Via Martin Wolf at the FT:
Here is what has happened. US President Donald Trump asserted for months, without evidence, that he could not be defeated in a fair election. He duly attributed his defeat to a rigged election. Four in five Republicans still agree.
The President pressured officials to overturn their states’ votes. Having failed, he sought to bully his vice-president and Congress into rejecting the electoral votes submitted by the states. He incited an assault on the Capitol, in order to pressure Congress into doing so. Some 147 members of Congress, including eight senators, voted to reject the states’ votes.
Dangerous. Donald Trump incited an assault on the Capitol, in order to pressure Congress into rejecting the electoral votes submitted by the states. Getty
In brief, Trump attempted a coup. Worse, the great majority of Republicans agree with his reasons for doing so. A huge number of federal lawmakers went along. The coup failed, because courts rejected evidence-free cases, and state officials did their jobs. But 10 former defence secretaries felt the need to warn the military to stay out.
…As Yale’s Timothy Snyder asserts: “Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president.” If truth is subjective, force must decide. There can then be no true democracy, only gangs of rival thugs or the boss’s dominant gang.
The Republican party is rotten through with sedition. As soon as I write this, I know people will start complaining about the violence and socialists on the left. But absolutely no equivalent to Trump is to be found among leading Democrats. Those pre-fascists are on the right.
Worse, Trump is not himself the disease, but a symptom. James Murdoch recently declared that: “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very, very much so. Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”
The role of the right-wing media bubble in creating the post-truth world of Trumpism is evident. So, too, is the plutocrat-funded long march through the institutions. The judiciary this has created has delivered the armed citizenry, the invisible political contributions and the soaring inequality that now endanger democratic stability.
…Trump has shown the way. Many will try to follow. So long as the aim of so many Republicans is to make the federal government fail and the rich richer, this is how its politics must work…If US politics unfolds as seems likely, there will be more Trumps.
One of them, more competent and ruthless, may succeed. If that is to be prevented, US politics must now shift to respect for truth and an inclusive version of patriotism.
Rome was arguably the last republican superpower. But the rich and powerful destroyed that republic, bringing forth a military dictatorship, 1800 years before the US was born.
I’m less pessimistic but there is no doubt about the underpinning divisions. They need to be addressed including the recreation of a centrist polity and moderate right.
As for the fall of the Roman Republic, it is an interesting comparison. Arguably the wrong one.
Rome was a more explicitly martial state than is the contemporary US. Rome’s democractic problems were, in part, a result of inequality and rapacious elites. But the bigger problem was its reliance upon powerful individual generals to resolve a whole series of wars on its frontiers, from Carthage to Gaul and western Mediterranean grain trade routes.
Each time Roman interests were threatened, the Roman senate tasked ever more powerful individual generals to resolve the issues accompanied with gigantic propaganda coups and glorious “triumphs” marched through the capital.
The strategy worked for many generations but, eventually, a few of the most successful of the generals got so powerful that the idea that they be answerable at all to the republic lost currency. Several of these, Pompey the Great, Julius Caeser and Marcus Crassus (also Rome’s richest man) began carving up huge slices of Roman territory amongst themselves in secret deals in which they retained Roman legions almost as private armies. The rest is history as the three went to war with each other and eventually, Caesar occupied Rome as the victor.
There are two key points to take from this in the American context. First, the separation of military and executive power in US is still very much more explicit than it was in Rome. This was one key missing ingredient in the Trump “coup”. There was no military involvement which, arguably, made it little more than a directionless riot. That said, one of the darker possibilities is that any future political chaos could trigger military involvement in which an ambitious general rises.
Second, it was the dynamics of competition with foreign powers that undid the Roman Republic. In the sense that America is challenged today in analogous ways there is a good comparison to make. But, Roman strategic positioning was much less secure than the US. In the Roman Republic, the issues that generals were given extraordinary powers to resolve were often life-threatening to the regime. By comparison, the US is a single, largely-self-sufficient continent, not a trade-dependent, martial state like Rome was. Which is one reason why its military remains more separate.
That is, American challenges are very much more “first world problems” than Rome’s ever were.
That is not to say that the US is not at risk of some kind of imperial takeover and period. The post-truthiness described is a huge problem, perhaps more akin to China or Nazi Germany than Rome, which is not very reassuring. Democratic normatives are both very strong and very weak.
Yet, in the sense that the US is demographically strong, economically self-sufficient and strategically safe, it is the case that the US is much better placed to avoid an imperial transition than Rome ever was.