.3
Where liberals once decried censorship, in other words, they now cheer it on. After years of lampooning Republicans as head-in-the-sand isolationists, they engage in the sort of anti-Russian xenophobia that would make Joe McCarthy blush. While questioning Trump’s legitimacy at every opportunity, they cry foul the moment Republicans question Biden’s.
All of which is perplexing, to say the least. After all, American ‘progressives’ agree that Democrats, for all their faults, are the party of relative sanity, while Republicans, according to no less an authority than Noam Chomsky, are possibly “the most dangerous organisation in human history” due to their know-nothing attitude towards global warming.4 But how can Democrats be better when they engage in cover-ups, misinformation and outright lies? And how can Republicans be worse when people like Nunes struggle to tell the truth about FBI malpractices despite a liberal chorus of abuse? How can Americans tell the good guys from the bad guys when they’re constantly switching sides?
But if little of this makes sense, it is because people are looking at US politics the wrong way. Americans are encouraged – even mandated – to view them through a ‘Repocratic’ lens, in which a ‘not totally awful’ party is forever doing battle with one that is far worse. Or so bien-pensant intellectuals remind us. But the viewpoint is misleading. For one thing, it is far from clear that the Republicans are worse. While talking a good game when it comes to climate change, for instance, Democrats are just as wedded to fossil fuels, while, in terms of foreign policy, they have emerged in recent years as even more aggressive and bellicose.
But, in any case, the viewpoint is misleading, because it suggests that one or both of the parties are driving the crisis, when events are driving them. The American political crisis is not partisan, but systemic. Instead of Republicans or Democrats undermining society, it is a case of a structural crisis undermining society and everything in it. Rather than causative, Repocrats are reflective of a larger process of constitutional decay.
This is the only way to understand the charges of illegitimacy that are constantly flying about. If the parties are illegitimate, it is because legitimacy in general is in short supply in a constitutional structure that is impossible to change, that has never been debated in full since its adoption more than 230 years ago, and which frustrates democracy at every turn, by subordinating it to a growing minority dictatorship. Rather than confronting such questions, bourgeois politics are configured so as to avoid them. They allow Americans to argue over this or that Supreme Court nominee, while discouraging them from asking why appointments are for life or how justices can pretend to interpret a constitution whose meaning is lost in the mists of time. (It’s just not relevant, you see.)
It enables them to root for candidates in various swing states without questioning why swing states exist in the first place or why the Electoral College is allowed to distort politics by tripling the weight of lily-white ‘rotten boroughs’ like Vermont and Wyoming, while short-changing multi-racial giants like California and New York.
It fairly condemns Americans to remain perched on the edge of their seat during the upcoming January 5 special elections in Georgia, which will determine whether the Senate remains in Republican hands or falls under the control of the Democrats. At the same time, it effectively ‘disappears’ the question of why the Senate exists, why equal state representation has been allowed to continue, and how it has turned into perhaps the most undemocratic major legislative body on the face of the earth.
US politics are structured so as to prevent Americans from straying from the proper path. They do not make sense because they are not supposed to. They are designed, rather, to disorient and confuse. America’s two-party system is likewise constructed so as to keep politics in a state of permanent underdevelopment. By now the oldest such system in modern history – even older than the Tory-Whig system that prevailed in Britain from 1687 until the mid-1800s – it is the only one in which the two parties have switched sides, with the Republicans, the party of Lincoln and anti-slavery, drifting to the right and Democrats, the party of racism and state autonomy, moving to the pseudo-left, as they jettisoned their pro-segregationist ‘Dixiecratic’ wing and embraced the rhetoric of feminism and civil rights. The results are beyond exhausted. Yet, while poll after poll shows America’s huddled masses yearning for an alternative, it only grows more entrenched, as voting and registration laws continue to harden. As the social democratic magazine Jacobin pointed out in 2016,
Over the three decades following US entry into World War I, as working class and socialist parties burgeoned throughout the industrialised world, American elites chose to deal with the problem by radically restricting access to the ballot. In state after state, petition requirements and filing deadlines were tightened and various forms of routine legal harassment, unknown in the rest of the democratic world, became the norm.5
The process continues to this day, as Republicans and Democrats do everything in their power to deepen and extend their duopoly. The more they do, the more unscrupulous, unresponsive and corrupt the system grows and, paradoxically, the more partisanship intensifies. The result is a generation of gridlock that is now heading in the direction of outright civil war, as neo-fascist brawlers like the Proud Boys take to the streets in growing numbers.6 After enduring three years of hell due to Russiagate, Republicans are salivating over the prospect of using Hunter Biden’s troubles to subject Democrats to similar torture. Indeed, conservatives are already calling for the appointment of a special counsel, so that an investigation can proceed “free of political interference”, as one Republican congressman put it.7 This will render the incoming administration all but helpless, while, of course, raising political interference to a higher level still.
