Last week, Donald Trump bussed all the Republican congress-people to the White House to celebrate the passage of a much criticized tax reform bill, massing them in the garden in neat, tiered rows, like a class picture. The image reminded me of decades-old photographs of the Soviet Politburo standing in their overcoats on the Red Square reviewing stand.
The United States has always been able to mock such scenes occurring elsewhere, but no longer. Although the American polity is anything but monolithic, praise for the tax bill from Republican politicians who had either vilified Donald Trump or been vilified by him within recent memory, disturbed even some hardened jour-nalists. Taken together with ‘I alone can fix this’, to see and hear the Republican House Leader Paul Ryan calling the President “a superb negotiator”, is highly disturbing. In recent remarks, former President Obama evoked Nazi Germany, even as White Nationalist Steve Bannon, the President’s Mephistopheles, continued to threaten the Republican establishment.
Most newscasters still insist that the US is a ‘good’ country that merely has to get to the bottom of Russian interference in its ‘democratic process’ for everything to be A-OK.. As the Philippines experience deadly flooding, Palestinian children are jailed, the Peruvian President narrowly escapes impeachment, and the US sends offensive weapons to Ukraine, our airwaves are almost exclusively devoted to the investigation of possible collusion between candidate Trump’s team and Russia.
High-on-speculation coverage of the 2016 presidential election morphed seamlessly into speculation over whether the Trump campaign ‘colluded’ or ‘conspired’ with the Russian government to win the election. Each new interview with a possible witness to possible wrong-doing is presented as ‘breaking news’, yet is immediately followed by experts and upcoming reporters ready with interpretations. Currently topping the headlines is the possibility that the president will fire the Special Counsel and/or the justice department official who hired him, reminding Americans of the convenient ways in which our two-hundred year old constitution favors crises.
Mueller has now gone after Donald Trump’s longtime secretary, who did not follow him to the White House but conceivably could have overheard something suspicious before the campaign even started. Most ominously, even the presidential candidate of the tiny Green Party, Jill Stein, is being investigated for having travelled to Moscow to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the television channel RT (routinely referred to as ‘Putin’s Bullhorn’ by right-thinking US politicians and journalists, and recently forced to register as a foreign agent). Her FBI summons speaks directly to the small cohort of progressive journalists who try to open American eyes, and now see themselves on a Black List similar to the one that ravaged so many lives courtesy of Joe McCarthy in the fifties.
Replacing that era’s “Have you ever been or are you now a member of the Communist Party” is the crime of appearing on RT or attending events sponsored by the Russian President. All it took for Stein to become the subject of an investigation was to have been seated at President Putin’s table, along with Michael Flynn, who recently confessed that he’d lied to the FBI about his paid activities involving Russia, and also Turkey. Luckily the Green Party kept records of all Stein’s expenses for the trip to Russia, and when she refused to be baited into saying that she regretted taking it, the MSNBC anchor had to fall back on the accusation that she had been a ‘Hillary spoiler’ in the 2016 election. (Stein took 1.1% of the vote.)
The situation could have been different had American women followed Stein’s example of continuing the broad-based activism they had espoused for a hundred years, instead of focusing exclusively on sexual harassment. The ‘me too’ campaign is an outcome of the ‘me’ era, whose devotion to individualism makes survival of the species its lowest priority. Although much criticized in its early days, aided by the media, the me era made educated Americans — whom I thought had the most ‘intelligence sophistication’ of any group in the world in the nineteen-seventies — the most gullible. Wringing their hands over the presence of a huckster in the White House, they downgrade the existential threats that flow from it, starting with but not limited to, nuclear war, to mere addenda to a campaign against unwanted sexual overtures.
In mortally sick America, the president hails civil rights in the morning, accuses Haitian refugees of carrying AIDS in the afternoon, and endorses a known child molester for Senate in the evening. While supposedly prioritizing the fight against ISIS, President Trump declares that Muslims should not be permitted to serve in Congress, as if that community were not key to winning the battle. His recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with no corresponding announcement for the Palestinians, was met by an explosion in a Manhattan bus terminal during Christmas shopping season; yet protection of women in the workplace is still the main focus of activists. (Even former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders forcefully endorsed this priority on Christmas Eve.)
