Posts Tagged ‘American Democracy’

There really is a vast right-wing conspiracy

October 25, 2021

There is a possibility of an anti-democratic right-wing coup in the United States.  There really is.  Here’s how it might work.

You have another close Presidential election, like the ones in 2016 and 2020.  The balance of the electoral vote is in a few key states with Republican majorities in the state legislatures.

Those Republicans invoke Section II, Article 1, of the Constitution, which says: “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature shall direct, a number of electors… …”

This is interpreted to mean that the state legislatures have the power to set aside election results, disregarding their own state laws and their governors.

Competing slates of electors go to Washington (this happened once before, in 1876).  

Another Constitutional question arises.  Who decides which electors are legitimate?  The Vice-President, whose duty is to certify the Electoral Collage vote?  The House of Representatives, whose duty is to pick a winner when no candidate has a majority?  Congress as a whole?  The Supreme Court?

There is mass protest, in Washington (as happened in 2020) and the state capitols (as was feared, but didn’t happen).  A President is inaugurated, but tens of millions of Americans believe the government is illegitimate.  Martial law is declared.  A low-level civil war begins.

I do not predict this will happen in 2024, but I do believe a constitutional crisis is inevitable if things go on as they are.  The moments of maximum danger will be during a future crises—an economic crash, defeat in a major war or failure to cope with disasters and plagues.

The economic historian Adam Tooze pointed out in his latest book that a constitutional crisis was avoided in 2020 only because all the forces of the American establishment were dead set against Donald Trump.  This includes the military, the intelligence community, the Supreme Court, big business and the press.

All of them regarded Trump as dangerously unpredictable, and Joe Biden as a safe choice.  But he said the balance of forces might have been different if the incumbent had been, say, Jeb Bush and the narrow victor had been, say, Bernie Sanders. 

Political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. had a good discussion of this with Paul Jay on Jay’s podcast, based on an article Reed wrote for Nonsite.org.

Reed pointed out that Republicans are numerically the minority party in the USA, but they hold on to power partly by the peculiarities of the U.S. electoral system, but also by using their power in state legislatures to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts, and to restrict or discourage voting by Democratic blocs.

Reed said a large number of right-wing Republicans believe that no real American could have voted for Biden, and so the only way Biden could have voted is for the Democrats to have colluded with those who are not real Americans.

There are armed right-wing fanatics who say they are prepared for civil war.  Some of them the black flag of “no quarter,” meaning they intend to kill their enemies without mercy, along with the American flag.  

I don’t think there are a lot of them—far fewer, in fact, than turned out for the Black Lives Matter protests.  But it doesn’t take many to start something that will create an excuse for martial law.

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Fair elections depend on canceling the filibuster

July 8, 2021

Democracy is impossible if the election process is corrupted. 

The greatest threat to the election process is voter suppression and other manipulations by Republican state governments. 

The proposed For the People Act provides a way to protect the integrity of the election process. 

But the act may not pass because of a Senate filibuster.

The top priority of the Biden administration therefore should be to get rid of the fiilibuster—both for the sake of the preservation of what’s left of American democracy, and for the sake of the future of the Democratic Party.

LINKS

The For the People Act Filibuster and the End of American Politics by Osita Nwanevu for The New Republic.  This is the key link.  The rest show that the threat is real.

Threats Against Election Officials Are a Threat to Democracy by Sue Halpern for The New Yorker.

Republicans Fall Short in Voting Rights Crackdown While Adding Hassle at the Polls by Ryan Teague Blackwith, Allison McCartney and Mira Roianaskul for Bloomberg News.

The Republican Party Has Turned Fascist And Is Now the Most Dangerous Threat in the World by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.  I’d say one of the most dangerous threats.

Uncovered: Illegal Attacks on 384,000 Georgia Voters by Greg Palast.

Something Extraordinary Is Happening in Texas by Judd Legum for Popular Information.

E. B. White on “the meaning of democracy”

July 4, 2021

E.B. White wrote the following in the Notes & Comments section of The New Yorker on July 3, 1943.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.”  It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is.

It is the line that forms on the right. 

It is the don’t in don’t shove. 

It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. 

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. 

It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.

Democracy is a letter to the editor.

Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth.

It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad.

It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee.

Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

Source: E. B. White in The New Yorker

Who were the Capitol Hill rioters?

January 19, 2021

Video of pro-Trump protesters rally on Jan. 6. Source: ProPublica

There is going to be a big push to give the government new powers to prevent something like the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots from ever happening again.

For this reason it is important to get a picture of what happened that is as accurate as possible as soon as possible.