Politics will be both more poisonous and more ineffectual. Democrats may have won the presidency, but after losing at least 10 House seats, the power structure will be more divided than ever. A clean sweep in Georgia may redress the balance to a degree, but it will still leave the Dems with a 50-50 tie, with vice-president Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote. This will put them at the mercy of centrists like Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia – a self-proclaimed “moderate conservative”, who is closely tied to the coal industry and has voted with Trump more often than not, and Republican Susan Collins of Maine – another ‘moderate’ who supported the back-to-back invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, opposed the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, co-sponsored a bill imposing up to a 20-year prison sentence on anyone encouraging or participating in an anti-Israel boycott, and who infuriated feminists in 2018 by voting to confirm rightwing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
A Manchin-Collins partnership, if that is what shapes up, will dash progressive hopes all the more. And that is if the Dems win a clean sweep in Georgia. If they do not, the combination of a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican near-majority in the House will leave them writhing in agony. The ‘correlation of forces’ will favour rightwing Democrats like Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger – famous for declaring last month that “we need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again”. She will end up in the driver’s seat, while left Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wind up more marginalised than ever. But Spanberger will be on a road to nowhere, as the structure continues to go downhill.
The symmetry is striking. At the height of Russiagate, Democrats whispered to one another that collusion was all for show and that the only thing that mattered was driving a racist authoritarian out of the White House by hook or by crook. Today, Republicans are no doubt whispering the same thing, as Trump continues to insist against all the evidence that he won by a landslide. Tales of massive voter fraud are also for show, so that Republicans can cut their enemies off at the knees. The more the crisis intensifies, the more vicious, short-sighted and confused American politics will grow. Republicans and Democrats will continue grappling and clawing at one another, as they tumble off a cliff.
17th December 2020
1. The Republicans Who Embraced Nihilism
3. Trump Said to Be Warned That Giuliani Was Conveying Russian Disinformation; and Investigation of His Son Is Likely to Hang Over Biden as He Takes Office
4. Today’s Republican Party is a Candidate for Most Dangerous Organization in Human History
5. S Ackerman, ‘A blueprint for a new party’ Jacobin November 8, 2016: A Blueprint for a New Party
6. Saturday December 12, saw the Proud Boys’ largest rampage in Washington yet: see USA: Several stabbed as Proud Boys and counter-protesters clash in Washington DC
7. Ken Buck on Twitter
This article was first posted at:- A guide for the perplexed
2. TRUMP’S BIG WIN
Donald Trump was supposed to be yesterday’s man. His margin of defeat now stands at a hefty six million popular votes, or four percent, his efforts to hold onto power are looking more and more foolish, and even diehard supporters like Republican senator Roy Blunt of Missouri now acknowledge that Joe Biden will “likely” take office on January 20. So he is finished, kaput, done for.
But if that is the case, how is it that Washington’s biggest has‑been has turned the tables on his opponents and is now setting the standards for Middle East policy for years to come?
That is the head-scratcher posed by the November 27 assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. With all the signs pointing to Israel as the culprit, several things seem clear. One is that US secretary of state Mike Pompeo green‑lit the operation – either at his meeting five days earlier with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the futuristic Red Sea city of Neom, or he did so shortly thereafter. Another is that, politically, Trump has benefited from the killing as much as Netanyahu, if not more.
