/Sliding doors: The day US democracy almost died

Sliding doors: The day US democracy almost died

from Thomas Palley

It is now four days since the January 6 mob attack on the US Congress which President Donald Trump incited. In a manner akin to a combat situation, the numbness induced by the overwhelming nature of the event is giving way to shock and anger. What is also becoming clear is just how close US democracy came to dying.

Sliding Doors

The film Sliding Doors begins with two different scenarios in which the course of the main protagonist’s life depends on whether or not she catches the subway by milliseconds. The events of January 6 have a Sliding Doors quality to them.

It now seems the attack has backfired for Trump and turned into a political fiasco. That fiasco resonates with Adolf Hitler’s failed 1923 Munich Beer Hall putsch (German for coup) – though lest we get carried away, let us not forget Hitler returned and took power ten years later, and we all know what followed.

Hitler’s failed Munich putsch is one scenario. The other scenario is the Bolshevik Party’s seizure of power in St. Petersburg, Russia in October 1917. That coup succeeded and launched a totalitarian dictatorship that was to last almost seventy-five years.

It is easy to imagine a scenario in which Trump’s mob had been better organized and more ruthless, and in which they had seized Congress and summarily executed Democratic Senators and House members – along with Senator Mitt Romney, who has been heroic in his opposition to Trump. That would have left a rump majority of willing accomplice Republicans, plus a smaller group of Vichyssoise Republicans who meekly towed the line.

In that imagined scenario, Trump would have been able to declare a state of emergency which would have been supported by the military, under orders from his Secretary of Defense henchman. The rump Republican Party would have rubber stamped everything. In one swoop, US democracy would have been felled, in a manner similar to the Bolshevik takeover of Russia.

White America’s bad barrel problem

Just as there should be no doubt about how close democracy came to dying, there should be no doubt about the depth of the problem. That starts with the failure of the two thousand strong Capitol Hill police force to protect Congress and the long delay in the Pentagon’s mobilization of the DC National Guard.

At this time it is unclear whether the failure of the Capitol Hill police force was due to rank incompetence or complicity. But what is clear is that America’s law enforcement and military is deeply infected with strains of right-wing extremism. That infection is evident in the behaviors of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, polls that have long shown military personnel tend to vote Republican, and the large vet presence in militias. It is also evident in the differential policing treatment of Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters.

Moreover, separating incompetence from complicity is not so easy. Once toxic extremism is present, subconscious bias makes it easy to make bad decisions. That helps explain the bias in policing and the failure to pursue white supremacist terrorists. Law enforcement always views white supremacists as a bad apple problem, whereas BLM protesters are always viewed as a bad barrel problem that justifies harsher treatment. Yet in terms of threat to the nation’s security, the reality is the exact opposite.

The Republican coup against America

An even deeper problem concerns the Republican Party which has now shown itself complicit with the coup against America. That complicity was on display through the likes of Senators Cruz and Hawley and six other senators, who objected to certification of the election. Likewise, 147 House Republicans (seventy percent of the caucus) also voted against certification.

Now, Trump administration Cabinet members DeVos and Chao have resigned. That is not heroic action. They are actually tacitly supporting President Trump by making it more difficult to invoke the 25th Amendment which would force Trump’s eviction from office. Heroic action would be to stay in the Cabinet, while publicly calling for invoking the 25th.

The danger of appeasement

Friedrich Nietzsche, with his philosophy of will power, was the quasi-official philosopher of Hitler’s Third Reich. Despite its chatter about American values, the Republican Party has adopted Nietzsche’s logic and now aims to impose its views by force of will. That is the essence of Trump’s politics which the party has embraced.

As the Third Reich showed, there can be no compromise with Nietzschean logic. That means the US is in a life and death struggle for constitutional democratic freedom. It also means talk of national unity before there has been accountability is tantamount to appeasement, and we know from history where appeasement leads.