“Lambert Strether” of Naked Capitalism looked into the backgrounds of 125 people who’ve been charged with crimes in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.

He concluded they represent a cross-section of middle-class white America.

More of them came from the largest states—California, Texas and New York—rather than nearby Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. They were evenly distributed among all age groups.

The most common occupations of those arrested were business owner, police officer and real estate broker.

Strether thinks the events of Jan. 6 can be more accurately described as a riot than as an insurrection or an attempted coup. Most of the rioters appeared to be surprised that they actually penetrated the Capitol and to have no clear goal as to what to do next.

In fact, many of the rioters took videos of the events on social media, and selfies of themselves.  Many of these videos were posted on the Parler social media site. 

Any organized white supremacist group or, for that matter, “antifa” group, would have been careful to mask their faces and destroy surveillance cameras. 

No doubt they were in Washington, and maybe some of them were in the Capitol building, but if this had been a planned coup, it would have been more effective.

Parler has been taken down, but the ProPublica investigative team has collected a lot of them, sifted through them and published them in chronological order.  They provide a picture of the pro-Trump protests and Capitol Hill riot as seen by the protesters and rioters themselves.

It is a disturbing thing that the functioning of Congress and the safety of its members was threatened by a mob. 

But the riot was something that didn’t have to happen.  If there had been the same police presence as during the Black Lives Matter marches last year, the pro-Trump protests would have been as harmless as the anti-Trump protests four years ago.

I do think there is a real possibility that the USA is in for a period of low-intensity conflict, as in northern Ireland from 1968 t0 1998.  I also think there is a danger that over-reaction can make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Pausing to reflect on the facts is never time wasted.  I’m not sure I know all the relevant facts.  I’m not sure anybody else does, either.

LINKS

The Class Composition of the Capitol Rioters (First Cut) by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

Inside the Capitol Riot: What the Parler Videos Revealed by Alec MacGillis for ProPublica.

What Parler Saw During the Attack on the Capitol by the staff of ProPublica.  The collection of videos.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

Why We Published More than 500 Videos Taken by Parler Users of the Capitol Riot by Scott Klein and Jeff Kao for ProPublica.

Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Hill Riot by A.C. Thompson and Ford Fischer for ProPublica.

Capitol Mob Has Roots in Anti-Lockdown Protests by Mara Hvistendahl for The Intercept.

Lessons from the 6 January insurrection by Albena Azmanova and Marshall Auerbach for Counterpunch.

The USA’s coming perfect storm of crises

January 14, 2021

New York’s Times Square during lockdown

It is said that the Chinese character for “crisis” is a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”

I don’t know whether that is literally true or not.  I do believe that the USA faces a historical turning point—a perfect storm of crises out of which something better just possibly may come.

The crisis is economic, political and cultural.

The economic crisis is the high rates of unemployment, bankruptcies and evictions.

Revolutions are typically led by unemployed intellectuals.  Nationalist rebellions are typically led by unemployed war veterans.  The USA has plenty of both.

Many of us Americans hate each other based on our political affiiation.

Neither party is trying to win over members of the other side.  Partisan Democrats regard Republicans as bigots; partisan Republicans regard Democrats as immoral.  These are character judgements, not policy judgments.

Both sides have factions willing to resort to armed force.

In some of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, factions invaded municipal and federal government buildings and burned police stations.

In the recent pro-Trump election protests, an armed faction invaded the Capitol and tried to prevent the certification of the winner in the 2020 elections.

I don’t make light of any of this, but the actual number of deaths—an estimated 25 in protests during 2020 and five in the Capitol invasion—could have been a lot higher than they were.  There is potential for things to get a lot worse.

Ammunition and firearms sales are at record levels.  I don’t think these sales are limited to hunters, sportsmen and people who want guns for home protection, nor do I think they are limited to right-wing Republicans.

Only a small number of Americans are actually ready to engage in organized armed violence.  But there are millions who think that violence by one side is excusable and violence by the other side is inexcusable. 

It is interesting that all the armed factions, with few if any exceptions, consist of white men.  That includes those who embed themselves in the Black Lives Matter protests. There is a certain number of individual hoodlums and looters, including whites as well as blacks, but there is as yet no armed black organization equivalent to the Black Panthers of the late 1960s.

The stage is set for a continuing low-level war.  I don’t predict such a conflict will happen.  I do say there is nothing in place that guarantees it won’t happen.

President-elect Biden, who has taken credit for the USA Patriot Act, is talking about new laws against “domestic terrorism.”  Silicon Valley is moving to silence Trump supporters

The result of this will be to convince the hard-core MAGA Republicans that the political system is so stacked against them that they cannot work within it.  The populist radical left is also being squeezed out of the political system and may come to the same conclusion.

