No Russian cyber-spooks, no Chinese spies, no jihadi terrorists – no external enemies of any kind could have brought as much harm to the USA as its own self-inflicted wounds. The USA experienced the first evacuation of Capitol Hill since the British invaded in 1812.
The storming of the US Capitol by hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters and riot groups which ended with four dead, 52 arrested and 14 police officers injured on Thursday, shocked the world.
If it were only a matter of Trump’s misbehavior, this disaster would be survivable. The trouble is that the popular belief in a vast and nefarious conspiracy has a foundation in fact.
Starting before Trump’s term in office his political opponents abused the surveillance powers of the intelligence community to concoct a black legend of Russian collusion on the part of his campaign.
The mainstream media, staffed overwhelmingly by Trump’s enemies, slavishly repeated this black legend until large parts of the population refused to believe anything it read in the newspapers or saw on television.
The leadership of the Democratic Party, its allied media, and the Bush-Romney wing of the Republican Party decided to play dirty to expunge an obstreperous, incalculable outsider from the political system.
And in doing so, this combination, America’s establishment, destroyed public trust in the Congress and the media. It’s no surprise that two out of five Americans now believe that a vast conspiracy rigged the 2020 presidential elections.
The spectacle of a serving president inciting a mob against the US Congress to stop the certification of his successor held the world in morbid fascination.
Leftist mobs last spring burned police stations and destroyed shopping districts in a rampage against supposed systemic racism, and Trump supporters desecrated the Holy of Holies of American democracy, the chamber of the United States Senate.
Behind the minority of violent actors is a majority that believes the system is rigged against them. One out of three believes that a “Deep State” is trying to undermine Trump.
The Democrats say that the system is rigged against African-Americans, women, and other minorities, and the Republicans say that a global elite has rigged the system against middle-income Americans.
To deny that there is systemic racism is to be a racist, and to deny that elections are rigged is evidence of complicity in a vast plot. A quarter of Americans believe that Covid-19 was a planned conspiracy of one kind or another.
Sometimes there is a conspiracy and sometimes there isn’t. But Trump’s political supporters, bombarded daily by fake news about Russian collusion and other alleged misbehavior, have come to distrust any criticism of their president.
If Trump was right that the whole impeachment business was an extra-legal conspiracy on the part of his enemies, why shouldn’t they believe that the election was rigged?
This is a lose-lose proposition. Assume that Trump is right, and the election was rigged. In that case the USA has become a banana republic and American democracy a twisted joke.
In that case the public trust that makes democracy possible has collapsed.
The people, as Bertolt Brecht observed after demonstrations against the Soviet puppet government in East Germany, have lost the confidence of the government, and the simplest course of action would be for the government to dissolve the people and elect a new one.
Trust in pre-modern society extends no further than blood ties. It was madness for the United States to believe that it could export democracy to parts of the Middle East.
Stealing an election through interference in tens of thousands of polling stations would require a conspiracy on an industrial scale.
It is the popular response to the gut-wrenching realization that America is hollowed out, that it is living on borrowed money (which is to say borrowed time), that it lacks both the material and organizational resources to protect its population during an emergency.
Americans are frightened for their future, with good reason. They see enormous rewards accrue to a handful of tech companies, and stagnation and decay in large parts of the rest of the country.
Donald Trump gave them a frisson of hope, and the Establishment reaction against Trump confirms the popular suspicion that a malevolent global elite has seized control of their country.
The US is living off borrowing from the rest of the world. Its net international investment position fell by about $12 trillion during the past 10 years.
And the federal deficit is now 15% of gross domestic product, the highest since World War II. What can’t go on forever, won’t (in the late Herb Stein’s famous formulation).
The US Treasury can still borrow at negative real yields to send a $2,000 check to every American. If the popular mood is ugly today, what will happen when the USA can no longer borrow at cheap rates, and the government is compelled to retrench?
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point Future News 2021.