Do Americans Understand How Badly Compromised Their Democracy is Now?: What Does it Mean When a Democracy Can’t Protect Itself From Its Worst Enemies? umair haque,
Imagine if I’d told you that one day, America’s most historic, legendary Cold War foe would have hatched a bizarre, cunning plot to sabotage democracy, and elect a pliable President. By igniting a tidal wave of socially engineered, carefully stoked neofascism. Whose goal was to destabilize the West — fracturing old alliance as grand as NATO, cracking apart international institutions like the G7, shattering trade deals, even leaving the poor old Queen of England insulted and bewildered. And in less than two years, that foe had succeeded at all the above — beyond its wildest dreams.
You would’ve laughed at me, and pointed to the one-star cheap thrills section of Netflix. And yet here we are, in exactly such an unbelievably weird, gruesome, and strange reality.
As the scale, scope, and intensity of what pundits call “interference” — but is better called a kind of jaw-dropping, epic, historic sabotage of democracy — is revealed, one thing becomes clear: we’re witnessing the effects of what’s probably the most successful “intelligence operation”, that is, act of state-sponsored subversion against a democratic republic, in modern history. Yes, really. Remember when the Brits cracked the Nazi codes? Even they didn’t manage to install a puppet Hitler. But that’s more or less what happened to poor, beleaguered America.
Whether or not you believe the President is a marionette with no free will, all strings and masters, is besides the point. American democracy is now at the point where its head lacks the rock-solid legitimacy such an office obviously needs. After all, if the electoral process, if people’s attitudes, if social bonds and beliefs, were all carefully sabotaged — which appears to be very much the case — then can we really say that the people gave anything close to informed, affirmative consent? Go ahead and think about it.
So now America finds itself in a weird, bizarro world. A twilight zone, somewhere between democracy, authoritarianism, and fascism. No wonder, then, that everyday, we see just those forces battling for power.
But what’s more interesting is what lies beneath that rippling surface. What all that means, what it signifies. What does it take for a country to end up like that? Well, what it means is that every single institution in that society must have failed. There must have been something like an institutional power failure of historic, unimagined proportions. Think I exaggerate? Let me prove it.
Intelligence agencies must have failed, quite obviously, to predict or fight it. The press must have failed to pick up on the numerous warnings of it. The media must have failed to listen to those analysts and thinkers who suggested something funny was going on. The polity must have failed to check a President acting so obviously against the national interest, lashing out at allies, breaking up historic partnerships, ripping up treaties. The military must have failed — at its primary task of deterrence. Academics and their models and theories must have failed wholesale, not just to predict, explain, or prevent any of the above — but even to see it. Shall I go on?
Do you see just how complete, how sweeping such a failure of institutions must be, for a nation to be at the point where there are now very real questions about the legitimacy of its head of state? Such a failure must be total. Absolute. Right down to the very bones of a democracy. Because such a failure also then breaks the bones of a democracy.
But how is a democracy to remedy such a situation? Are those questions even answerable — “is the head of state a puppet, Y/N?” LOL. You see the problem. And even if they are answerable, there are no provisions in any constitution ever written, really, for such an outlandish, incredible scenario. There’s no amendment or clause to recall a head of state who’s legitimacy is questionable — impeachment is for “high crimes”, but these crimes, more to the point, were committed by foreign actors to begin with. No constitution across the globe has foreseen such acts — and provided specific mechanisms of governance to easily undo them. There’s no specific law against probably being a puppet head of state. Do you see how weird, complex, and strange the situation now America finds itself in is? It’s like a tangled knot, which must, in the end, somehow be cut.
How is that knot to be cut? That’s another way of asking: is America broken beyond repair? I’ll answer in a slightly roundabout way — forgive me.
I think that rebuilding America is going to take time. Obviously, commitment, energy, fresh ideas, and passion — but above all, time. Why? I think it will require three phases.
The first is flushing out the bad guys — let’s call this phase rebuilding functional institutions. Who knows how deep the the quislings go? The…well…moles. Laugh all you like — I find it funny too, to speak the language of Cold War thrillers. And then think for a moment about what we know, and what that means about what we don’t. But the quislings are hardly the only issue. How high the fascists have risen? The ones who enjoy putting little children in camps? How is justice to be meted out? Will it be, or will they merely retain their status and rank and power? Who’ll mete it out? America? The Hague? You see what I mean?
But government is just one institution. There needs to be a reckoning now across them all, doesn’t there? Why didn’t the press listen to the numerous warnings? Why didn’t academics foresee this? How did intelligence agencies fail? Why didn’t the media give a voice to those who connected the dots early on? Do you see what I mean? These are basic questions of accountability — and if American can’t build institutions accountable for the biggest failure in its history, most likely, then how can its institutions be said ever to work, at a basic level, again? So the project of rebuilding working institutions, with accountability, transparency, objectivity, is in itself is a massive, sprawling social effort that will take years.
