Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

By Yusuf Ibrahim Bako

One year on, what have we learned about January 6, 2021: An American Coup, the Republican insurrection, a Trumpian crime. The union is not stronger, discord and right-wing extremism have become a political norm, and no one of high political value has been disqualified from holding office or faced Federal charges with attempting to violently disrupt and interfere in the Congressional ratification process of the 2020 US presidential election.

On January 6, 2022, President Joe Biden took to the podium to deliver the most devastating political speech of his career and indeed American history. In that speech he explicitly lay the blame on the individual he and the world know was responsible for the insurrection. Sixteen times he made mention of the 45th president, never directly by name, but by invoking his influence and the hold he had on that criminal and tragic day. Never has a sitting president condemned a predecessor in this way, accusing him of spinning “a web of lies” and “valuing power over principle”; pointedly reaffirming that the 45th president sought to hold his own interests more importantly over that of the country’s, and how nursing his bruised ego mattered more than “our Constitution”. The president effectively made the case and accused his predecessor of “holding a dagger to the throat of America- at American democracy”. Extraordinarily strong words to illustrate the grave danger in which the United States finds itself.

For any onlooker, the act of defilement and violence wrought upon the US Capitol appeared formulated in the wake of a sore loser loudmouth politician who did not understand the Constitution and the electoral process. This may be correct in the sense that the former president truly did not remember his civics lessons, but the fact of the matter is for so long the conservative movement has been challenging the status quo, arriving at the point that they were willing to brazenly cast aside the rights of American voters and challenge a constitutional process.

The United States is a child of conflict and upheaval, one of constant change with its own distinct ebb and flow of power shifts. Beginning with their stated intent of freedom and especially the right of revolt, Americans would come to live their lives with the Declaration of Independence a basis for challenging their own government when they felt their way of life was being threatened.

The American revolution and its subsequent products became a point of reference, a matter of pride and a source of “patriotic” rhetoric for Americans, politicians of all stripes have used it to stir national pride. Abraham Lincoln famously made use of it in his Gettysburg speech in 1863 when he summoned the adage “that all men are created equal” having “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The Founders being a group of highly intellectual men for their time or any period in fact, congregated to birth a nation, albeit one biased to their very specific natures and views, wealthy, white and male.

The original US Constitution did not expressly cover voter rights because different states had different thresholds for who could vote. Nothing made this clearer than the Southern states three-fifths compromise hatched at the Constitutional convention of 1787. The compromise counted three-fifths of each state’s slave population toward a state’s total population in apportioning House of Representatives representation, giving the southern states a third more representation and a third more presidential votes, along with it the additional influences in the Supreme Court, including safeguarding their bloc in the Senate and the Electoral College. The bedrock of secession by the south was States’ rights because their influence to maintain and perpetuate slavery was diminishing. History correctly records the reason for the outbreak of civil war as slavery.

The inheritors of the defeated south morphed into what is known today as the conservative movement. A nebulous ‘confederation’ of political actions groups, lobbyists, civil society organisations, all disingenuously wrapped in the American flag chanting evangelical teachings of Jesus to form a quasi-religious officialdom, with States’ rights still at the heart of their socio-political agenda. Even as they whitewashed history, this movement maintained a dedicated narrative and developed abilities to influence and peddle their cause over that of the Republic. An early example was when the Federal Government was forced to pull out of its role in Reconstruction; in a deal struck by Congressmen to settle the disputed 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency in exchange for the removal of Federal troops from the south. Enforcement of Reconstruction policies got left up to states and local governments paving the way for the Jim Crow era.

At the turn of the twentieth century America struggled with its nature as a democracy, especially as fascism and nationalism from Europe proved seductive. As the political flow of power settled with a new class of rich and powerful, the United States had a brush with an organised insurrection at the highest level. In 1933, powerful industrialists attempted to oust President FD Roosevelt and install a government modelled on European fascism, in retaliation for the removal of the Gold Standard which threatened the wealthiest individuals, who believed a currency not backed by gold was doomed. The Wall St Putsch, as it became known, reaffirmed the truth that money was at the root of the creation of the United States and various instruments like States’ rights have been political ploys of the very rich in their challenge to central authority, maintaining their right to challenge the Federal Government.

The US Constitution gave specific protections of individual liberty and justice in relation to the powers of the Federal Government; however, it had no bearing on the authority of the States and local government, this was what the rich slave owners of the south used to justify civil war. This lacuna changed in 1960 when the ‘original purpose’ of the Constitution’s text was applied, meaning the Federal Government could legislate laws that directly affected and overruled state laws. This legal philosophy became known as ‘originalism’, meaning that the Constitution should be read and interpreted as it was intended when it was written. This philosophy was embraced and sold by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Ironically it began with liberal Justice Hugo Black, who deployed the ‘original intent’ argument in extending the Bill of Rights to the states. The major flaw with originalism is as the makeup of the country changed and departed from the time of the framers, how relevant and tenable was it to give the text of the US Constitution its public meaning from two hundred years ago.

Conservatives latched on to this for their gain twisting ‘original intention’ to ‘original meaning’, this guided conservative jurists dissenting opinions, and as they gained power this philosophy would guide their majority opinions. From the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations the conservative movement was no longer critiquing an overreaching liberal Warren Court but was now in the position to define the American landscape for generations using originalism, as if the Founders understood what it is to be post-modern American.

