By Khaled Diab
The assault on American democracy and its global standing originated not in Moscow but in Washington, and across the length and breadth of the United States. Like the Soviet Empire before it, America is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions
Friday 27 July 2018
“If you can't explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all.”
This was rule number three of Thomas Friedman's ‘Mideast Rules to Live By'. The New York Times columnist wrote the piece in 2006 as an apparent response to harsh criticism of his support of George W Bush's catastrophic invasion of Iraq, which Friedman had bellicosely supported, until he ran out of ‘Friedman Units', which seem to be based on what you can call the neo-con ‘Kristol Ball' that predicted the war in Iraq would be over in just two months.
Like other cheerleaders of the Iraq war, Friedman not only blamed Arabs for failing to play along with his fantasies but also criticised, in rule number seven, what he perceived as the Arab tendency to tell America: “It's all your fault for being so stupid.”
Failing to heed his own advice to Arabs of not blaming foreign conspiracies for their plight, Friedman is part of the deafening chorus of blaming Russia for Donald Trump, while Trump supporters blame the Four Ms for America's perceived decline: minorities, Muslims, migrants and the media. Friedman called alleged Russian meddling “code red” and the “biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy” back in February, and, following the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, he endorsed the notion that Trump's approach to Russia is “nothing short of treasonous” – in fact, “treason” has been trending on social media.
When I observe the unedifying debacle that passes for politics in America these days, I wonder why it is the American establishment does not follow its own ‘sage' advice, which it has delivered for generations to anyone complaining of American meddling, whether it be in Latin America, Southeast Asia or the Middle East, that they should stop complaining about foreign interference and get their own house in order.
That is not to suggest that Russia played no role in attempting to stack the odds in Donald Trump's favour – the evidence that it did so is increasingly compelling. But it would be like blaming the current Gulf crisis on America, when Donald Trump has only been profiting and benefiting from existing bitter divisions and rivalries between the region's wasteful and petty-minded autocrats as they seek to keep revolution at bay and jockey for what they perceive to be regional ascendancy.
Moreover, the alleged use of hacking, political dirt and social media bots looks positively minor league compared to the clandestine and covert tactics used by America (and Russia) to shape the political climate in many less powerful nations.
More importantly, America is not some weak and vulnerable “banana republic”, like Guatemala was when the CIA plotted and implemented a coup against the democratically elected revolutionary government of Jacobo Árbenz, which included not just disinformation but also paramilitary shock teams, just because Árbenz's small-scale agrarian reforms had upset the United Fruit Company.
No, America is (still) the world's most powerful and richest country. It cannot and will not be brought to its knees by a band of alleged mercenary Russian hackers, oligarchs and intelligence operatives, though they likely had some kind of distorting effect.
No, the assault on American democracy and its global standing originated not in Moscow but in Washington, and across the length and breadth of the United States. Like the Soviet Empire before it, America is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions, its imperial hubris, and its squandering of vast amounts of resources to enrich the very few at the expense of the very, very, very, very many, both abroad and at home.
Russia did not create Donald Trump, the brash, abrasive and corrupt opportunist and chancer. Russia did not transform this self-centred and self-serving business tyrant into a counter-factual television and (social) media sensation, admired by millions, who has been marketing hollow image without any substance and pedalling falsehoods for decades.
Russia did not put a gun to the heads of white, conservative voters and force them to elect an alleged billionaire with zero political experience and zero interest in the plight of other people as the representative of ordinary folk who would “drain the swamp”.
Even suggesting that Russia was responsible for the brainwashing of the Republican electorate would be to give it way too much credit, and too little credit to homegrown propagandists, polemicists and twisters of truth. Of course, Moscow is an old hand at fake news and propaganda. But Sputnik and RT have limited reach in America and can simply not compete with likes of Fox News and Sinclair for the hearts and minds of Middle America.
No, America's spiralling fall towards fascism and drift towards dictatorship is almost entirely of its own making, and the sooner the establishment owns up to this and owns it, the better for the future.
The Republican base must come to terms with the reality that even if the Four Ms magically vanished from US soil (impossible as that is), America would not magically turn into a white utopian paradise. Chances are America would, at best, become an irrelevant and poorer backwater, at worst, a country caught up in a long and bloody civil war.
The Republican ‘resistance' must acknowledge and admit that Trump is not the sole creator of this mess. He had two incredibly destructive precursors, their hero, Ronald Reagan, and the former worst US president, George W Bush and his merry band of neo-cons, especially Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Mainstream Democrats need to recognise that, even in the unlikely event that Donald Trump is impeached or resigns, this only constitutes a baby step towards making America sane again. Whether or not he is Putin's asset, he is most certainly the useful idiot of evangelicals, the alt-right and pro-nativist tycoons. If replaced by Vice-President Mike Pence, the situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better.
And, yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and would have made a far more capable and less bigoted president than Donald Trump, but she was too much a part of the establishment to have fixed it. Clinton's failure was also partly a function of her party's inability to nominate a true alternative, a change-maker, and its failure, along with the Republicans, to reform America's antiquated electoral college system and its de facto two-party dictatorship, enabled by the unfair and inflexible first-past the post system.
Then there is the question of economic inequality, which has been steadily widening whether America is under the stewardship of the Republicans or the Democrats. This needs urgent and sustainable action, such as downward redistributive justice, rather than the upward redistributive injustice of Trump's tax cuts.
Judging by the current state of affairs, it seems unlikely that the political and economic establishment will snap out of its lethargy and inertia… at least, not before it is too late. This leaves the burden on a young generation of progressive politicians, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, veteran outliers, such as Bernie Sanders, and the mounting grassroots popular resistance, which appears to grasp where America's problems truly lie and where its priorities should be.
This article was first published by The New Arab on 19 July 2018.