There’s long been a vast repressive apparatus in place to deal with any uprising. It is almost as if the powers that be have long expected an uprising and have made advance preparations to prevent it from succeeding.

We also have a crisis of governmental administration, revealed by the ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic and climate-related weather disasters.

All these crises are coming together and reinforcing each other.

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Some thoughts on democracy and insurrection

January 7, 2021

Protesters in Senate chamber. Source: ABC News

The basis of democratic government is a peaceful transition of power to the victor in an election.

If you think the result was wrong, you get a chance to try again the next election. If you think the voting process is corrupt or otherwise flawed, you have to fix it before the vote is held. 

Once you participate in an election, you commit to accept the result.  Otherwise the only appeal is to force.

The mob who stormed the Capitol yesterday did not accept the rules of democracy.

They may have done relatively little harm to life and property, compared to rioters in protests earlier this year and also compared to post-election rioters in other countries.

They only delayed the certification of the Electoral College vote for a few hours.  It wasn’t as if Congress was driven out and had to meet in a hotel somewhere.

And it is not clear to me at this point whether they really thought they could prevent the Electoral College vote from being certified, or whether they saw their action as a purely symbolic protest.  But whatever they thought they were doing, they were wrong.

The mob assembled in Washington in response to President Trump’s appeal to “stop the steal.”  It’s not clear to me that he intended what happened.  His record shows he does not think about the consequences of his actions.  He is like a vicious child playing with matches in a dynamite factory.

The Capitol Police were restrained and passive in dealing with the insurrectionists, compared with the way police often deal with peaceful environmental, anti-war or Black Lives Matter protestors.  I think that, under the circumstances, this probably was the right call.  A bloodbath would have been worse than anything that actually happened.

Still, many right-wing protestors in the United States think of themselves as supporters of the police, and many police appreciate this support.  Historically, revolution occurs when the police and military go over to the insurgents.  I think the events in Washington show there is potential for a more skillful demagogue than Trump to bring about a coup.

I don’t think that Republicans, self-described conservatives or even Trump supporters as a group are necessarily anti-democratic.  I don’t think that Democrats, self-described progressives or Trump haters are necessarily pro-democratic. 

I think yesterday’s insurrection was mild compared to the violence that would have been unleashed if Trump had won again by a narrow margin as he did in 2016.  Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I’m glad my thought wasn’t put to the test.

The various federal judges did not see evidence of voter fraud on a scale large enough to have changed the results of the Presidential election.  Indeed, based on the reporting of Greg Palast, I think Republican voter suppression is a bigger factor than anything Democrats have done.

But there are millions of devoted Trump supporters who think the election was stolen and the government illegitimate.  They constitute a threat to democratic government. 

The mainstream news media and the social media companies will respond to them by stronger measures to silence those who “sow discord.”  This, too, is a threat—possibly a greater one.

LINKS

It’s official.  Congress has formally recognized Joe Biden’s victory by Andrew Prokop for Vox.

MAGA Cosplayers Seize Capitol While Cops Flounder by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Capitol riots: Who broke into the building? by the BBC Reality Check Team and BBC Monitoring.  [Added Later]

Trump’s Wiemar America by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Religious Meaning of MAGA Riot by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Trump Has Proven the Country Is Ripe for a Right-Wing Coup by Ian Welsh.

MSM Media Already Using Capitol Hill Riot to Call for More Internet Censorship by Caitlin Johnstone.

Violence in the Capitol, Dangers in the Aftermath by Glenn Greenwald on Substack. [Added Later]

Americans trust military, police the most

September 26, 2019

The most respected institution in the United States is the military.  Men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Democrats, Republicans and independents all have confidence in the military.

The least respected institution in the United States is Congress, which was supposed to be the institution closest to the people.  Men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Democrats, Republicans and independents all lack confidence in Congress.

A majority of Americans lack also lack confidence in the Presidency, and in TV news and newspapers.

What other institution do a majority of us have confidence in?  The police.

These are the results of an Economist / YouGov poll.  It does not bode well for the future of democracy.

If you don’t have confidence in the results of elections or of the legal system or of freedom of the press, why not a police state or military dictatorship?

Here’s a breakdown of what the poll shows about various U.S. institutions, going from most-trusted to least trusted.  I took these charts from a post on the Audacious Epigone web log.

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The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy

August 16, 2019

The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy, or what will be left of it, will be when other nations rebel against the power of the U.S. dollar.   That will be when the United States is most in danger of a would-be Hitler or Mussolini.

