This United States Will Self Destruct in 90 Days

Trumps_America

American Democracy’s in a Downward Spiral

Is It Terminal?

Freedom House is a Washington-based think tank with an illustrious pedigree dating back to the age of bi-partisan cooperation in the US government. Created in 1941 with the mission of battling isolationism in America and fascism around the world, its two honorary chairs were the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Wendell Willkie, who was the Republican presidential candidate in 1940, before losing to Eleanor Roosevelt’s husband, Franklin. Over the years, Freedom House has studied a broad spectrum of threats to freedom, from McCarthyism to Soviet oppression. Since 1973, it has published “Freedom in the World,” an annual country-by-country report that has been called the “Michelin Guide to democracy’s development.”

This single high-court decision is responsible for converting the US Congress from a truly representative legislative body into a brothel in which most of its members are available in exchange for fees sufficient to reassure their re-election. That sounds crude, but it’s cruder than it sounds.

The 2020 edition recorded the fourteenth straight year of deteriorating freedom around the world; sixty-four countries have lost liberties in the past year, while only thirty-seven registered improvements. Its assessment of the United States is also disturbing. In 2009, the U.S. had a score of ninety-four out of a hundred, which ranked it near the top, just behind Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia. In the decade since, it has slipped eight points; it now ranks behind Greece, Slovakia, and Mauritius. Looking at the United States, Freedom House analysts note the trends that they usually assign to fragile corners of the globe: “pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence, and safeguards against corruption. Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself.” (Source: FreedomHouse.org)

President Donald Trump’s latest and most sinister act of political theatre was the deployment of camouflage-clad troops on the streets of Portland, Oregon the other day. There they began grabbing demonstrators and dumping them into unmarked white bread vans. The press rushed to dub them “federal troops,” but the truth is that at this writing we don’t yet know whose troops they are. Do they belong to the Regular Army, the National Guard, the CIA or other clandestine forces, or are they mercenaries? What was their mission? Are they crowd-control specialists? Who commands them? What is their chain of command? Do they respect the Uniform Code of Military Justice? Meanwhile, all we know is that they were nattily dressed, were kidnapping people and smelled like the dress rehearsal for a fascist takeover. 

The Economics Behind American Democracy’s Demise

The essential economic explanation of the decline of American democracy over the past 20 years can be seen in the “elephant chart,” one of the past decade’s most famous economic graphs, one that aims to summarize the state of the world–and especially the American–economy in the post-Cold War era:

Elephant chart

Using World Bank data from researchers Christoph Lakner and Branko Milanovic, the chart shows how each part of the world’s income distribution fared from 1988 to 2008. There are two big winners: the rapidly-rising middle classes in  East Asia (especially China) and South Asia (especially India); and the ultrarich, who are concentrated in affluent countries of Europe and North America. Not surprisingly, the meteoric ascent of the incomes of the rich coincides with what Freedom House refers to as the “slipping” of democratic standards around the world and, especially, the United States. (Source: Vox.com)

“Poderoso Señor es Don Dinero”–Money Talks

The end of this destabilizing economic trend is not in sight. The more money accumulates in the hands of the super rich, the more resources they can marshall to keep the big wheel turning. A Spanish proverb says, “Mr. Money is a powerful gentleman,” and that’s a universal truth. The extent to which big money is devouring democracy in the US since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision legitimized big business contributions–and ending legal limits–to election campaigns, is astonishing. This single high-court decision is responsible for converting the US Congress from a truly representative legislative body into a brothel in which most of its members are available in exchange for fees sufficient to reassure their re-election. That sounds crude, but it’s cruder than it sounds.

The LA Times, said this about the Citizens United decision:
The biggest effect of the ruling has been to engage and empower the very wealthiest Americans, across the political spectrum. The top 100 individual donors contributed $339 million in the 2012 presidential campaign year. That figure leaped to $768 million in the next presidential campaign year, 2016.

