Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The American national nightmare

On August 9th 1974 Gerald Ford took the oath of office to become president of the United States. In his brief speech he said:

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over... Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men."

43 years later, the American Republic is being tested in a way it has never been tested in the 241 years since the declaration of independence. 

It is not just that Donald Trump is a vulgar, boorish, lecher. It is not just that he has consistently lied about his businesses and has consistently used mafia levels of intimidation and fraudulent promises in order to cheat his way out of trouble. It is not just that his absurd self-regard renders him utterly unfit for any public office. It is not even that Trump was over three million votes behind in the popular vote.

There are three intersecting crises in America today. They are economic, political, and constitutional.

The United States is no longer the engine of global prosperity.  From being a global leader in a huge range of educational and business endeavour, The country has long ago lost its leadership in school education. American cities are often squalid and dangerous. Millions have lost the sense of aspiration that drove previous generations forward. The American Dream of material wealth and progress is challenged from within and without. China is set to overtake the USA as the world largest economy, while questions of sustainability and diversity now hedge American economy progress with doubt and uncertainty as to whether the goals of previous generations can be maintained, or even whether they should be. Although the American economy continues to innovate at a brisk pace, the innovators- whether in Silicon Valley or elsewhere- are often not themselves Americans. Meanwhile in manufacturing the US has continued its steady decline- outpaced only by the UK.

The sense of economic malaise has leaked into the politics of the United States. Divisive and confrontational politics are now the norm, fuelled by gerrymandering and a partisan media that routinely ignores objective truth in order to promote a biased and partial narrative. The result has been populist "uprisings" promoted by sinister and unpleasant figures such as Steve Bannon. The media manipulation is overt, but it supports covert and dangerous agendas. From the promotion of Russia to a populist view of taxation, information and arguments, whether these are legitimate or even criminal are simply not examined in any detail. The result is a media landscape which is an agora of lies, where any opinion counters any fact. The growing extremism of American politics has culminated in the ultimate wrong headed candidacy- the media creature Donald Trump.

Lets state it clearly: Donald Trump should not be the President of the United States. This is a judgement based on his flawed character, his dubious business interests and his connection with Russia. It also recognises that when a plurality of votes by a margin of over three million votes is overruled by the electoral college, then the will of the American people, which is supposed to be sovereign under the constitution, has in fact been ignored. The technicality that over-rules the will of the people must be corrected by early amendment.  However, even before this, there is a more egregious fault in the American constitutional arrangement: gerrymandering.  Gerrymandering is nothing more than the subversion of the democratic will. The Supreme Court is now hearing two cases concerning gerrymandering, and should they fail to deliver a remedy for the problem, then the future outlook is very bleak indeed. In the end, the Congress is the check on the President, and a deeply flawed President demands a deeply responsible Senate and House.  

The multiple crises in the United States are deep and probably long lasting. However the immediate delirium is the ongoing process against Mr Trump.  The Mueller investigation is clearly entering a critical phase, and appears to be confirming the suspicion of Russian direct involvement in the Trump campaign and in the early days of the administration. The indictment of several senior figures, including Gen. Flynn, Mr.Trump's first National Security Adviser, would in some other countries- Willy Brandt in 1974 Germany, for example- have driven Mr. Trump himself from office, irrespective of whether there was direct wrong doing on his part or not. In the next few weeks, we will see if Robert Mueller has sufficient evidence to prosecute Mike Pence or Donald Trump or both for "high crimes and misdemeanours". 

The American Republic is being tested as it has never been.  Over the course of 2018, we shall see whether the government is of laws or of men.  It could be a very bumpy and very dangerous ride.

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