Newscasters working for privately-owned media so faithfully deliver the government’s message as to be mistaken for official spokespersons. However, they have yet to mention that President Trump’s foreign policy speech earlier this month reflected a total rewrite of the Bush Doctrine, replacing the call for permanent American hegemony by a detailed but much more nuanced program for maintaining American ‘leadership’. Had the media been truly free, it would have pointed out that if the Russians did make efforts to weigh on the scale against Hillary, it was because she espoused the Bush doctrine, that calls for the dismantling of Russia into ‘manageable’ entities under pro-US rule, while Trump, as he has just proven in his National Security rewrite, is willing to cooperate with ‘rival nations’ whose principles are at odds with our own.
While warning of challenges from Russia and China, Trump endorses a fundamental principal they share when he refers to “a world of strong, sovereign, and independent nations, each with its own cultures and dreams, thriving side- by-side in prosperity, freedom, and peace…” This is a reference to the multi-polar world with which Xi and PUtin seek to replace US hegemony, and Trump’s document acknowledges that “these are fundamentally political contests between those who favor repressive systems and those who favor free societies.” Even his determination to constantly up-grade our military capabilities is motivated by the need to ‘overmatch’ others.
Apparently, our UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley has not read the document: she issued party invitations to the countries that supported our Jerusalem decision at the General Assembly, warning those who condemned it of retaliation, a behavior that is unlikely to reverse our European allies’ incipient policy of distancing themselves from Washington. They have taken a battering over the last few years, starting with the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent wave of immigrants fleeing US wars in the Middle East and Africa. Now they are seriously considering setting up their own military alliance to replace NATO, which lines up their troops on Russia’s border, as their economies suffer the consequences of US-ordered sanctions against that country.
The EU had already rejected the trade deal known as TTIP that would have primarily benefitted the US, similarly to the TPP, that the US tried to put over on the Pacific to isolate China. Now Washington is furious at losing its Trojan horse in Brussels, accusing Russia of influencing the Brexit vote, as the British, too, begin to rethink the advantages of being tied at the hip to Washington. Just as members of parliament were alerting security that a person in the visitor gallery who seemed to be taking pictures must surely be a Russian, the British Foreign Secretary was in Moscow exchanging joking barbs with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, expressing sotto voce a desire for better relations.
The media accuses the President of admiring not only Vladimir Putin, but other authoritarian rulers such as Turkey’s Recip Tayep Erdogan or Roger Dutertre, the Filipino president, oblivious to the difference between them: the first is a leader with a vision both for his country and the world, the second and third would probably be diagnosed as mentally unstable, as has been the US President himself, at best interested mainly in power’s tangible benefits. Yet even a casual look at the international activities of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping shows that Washington no longer calls the shots.
Now that state capitalism has replaced socialism in China and Russia, it may no longer be appropriate to categorize leaders as either ‘authoritarian’ or ‘democratic’ but according to their attitudes toward the wider world. Currently, the 40 year-old French president Emanuel Macron is probably Vladimir Putin’s star pupil, except that the Russian Bear takes a warmer approach, while the Frenchman, true to his nation’s mascot, tends to come across as cocksure. Most recently he knocked the heads of the two warring parties in Libya together, as a logical first step toward stemming the African exodus from its coast. Simultaneously, he is developing aid plans that go beyond the provision of CARE packages, so that Africans can again live satisfying lives at home. Recently he travelled to the Sahel, where five countries are battling Islamists, meeting with heads of state and selling to the public a different kind of military cooperation from that associated with colonialism. (Although France 24, which broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic, was ready with an in-depth report on the region, no one accuses it of being a government bullhorn…)
Like his hero, Jupiter, Macron seems to be everywhere at once. In November he called the world’s heads of state to a One Planet Summit, where he exacted new pledges to revitalize the yearly Cop Climate Conferences. The US president was not invited, however several American governors and mayors attended, determined to carry on the fight to save the planet, and suggesting a gradual move from US federalism to localism, perhaps inspired by the European examples of Catalonia and Ireland, that presage not only a ‘Europe of nations’ as demanded by the far-right, but one in which regions will enjoy more power under the progressive governments that Europe is still capable of fielding.
Very differently, the current American sickness of nascent authoritarianism and white nationalism will only be defeated if the American left can get its act together. Alas, confidence in the likelihood of the Democratic Party taking back the legislative branch in next year’s mid-term elections may be as overly optimistic as was the conviction that Donald Trump would never win the presidency.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.