After all, this is the man who asked the Pentagon to provide a list of Iranian targets shortly after US TV networks declared Biden the winner.1 Even though he allowed himself to be dissuaded from launching a military assault, he was clearly pleased when Israel stepped into the breach and did it for him.2
But there is a third thing that is clear: the losers. Not only is it Iran and Fakhrizadeh himself, not to mention his family, friends and co‑workers, but US Democrats – big time. Talk of resurrecting the 2015 Iran nuclear accord – one of the ‘crowning achievements’ of the Obama administration – is now dead. Hopes of avoiding a confrontation in the Persian Gulf are rapidly diminishing. In effect, Trump has put America on a collision course with the Islamic Republic and, what is more, has arranged matters so that the confrontation will take place under Biden’s watch. That way, it will be left to Democrats to deal with the fallout, while he jeers from the sidelines. And there is nothing the Biden team will be able to do to stop it.
This explains the president-elect’s remarkable silence in the wake of the Fakhrizadeh murder. Normally, one would expect at least a tweet out of the future president, or a sidekick like Antony Blinken or Jake Sullivan – respectively Biden’s designated secretary of state and national security advisor. But, four days after the killing, there has been nothing. Such silence speaks volumes. Biden knows he has been boxed in and that, instead of implementing his own foreign policy, he is now reduced to implementing the incumbent’s. But he is too afraid to admit it.
So how did a so-called loser like Trump pull it off? The short answer is that he merely had to stand by and watch, as his opponent tripped over his own two feet.
Biden is a victim of his own deference to the Jewish state – a position of abject servility that renders him all but helpless when it comes to atrocities like the Fakhrizadeh killing. He is a self-proclaimed Christian Zionist, who has declared that, if it did not already exist, “the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region”.3 If Israel knocks off the occasional Iranian physicist, therefore, he is in no position to complain, since, by his own admission, Israel is merely acting on America’s behalf.
But Biden is the victim of something else: years of Democratic hypocrisy and double talk. Two events have seared themselves into the party’s collective memory. One occurred in 1972, when George McGovern ran on a peace platform during the Vietnam War and got walloped by Richard Nixon by a margin of three to two in the popular vote. The second was in early 1991 when 80% of Democrats in the Senate and 67% in the House voted against the use of military force in the coming Persian Gulf War – a war that, as everybody knows, turned into one of the most one-sided slaughters in modern imperial history. The lesson that the Dems took from both is that, while occasionally throwing doves a bone, they must never allow themselves to be out-hawked again. Even when making peace, they must emit great billows of tough-guy rhetoric to show that they are just as much a war party as their Republican rivals.
Pseudo-macho rhetoric of this sort was on full display in an article that Biden wrote about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 Iran agreement is formally known. The piece, published in mid-September this year, made a simple point: Trump was wrong to walk away from the JCPOA in 2018 and, if elected, Biden would make re-entering the pact a top priority in 2021. But, lest readers think that his attitude was anything less than bellicose, Biden tossed in an additional argument, to the effect that, by abandoning the pact, Trump had “worsened the threat” posed by “a bad regional actor” and that only Democrats knew how to put Iran back in its place.
“[T]here is a smart way to be tough on Iran, and there is Trump’s way,” he said:
Before Trump, years went by without a militia rocket attack on US facilities in Iraq. Now they happen regularly. Instead of restoring deterrence, Trump has emboldened Iran. Instead of ending ‘endless wars,’ Trump has repeatedly brought America to the brink of a new one. If this is what Trump considers success, I would hate to see what failure looks like.4
“By any objective measure,” he added, “Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ has been a boon to the regime in Iran and a bust for America’s interests.”