Spending on presidential elections grew 66% from the 2000 campaign between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore to the 2016 campaign between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. At the same time, spending on congressional campaigns grew 143%.

According to Protect Democracy, a legal-watchdog group dedicated to combatting the rise of authoritarianism in America, “the growth and spread of democracies that defined the 20th Century peaked in the early days of the 21st; since 2005, the state of democracies around the world has receded.” Ian Bassin, the executive director of Protect Democracy, also cites the elephant graph as a reliable indicator of America’s democratic decline.

Legend has it that he was one of the models for the character of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and also gave Kubrick the idea for the Doomsday Machine.

According to Bassin, the most significant public protest in the name of democracy was on the first day of Donald Trump’s Presidency. Since then many Americans have become inured to Trump’s abuses and retro-advances. First, they started ignoring the tweets. Then they passed on his rallies, his lies, and random acts of transgression. American legal activists working against the slide documented by Freedom House consider that, since Trump was acquitted in his  impeachment trial, he has entered a bolder phase. In its latest squeezing of the press, the Trump campaign has sued The Times, the Washington Post and CNN for libel.

America’s Hit Bottom, Now What?

At the beginning of the sixties Herman Kahn was a brilliant 40-year-old defense analyst at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California. Legend has it that he was one of the models for the character of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and also gave Kubrick the idea for the Doomsday Machine. At the beginning of his career Kahn wrote two influential books: On Thermonuclear War in 1960 and Thinking about the Unthinkable in 1962. In these books Kahn elaborated on what the whole country was concerned about in those days: nuclear war with Russia. From that time until a few months ago that was the inexorable “unthinkable” threat to America. The bomb.

This Trump family clown show plays out while the country–leaderless–is immersed in the most dangerous depths of of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

As we know, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” (William Cowper, 1773.) The United States has just been blindsided by the perfect unimaginable threat, and it’s not the bomb. It’s the coronavirus pandemic, a menace that proves to become an order of magnitude larger than World War II, the country’s last existential threat.

There is, however, a deciding difference between America’s plight at the outset of World War II in 1941 and the spot it finds itself in today: leadership. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a competent honest man and, equally important, a president determined to look out for all the citizens of his country. He guided the United States sanely and skillfully through the war in Europe and the Pacific and left his country the undeniable world leader before dying an untimely and deeply lamented death.

The Man Responsible

President Donald J. Trump is the man is responsible for guiding the United States safely through today’s potentially much bigger crisis. The virus is playing unrelenting hardball and, even to attenuate it, requires a leader with high-level qualities. He or she must be magnanimous and absolutely disinterested, concentrated fully on the present and future wellbeing of his people–all of them. He must be intelligent, mentally agile and with high degrees of conviction and valor. He must be physically, mentally and morally strong. It is essential that he be backed up by a team of loyal-to -the-Constitution, competent professionals. Above all else he must be capable of instilling confidence in the vast majority of his citizens, and those of the rest of the world, who look traditionally to the United States for leadership. His last priority must be his own wellbeing and prosperity.

Unfortunately, based on his performance during his presidency thus far, President Trump is so manifestly deficient on all these counts that there is little hope for the future of his country. And the future is bearing down like an implacable freight train.

Underlying all the President’s deficiencies is a cheap, simplistic ideology essentially limited to removing all barriers to predatory laissez faire capitalism, lowering taxes,  eliminating essential social programs for the citizenry, and letting the uber-rich run the country through a marionette Congress. Not only is this meager political philosophy not working. It is impoverishing his country and turning it literally into an international laughing stock.

This situation is growing graver by the day. It’s almost as if the President were mentally and morally handicapped. Whenever he’s caught out, instead of rectifying, he doubles down. Just the other day, after his daughter, a federal employee, is called out for endorsing a brand of beans, the President himself appears in the media sitting in the oval office behind his desk, which displays an assortment of goods from the same manufacturer, who had, coincidentally, publically praised the President a couple of days previously. Did he also make a generous contribution to Trump’s re-election campaign?

