Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions
To an outsider, or to this outsider, anyway, the most striking thing about American political life is the saturation-level, all-pervasive, complacent chauvinism.
It’s almost innocent-seeming, almost endearing, like the boasting of a five year old. The Stars and Stripes everywhere. The custom of always, in public life, referring to any state that has to be mentioned as “the great state of Wyoming”, or whatever.
And the ancestor worship! Everything about the creaking, labyrinthine, 230-year-old constitution is as sacred as it is perfect. It is the best in the world. It is not a real democracy at all, but an archaic pluto-democracy, yet to tens of millions of Americans theirs is the best democracy in the best of all possible political worlds.
All that was there, ridiculously, in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial before the Senate — in the speeches of the prosecutors.
The prosecutors did a devastating job of indicting the man who was president, and a would-be king, until a month ago. He had refused to vacate the office from which the electorate had rejected him. He had done his best and his worst to subvert the results of the 4 November election, to disenfranchise the 81 million Americans who had voted for Joe Biden.
He had campaigned, for a year before the election, against the election as such and against the whole electoral system. He claimed he could lose only if the election was fraudulent. If he lost the election, it would be no valid election. The choice of the electors would be no valid choice.
He had lied about the election, and then about its outcome, with a stupendous Goebbelsian campaign, and he persuaded about three quarters of those who voted for him that Joe Biden was not the president-elect, and Trump himself was still president, the real and legitimate president.
He had mobilised thousands of his dupes on 6 January and directed an armed insurrectionary mob to take over the Capitol and stop the final ceremony in the process of installing Joe Biden. He had tried to entrench himself as a ruler irrespective of elections and above elections. That, on top of trying to act in office, not as a president, but as a king.
If the revered Constitution had been democratic then Trump, who got three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016, would never have been president at all. The 2016 outcome encouraged him to try for a repeat denial of the will of the electorate in 2020.
The indictment of Trump was also the indictment of the undemocratic nature of the system that had in the first place brought the loser in the popular vote to be president of the United States.
Trump’s attempt to legally subvert the election by such devices as trying to have states chose members of the Electoral College who would ignore the popular vote for Joe Biden and give their Electoral College votes to Trump — what was that but an attempt to do deliberately what had been done by the reigning system in 2016 (as in 2000, putting the loser in the popular vote, George Bush, into office).
The dire state of American democracy was again thrown up on the screen by the impeachment trial. The prosecution presented devastating and incontrovertible evidence against Trump. Republican leader Mitch McConnell agreed with the case against Trump. He stood up in the Senate and said so. But only after he and the senators he might have influenced had voted to acquit Trump.
Most of the 43 out of 50 Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump did so for fear of retaliation by Trump and the Trumpists in their own states, fear of their ejection from office. They voted to acquit a man whom they knew who tried to subvert the Constitution they all say they adore.
They set a precedent that can be taken as licence by future and smarter presidents to behave as Trump has got away with behaving.
Immediately after the events of 6 January, some 130 members of the House of Representatives had voted to do what those who invaded the Capitol had tried to make them do: oppose the ceremonial ratification of the results of the election. Tens of millions of Republican voters are left believing that Trump won the election, that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president, that the whole system is corrupt and in the hands of “enemies of the American people”.
They have control of one of the two main parties. In the right-wing militias — in fact, right wing anarchists, many of them — Trump has his own army. Almost all the elements of a fascism or a quasi-fascism exist for Trump to command.
Mussolini’s Fascist Party was not a party until late 1921, less than a year before it took power, though the elements that created that party had already existed for some years.
The elements of a fascist or fascistic party heave and roll around Trump, bearing him aloft, in the Republican Party and beyond it now. The unknown here is, will they coalesce further?
There are precedents for those who want to believe they won’t. The Boulanger movement in France in the late 1880s was powerful and threatening, a precursor of fascism, but it collapsed quickly when General Boulanger fled and then shot himself.
The nearest precedent I know to Trump and the Republican Party now is to be found in 1930s Ireland. Cumann na nGaedheal, the party that won the civil war in 1922-3 and had ruled the 26 Counties for a decade, was voted out at the start of 1932.
The De Valera party, Fianna Fail, the losers in the civil war, formed the government, at first with Labour support in the Dail.
Cumann na nGaedheal vacated office peacefully. The Republicans harried them physically, under the cry “no free speech for traitors”. De Valera entered into an economic war with Britain that threatened the interests of their supporters, the big farmers and ranchers.
Cumann na nGaedheal, the second party in the Dail and recently the government, organised the Blueshirt movement, advocated a corporate state, became a mass clerical-fascist party.
When De Valera demonstrated that he could and would handle the physical force Republicans, when the Blueshirt Duce Eoin O’Duffy proved erratic and irresponsible, they split. A small part went with O’Duffy, hardened fascists. The majority became Fine Gael, and reverted to being one of the two big Dail parties in a stable parliamentary system.
Something like that may — perhaps is likely to — happen with the Republican Party. But other things are possible too. US leftists would be foolish indeed to trust complacently to a “Fine Gael” outcome of the present turmoil in and around the Republican Party.
As against the complacent ethno-chauvinist myths that saturate and smother politics in the USA, socialists should seize the chance to campaign for direct, that is real, democracy and work to bury the decayed old plutocratic system before which so many Americans genuflect.