Coups and consequences

For the past couple of centuries, the United States has played an important role on the world stage as an example of freedom and democracy at work, an ideal worthy of emulation. Its Constitution, the Declaration of Independence that launched it, and its system of government “of the people, by the people, for the people”, were beacons in a world still mostly dominated by monarchs, emperors, war lords and authoritarian rulers. It demonstrated that a nation of free people, equal and empowered to determine their own destinies, could succeed in creating and maintaining a just society where everyone regardless of race, creed, colour or political belief could build a life and future without oppression or coercion. Those lofty principles led the U.S. to become the strongest and most successful nation on this planet.

To be sure, it was not and is still not perfect. There are social, racial and economic challenges still to be resolved, but until recently there was a strong belief and confidence within both the U.S. and the observing outside world that these would be rectified in due time and in accordance with the commendable ideals that formed the nation’s moral and ideological foundations.

Last week’s events at the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C. significantly undermined this American legacy and did much to erode its credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. What we saw was nothing less than an apprehended insurrection fomented and encouraged by a delusional lame-duck President determined not to cede his position despite being decisively defeated in an open and democratic election. For months President Trump engaged in a frenetic campaign of lies, corrosive propaganda and conspiracy, aimed at destroying the credibility of America’s electoral process. In his deranged and narcissistic way of thinking, it was inconceivable that he could or should lose, and therefore his electoral defeat must have been ipso facto fraudulent and the result of a conspiracy by “the deep state.” His behaviour and the subsequent events that they inspired were more representative of what happens in third world banana republics than in the most powerful and supposedly civilized free country on earth.

What is especially tragic about the whole Trump Presidency and its now ignominious end is not so much that this troubled and deeply flawed individual got elected, but the failure of the political and governmental infrastructures to contain the damage he has wrought. The Republican Party, once a highly respected institution with no shortage of smart and capable people, sold its soul to this demagogue and became a cheerleading bystander and enabler of his misogynistic, racist, divisive, polarizing and self-serving political agenda. The American government with all its supposedly carefully constructed system of checks and balances failed to contain the worst excesses of this petty martinet. The Cabinet and senior levels of government became a revolving door for incompetent and often criminally behaving political hacks. Never in American history have there been so many failed presidential appointees, many of whom wound up in jail.

Even more troubling to the rest of us in the outside world is the fact that so many Americans, supposedly the most educated and well-informed people in the world, bought into the Trump cult and actually believed all the lies and nonsense that Trump would spew out in his endless Twitter posts and which was parroted by his slavish supporters at FOX, Breitbart and other ultra right-wing media outlets.

Despite four years of demonstrable incompetence and obvious proof that Trump was a feckless demagogue, over 70 million Americans still voted for him in last November’s Presidential election. This does not bode well for the future of democracy in America or the rest of the world for that matter.

Incoming President Biden has an unenviable and difficult task ahead of him trying to repair the American body politic. The nation is badly polarized ideologically, and it has become obvious that many of the archaic structures conceived centuries ago by the American founding fathers such as the electoral college as well as the rules governing the use and abuse of Presidential authority, are in serious need of revision. Trump’s destructive romp through the American political landscape has graphically exposed some critical deficiencies in how the nation is governed and unless these are dealt with expeditiously and comprehensively, we may be seeing the initiation of the decline and fall of the American empire.

This is history in the making, and how America and its people behave in the coming months and years will go a long way in determining whether the U.S. regains its status as a leader of the free world or disintegrates into a has-been footnote of history.