The second phase, which can only really being after the first one ends, is the question of building a working society. Russia might have lit the fuse of American fascism — but it didn’t lay down the dry powder. What did? A profoundly broken social contract, in which people go without basic medicine, affordable healthcare, education, finance, retirement, safety nets. In which life has gotten so precarious that the average person has just $500 in emergency savings, while young people can’t afford to have kids of their own. America made it easy to sabotaged, by sprinkling the gunpowder of fascism — poverty, despair, fear, cruelty, rage — everywhere in sight.
And after America has a working social contract, there is the third phase. Rejoining the civilized world. You are kidding yourself if you think that its old allies are going to welcome America back with open arms on the eve of the next election. That’s a Mills and Boon romance — not reality. Reality is that they are beginning to understand all the above. Would you trust, as a close ally, a partner, and a friend, a nation that was so dim-witted, so naïve, so hapless, as to let all the above happen? What would be in it for you? Such a nation would have to demonstrate the first two things — working institutions, and a functioning society — to earn its place among the league of prosperous democracies again. Until it does, America is likely to be quarantined, like an infected patient — with a disease nobody wants to catch.
So. The question was: is America broken beyond repair? My answer is: no. That might surprise you, since I’ve come to be seen as something of a pessimist. Societies are, like human beings, though, surprisingly resilient things. They bounce back from catastrophe and ruin, just like Japan, Germany, and Spain have. But bouncing back takes one crucial, and maybe even paradoxical, insight: admitting your society is badly, maybe even fatally, broken. If all these nations had had America’s legendary hubris, its exceptionalism, its folly — they never would have been able to rebuild anything at all. Ah, but aren’t those three things, hubris, exceptionalism, and folly, probably exactly what blinded all those American institutions, and their leaders, to what was going on under their very nose?
Don’t lose hope. America’s best days aren’t necessarily behind it yet. But that depends on Americans. Not just on their pride, our might, and our bravery. But on very much the opposite. On their humility, wisdom, and determination. All that is required to be able to admit our own mistakes, isn’t it? And therefore, it’s needed to really grapple with just how broken America really is. Then — and only then — can the work of rebuilding a stronger nation can begin.
Umair, July 2018
The foundation of the ‘great experiment’ is eroding – America has lost its way. This is not new, as history is littered with failed ideologies and withered empires. Democracy, socialism, and communism are not inherently flawed systems, as they all have their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ points, but we’ve seen each of these systems historically fail at one point in time or another.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, a group that rates these things in several areas, “The US scored a 7.98 out of 10 last year, dropping into the flawed democracy category for the first time. The change reflected what the report said was “a sharp fall in popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions. This predated and aided the election of Donald Trump, according to the think-tank.”
The open hearing of Michael Cohen was a troubling indicator of this very statement. The Republicans on the committee had only one end in mind – protecting the President and thus themselves. Truth was not on the table, their only motive was to discredit, ridicule, and undermine the testimony. Logic tells us that the way to proceed in these hearings is to take statements along with evidence and evaluate them with respect to other material and known facts. The Republicans were not interested in evidence, and blind adherence to an individual that reigned over their reelection was their only consideration. Had the shoe been on the other proverbial foot, I suspect the Democrats would have acted no differently.
…Trump ‘dangles’ power and wealth before all those yearning for it — and there are many! That is the source of individual power, an individual offering nothing is powerless. It is only when an individual — any individual or system — has something we want can they, or it, have power over and control us. Part of individual freedom is in the application of this realization. Institutions, regardless whether political or religious, are not moral. They contain both moral and immoral individuals. When the immorality of the group outweighs or approaches the morality, the group is doomed to failure. Hate and greed can never be aspects of morality, regardless of the societal justification — again, watch the open hearing of Michael Cohen. Watch a President who has cleverly and decisively made lying a justifiable everyday propaganda tool. Watch a Mitch McConnell twist the truth and laws to appease his Kentucky 80% Trump-supporting base for the sole end of his own reelection. Watch evangelicals justify and dismiss Trump’s greed, lies, and blatant womanizing, and worse, giving him Bibles to endorse!
Man clings to the group for safety. The morality of the group is not an issue — Hitler’s Germany saw to that. American morality under Donald J. Trump sunk to a new low. Let’s be clear, Trump is just an indicator, the tip of the iceberg. The disease is systemic, and he could not have been elected if it weren’t. So, how does man exist in a climate of corruption, dishonesty and failure? We should each ask ourselves what we would have done had we lived in 1938 Germany, would we have sat quietly by and, as a nation driven by propaganda not much different than our own, marched to war and cried out “Ich dien?” We always think that could never be me but it is — it is each of us. MAGA hats anyone? We live in a climate of unprecedented violence, hatred, and divide. Do we dismiss the errant actions of those we idolize and scorn those who don’t align with our beliefs? The instant we do that, the instant we fail to recognize that there is no individual, religious, or political system greater than the truth we become part of the eroding foundation. The instant we put hate, greed, and blind adherence before truth and reason, which should always dictate our actions, we become the failure of this democracy and every system before it and to follow.