The power of the U.S. dollar is what gives Washington the means to be a great economic power despite huge trade deficits and a hollowing out of American manufacturing.  It provides the means to maintain the world’s most expensive military.

It gives Washington the means to wage economic warfare against nations such as Iran, Venezuela and Russia, and to force poor nations to sacrifice the well-being of their people to foreign creditors.

But the power of the U.S. dollar is a legacy of a past when the U.S. was the world’s leading industrial nation, leading creditor nation and leading exporting nation.   Now the dominance of the dollar rests on the fact no nation’s leaders are both brave enough, and lead a nation that is strong enough, to defy the dollar system.

Benjamin Carter Hett wrote in The Death of Democracy that many European nations turned to fascist and right-wing dictatorships as a result of military defeat, which discredited the established governments, and strong Communist and revolutionary movements, which caused the middle classes to look for protectors.

German democracy survived for a time, but was pushed over the brink by onset of the Great Depression, which the established government was unable to cope with.

The conditions will exist in the United States following the crash of the U.S. dollar.  The U.S. government will no longer be able to raise money by borrowing in foreign markets.  Lack of borrowing power will mean it no longer will be able to pay for a world-wide network of military bases.

At the same time, the military will have to pay more for imported electronics components, imported oil and other supplies, including uniforms.  The fall in value of the U.S. dollar will make U.S. manufacturing costs cheaper in relation other currencies, but it won’t be able to fix the lack of manufacturing capacity.  And it will make investment in new manufacturing capacity more expensive.

The sudden collapse of U.S. military power without a military defeat would open the way to a “stab in the back” myth, comparable to the one about Germany’s defeat in World War One.

The buying power of U.S. workers will fall and the prices of merchandise, so much of which is directly or indirectly dependent on foreign supply chains, will fall.  There will be a crash in the U.S. financial markets and real estate markets.  Many workers will strike.  Many citizens will turn to the streets in protest—probably very few that are explicitly Communist, but who knows?

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Can intelligence agencies overturn the election?

January 12, 2017

The following is by Lambert Strether on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Since November 8 we’ve had four crises of legitimacy of escalating intensity, each one pointing to a change in the Constitutional order.

  • First, we had Stein’s recount effort, justified in part by a(n unproven) theory that “Russian hacking” had affected the vote tallies.  (Recall that 50% of Clinton voters believe this, although no evidence has ever been produced for it, it’s technically infeasible at scale, and statistically improbable.)  Since the “Russian hacking” theory was derived from intelligence not shown to the public, the change to the Constitutional order would be that the Intelligence Community (IC) would gain a veto over the legitimacy of a President during a transfer of power; veto power that would be completely unaccountable, since IC sources and methods would not be disclosed.
  • Second, we had the (hilariously backfired) campaign to have “faithless electors” appoint somebody other than Trump to be President.  Here again, the change in the Constitutional order was exactly the same, as (Clintonite) electors clamored to be briefed by the IC on material that would not be shown to the public, giving the IC veto power over the appointment of a President after the vote tallies had been certified.
  • office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaThird, we had the IC’s JAR report, which in essence accused the President-elect of treason (a capital offense).  Here again the publicly available evidence of that quite sloppy report has been shredded, so in essence we have an argument from IC authority that secret evidence they control disqualifies the President elect, so the change in the Constitutional order is the same.
  • Fourth, we have the “Golden Showers” report, which again is an argument from IC authority, and so again gives the IC veto power over a President appointed by the Electoral College. 

Needless to say, once we give the IC veto power over a President before the vote is tallied, and before the electoral college votes, and after the electoral college votes but before the oath of office and the Inaugural, we’re never going to be able to take it back.

This is a crossing the Rubicon moment.  Now, you can say this is unique, not normal, an exceptional case, but “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmidt).  And who then is the sovereign?  The IC.  Is that what liberals want?

Source: naked capitalism

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Why nihilism is worse than hypocrisy

March 7, 2016

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit

Donald Trump (Reuters)

Donald Trump’s assertions that he would require American military officers to practice torture and other war crimes stirred up a strong backlash, and he backed down.

Others point out that the U.S. government has long been doing things that Trump is only talking about.

That’s true, but I still think indignation is justified.  Advocating crimes against humanity is just as bad, and in some ways worse, than practicing crimes against humanity.

It is better to be a hypocrite than a nihilist.  The hypocrite, even if lying to others or to self, has a road back to human decency.  The frankly sociopathic nihilist has burned his bridges.

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Many Americans open to a U.S. military coup

September 16, 2015

A poll by YouGov, a private polling organization, indicates that, if push came to shove, a sizeable minority of Americans, including a plurality of Republicans, would support a military coup in the United States.

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