Trumps_with_beans

This Trump family clown show plays out while the country–leaderless–is immersed in the most dangerous depths of of the coronavirus pandemic. The United States was–and is–leading the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. The graph is soaring upwards, the populace is wallowing in sanitary anarchy, Trump’s SS-style secret police are on the streets of Portland, and the White House spokesperson is assuring Americans that  Trump government will not yield to “science.” This is a recipe for the annihilation of the the US part of North American continent. And, given the vigor of the virus, we won’t have to wait long to see it consummated. Say, 90 days.
###
Thanks for following, commenting and sharing.

Citizens United Opened the Door to the Abyss

(Turning on the music enhances the reading.)

Democracy Had Been Ailing for a Long Time

The Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) Supreme Court case was the final blow. It did not come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of a long leadup of right-wing election fiddling: lobbyist-led financing, the brainwashing and dumbing down of a series of vulnerable demographics (non-high-school graduates, ethnic minorities, hollow billionaires…), vote blocking strategies like gerrymandering and voter qualification limits, and strange bedfellows under blankets in Washington, DC. At bottom was the conviction of the members of the United States Congress–House and Senate, mainlyt Republicans but Democrats, too–that they had a God-given right to be re-elected, never to release the reins of power. And if they were obliged to use and abuse the civil rights of American citizens, their economic opportunities, the lives of their sons and daughters and the United States Constitution itself as bargaining chips in their sacred re-election endeavor, all of those contrivances were justified. They are capable of doing anything to retain their grip on power, even if it requires turning the government over to powerful criminal societies.

Nor am I prepared to affirm that this situation is attributable to capitalism. There are countries where capitalism marries nicely with humanity to create cordial, prosperous and liveable societies in places like Europe, Australia, Japan or South Korea, the new First World. The problem with American capitalism, it seems, is that it’s American.

The Worst of All Possible Worlds

The Citizens United verdict, which came down during Obama’s first term, opened the door to unlimited federal campaign contributions from corporations and consolidated extreme laissez-faire capitalism as the law of the land. That 5-4 decision issued from a US Supreme Court that had hovered between conservative and ultra-conservative thanks to appointments by presidents Nixon,  Reagan, and the two Bushes. The first two of these chief executives, both gravely deficient, the first one morally, the second intellectually, are arch representatives of what went wrong with American democracy in the 1970s and 80s. Nixon went so far as to prolong the Vietnam war, with the loss of lives and treasure that implied, in order to take credit for the  peace agreement. (Source: The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, by Seymour M. Hersh, 1983).

Reagan was a tall, handsome second-rate Hollywood actor, outspoken anti-communist, FBI informer, and popular television spokesperson for American industry. His main achievements as president were in the field of public relations. According to History.com “Reagan made frequent and highly visible retreats to his California ranch, where he rode horses, fixed fences and cut firewood for the TV cameras.” Following his two terms of office and particularly after his death in 2004 reactionary America converted President Reagan into the essential talisman/myth of 20th-century American political conservatism. That should surprise no one. They also resuscitated Nixon.

The father-and-son Bush presidencies were characterized by devotion to fossile-fuel interests and dubious military interventions abroad. George H.W. Bush was a one-term president who occupied the White House after a landslide victory over Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. Bush the Father, considered by politologists to have been a mediocre president, engineered the first Iraq War, forcing Iraq to abandon Kuwait. He later ordered a senseless and bloody U.S. military invasion of Panama with the declared purpose of arresting Manuel Noriega, a drug-dealing dictator. It took US forces more than a month to conquer the tiny isthmus country in an operation disingenuously codenamed “Operation Just Cause.” According to Wikipedia, about 6,500 US troops remain in Panama today, ostensibly “monitoring Latin American airspace for unauthorized planes and training troops in jungle combat.” Bush I appointed two Supreme Court justices, David Souter, who abandoned the conservative cause by becoming a member of the Court’s liberal bloc, and Clarence Thomas, who became one of the most conservative judges of his era.