Blinken, Sullivan or whoever else wrote the piece on Biden’s behalf must have thought this was all terribly clever. But it was fatuous nonsense through and through. Rather than making Iran stronger, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of punitive and comprehensive sanctions brought it to its knees. GDP contracted by 9.5% in 2019 alone, living standards plummeted and widespread rioting erupted, while the country’s ability to deal with Covid-19 was crippled. Even though Iran had emerged as one of the world’s leading hot spots, The Lancet reported last April that its ability to cope with the pandemic was “substantially impeded by unilateral economic sanctions”, with medicine, test kits, protective equipment and ventilators all in short supply.5
Where Mongols supposedly used catapults to hurl disease-ridden bodies into besieged cities so as to spread a plague, America was now working to the same end by blocking hospital equipment and pharmaceuticals. Indeed, the Trump administration went so far as to veto a $5 billion International Monetary Fund emergency loan to enable Iran to get through the crisis. Yet here was Biden saying that Trump was not being tough enough on Iran and that he himself would do even more.
This explains Biden’s current paralysis. He cannot say that Trump and Netanyahu are weak, since nothing is tougher than sending out a hit squad to gun down a scientist in broad daylight. But he cannot say they have gone over the top either, since, by his own admission, one can never be too tough in dealing with an outlaw country like Iran. So he has said nothing. For fear of offending doves, neoconservatives and an ultra-right government in Jerusalem, he has decided to hold his tongue.
The implications for the JCPOA are plain. If Iran had killed the head of the US department of energy – the agency in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal – missiles would already be flying. The same would be true if it had knocked off the head of the Israeli nuclear research centre near the city of Dimona. Given all that, it is hard to imagine how Iran can now sit down at the table with a country that believes that it and its Israeli partners have an unqualified right to continue killing its leading citizens. If Iranian president Hassan Rouhani so much as raises the possibility, the result will likely be a nationalist reaction that sends his government reeling. Negotiations are thus off the table, while it is hard to imagine how the JCPOA can ever be brought back to life.
But Iran’s options at this point are limited as well. Fakhrizadeh – a professor of nuclear engineering at Imam Hossein University in Tehran and the so-called ‘father’ of Iran’s nuclear programme – was the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed by Israel since 2010. If a 12-person death squad did indeed ambush him at 2pm local time some 70 kilometres outside of Tehran, as Iranian journalist Mohammad Ahwaze, citing government sources, has reported,6then the ongoing security breach has been nothing short of massive. If Iran had tried to infiltrate a team that size into Israel, dozens of alarms would have gone off before a single shot was fired. But apparently, Iranian intelligence is so inefficient, so financially strapped – or perhaps so thoroughly penetrated by Israeli double agents – that no flags went up at all.
The military balance of power is meanwhile woefully lopsided. Israel has launched thousands of air strikes at pro-Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq with minimal fear of retaliation. While Iran has staged military exercises, in which a mock US aircraft carrier is attacked and destroyed, any such attempt in real life would be tantamount to suicide, given America’s overwhelming advantage in firepower. Iran could also continue refining uranium now that the JCPOA is a dead letter. But doing so would expose it to yet more US-Israeli retaliation, this time on an even grander scale.
Iran is unable to defend itself, but unable not to defend itself either. But if it cannot strike at US or Israeli military targets, it can take aim at Saudi Arabia – the soft underbelly of the US-Israeli Middle East axis and the victim in September 2019 of a highly effective drone strike by Houthi militia forces in Yemen. This is why bin Salman was reportedly reluctant to go along with the Fakhrizadeh assassination at the November 22 Neom meeting – he is afraid that a Biden administration will not defend him against Iranian retaliation the way Trump would.7
But MBS is now in the thick of things regardless, as the mood darkens in the Persian Gulf, which means that Biden will have no choice but to firm up relations with him as well, now that he has walked straight into the trap set by Trump and Netanyahu. It is yet another example of why it is impossible to fight incipient fascism with a force as weak and duplicitous as the US Democrats.
3rd December 2020
This article was first posted at:- Trump’s big win
Other articles about recent US politics
a) Biden’s transition team – Nothing ‘progressive’ about millionaires and CEOs – K. Kumar
b) Pyrrhic victory over Populism – Paul Demarty