Emerging American Values: Tax Cuts for the Rich and Endless War on Something or Other

George W. Bush, the presumptive heir, was a populist president patently lacking the character and intelligence to occupy the office. The video footage of his reaction to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, sitting in a class of pre-schoolers in Florida, revealed more a confused bad actor than the leader of the free world. He was responsible over eight years for a $1.3 trillion tax cut for the usual suspects, the global war on terrorism, the invasion of Afghanistan, the civil-and-human-rights-destroying Patriot Act, and  the lies-based second Iraq War that set that killed, maimed and exiled hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and set the country back two or three generations. Not much of his rich agenda worked out as he planned. Bush the Son appointed two justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, in 2005 and 2006.

This brings us to the current US president, Donald J. Trump, the third American president to be impeached by the House though not convicted, by the Senate. The Trump presidency leverages an unprecedeneted lack of intelligence and tact, innate stagecraft, bald-faced self interest, lies and innuendo, while pandering to the lowest common denominator–white supremacists, neo-Nazis, magical religious cults and remnants of defunct right-wing movements, all of whom he refers to as “very fine people.” This grotesque baggage garnered him a previously  unseen level of voter loyalty.

President Trump has nominated two judges to the US Supreme Court, Neil McGill Gorsuch, who has a face like a choirboy who has never broken a glass, confirmed in 2017; and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Kavanaugh is an ultra-conservative whose confirmation hearings were stalled for three years over charges of partisanship.  According to Wikipedia, he is a practising Catholic who serves as a regular lector at his Washington, D.C., church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament; and has helped serve meals to the homeless. He has also tutored at the Washington Jesuit Academy. Before his eventual confirmation by the US Senate he was credibly accused of sexually assaulting at least two women.

Sixteen Appointments

The 16 Republican Supreme Court appointments since 1969 gave rise to the conservative courts that have dominated the American judiciary since the 1970s and culminated in the big-bucks-benefitting Citizens United verdict, which legitimized for all to see the notion that everything and everyone in America can be bought and sold, right down to the sacrosanct American democracy, personified in the United States Congress.

Thus, a minority of US citizens that desired and deserved a country whose pervading values were more complete, more human and more idealistic than those of the pork bellies market, was left out in the cold. Today they find themselves relegated to a sordid zero-sum world in which my gains are your losses, a world where generosity and solidarity have been supplanted by bare-fisted greed and the rule of the filthy rich. This brutal system of national values has exchanged once-normal human customs for cut-throat market standards. “Tell me how much you own and I’ll tell you what you’re worth.” It wasn’t always that way in the US, and Americans don’t have to look very far today to find a better model. There’s Canada right next door with universal health care and a $2,000 guaranteed monthly income for all their citizens. To belabor the point, I suggest you compare any declarations on any subject by Donald Trump on television news with those of Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand. It’s like peering into two different dimensions, Utopia and Dystopia. See which one you can relate to.

The controversial Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision was contested by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens who argued that the Court’s ruling represented “a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government.” A 2012 article on Demos.org lists 10 Ways Citizens United Endangers Democracy:

(These headings are links. You can click on them to learn more.)

  1. “Independent” Spending Farce Leads To SuperPACs
  2. Legal Money Laundering Increases Secret Spending
  3. Corporate Money Distorts Democracy
  4. Court is Blind to Reality of Corruption
  5. Citizen Voices are Drowned Out
  6. Money Is Still Not Speech
  7. Open Season on Remaining Money in Politics Protections
  8. Increases Corporate Power
  9. Unlimited Corporate Spending is Bad for Business and Shareholders
  10. Risks Reducing Respect for the Supreme Court

Now, ask yourself: Does the Citizens United decision merit revising by a future, less-ideologically-driven Supreme Court? Or can we climb out of the Abyss?

###

Thanks for following, commenting and  sharing.