Through evangelism and now ’originalism’ the defeated conservatives of the south marketed the total loss of white culture and society as inevitable. Conservatives created an ecosystem to propagate and honour the memory of the Confederacy, such as civil war re-enactment societies, groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, monuments like Stone Mountain, or the naming of military bases like Fort Bragg after Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Americans were fed a slanted rosy view through popular culture, films like “Gone with the Wind” romanticised the civil war and white southern culture, the desensitisation and popularisation of the confederate battle flag by southern politicians who put it on State Government flags in defiance of civil rights, television shows like ‘Dukes of Hazard’ and it was emblazoned on everyday wearable merchandise sold at Walmart. The rewrite of history took effect across the decades, White America’s defiance against the Federal Government and racial equality is still very anchored in the deep south and its white culture.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century and we can see a playbook in hyperdrive with those same themes that led to the civil war in play; voter rights (suppression), States’ rights (election officiating) and racism dressed as “originalism”. The linkage is clear and seen in the long running corruption and assimilation of the Republican party by the defeated conservative south, who no longer see America as majority Christian or white. The environment strengthened the right to vote for black people in the 1960s, and it later legalised marriage equality and civil rights for LGBTQ+ Americans, a clear and present danger to the conservative ideology and way of life. Abortion rights is a unifier point and a means to an end for them, such is the regressive nature of the movement that Republican’s flaws are laid bare in their bigotry and disruptive brand of politics natural to the Confederate South.

Historically, America’s two political parties have switched positions from their true natures demonstrating the way political power has flowed since the civil war. The Democratic National Convention was originally the party of the defeated south and the Republican National Convention also known as the Grand Old Party (GOP) was the party of abolition, Lincoln, and the Republic. Today, the Democrats are centre-left liberals, and the Republicans are the religious right-wing.

The GOP learned the art of gerrymandering to corral districts in their favour and are deft at local politics, Republicans have since been acting local to go global. Organisations like the Conservative Coalition of America and the Federalist Society worked to make the GOP relevant at state and local levels, shifting local politics further right by stoking the fear of the loss of a white majority. Republicans sensationalise, nationalise, and demonise everything that they do not have a hand in, stalling all forms of governing.

The election of President Barack Obama crystalised the right-wing white Christian movement, and it became personified by the 45th president and his rage mantra of “Make America Great Again”. White evangelicals lead the resistance from within the GOP, imperative to this resistance is non-cooperation, they oppose a vaccine mandate in the middle of a pandemic, and in the wake of the defeat of the former president that culminated in the US Capitol insurrection, the repeated big lie of a stolen election.

For so long white Christians controlled government power, the GOP being their power base, representing two-thirds of the regular members, with over 90% of Republican Senators, House members and Governors. Knowing the tide of change is against them and in a bid to stem it, the GOP has turned into a political ‘cult’ filled with unscrupulous, spineless sycophants, glorified, and projected by a fascist media, as exemplified by Fox News; with its retinue of bigoted insidious hosts spewing their putrid misinformation and false facts endangering America and the world by extension.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have sought to be “liked and not fight”, going after what is fair and equitable, often making them the loser. This may be because of the different factions that make up the party or their disjointed strategy in trying to maintain bipartisanship to remain electorally attractive. Democrats have not gone on the offence to show their gains, economic or political, or adequately projected their determination to stop Republicans from taking away the rights of Americans.

Currently Democrats have a slim majority in the house and must deal with a 50/50 balance in the Senate. They are further weakened by disunity, with a couple of Senators the thorn in the side of the Biden administration’s important legislation schedule such as the Freedom to vote Act, which would undo the Republicans restrictions on voter rights, Build Back Better agenda or challenging the GOP on the serious issue of teaching race and equality in schools; a topic demonised by conservatives and labelled with a misused catch all term “Critical Race Theory”. The Democrats are unable to find cohesion even as the big lie about voter integrity, voter suppression and voter fraud has been proven untrue with clear irrefutable evidence. Unfortunately, the Democrats fight back of the resistance is being outmatched by the right-wing media’s wall to wall short clip gaslighting of history worthy of the ‘tiktok’ generation.

Right wing media finds profit in brainwashing and demagoguery, skilfully deploying it stoking fear, while the so called ‘mainstream media’ are labelled “woke”, made to appear inconclusive and weak in their duty of impartiality. The media should be able to analyse, comment and give unbiased opinions, but to do so it must be unshackled from corporate ties that bind. Since the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987- which required broadcasters/media houses to present issues to the public in a manner reflecting differing views- the breakdown of civility in realpolitik has exacerbated the clash of the liberals, centrists, and right-wing, all made worse by Corporate USA.

‘Show me the money’ has always been an American political battle cry because without funding political strategies and campaigns simply do not work. Unfortunately, where the bulk of the money goes is usually who wins. The Democrats sell inclusivity and equitable prosperity to the middle and working class, the GOP continues to woo the rich and powerful with their tax cuts and grab for more power.

Powerful corporate interests will continue to influence politics and politicians because more money for party political agenda equals reduced taxes and boosted profits for big business, a vicious cycle of gain for both. On the outside ordinary Americans live pay cheque to pay cheque struggling with healthcare and prescriptions, as the pharmaceutical companies pay thousands of lobbyists millions of dollars to pressure Congress to maintain high prices.

This is corporate sedition, a relentless attack on American democracy because big business finances lawmakers who continuously go against the best interests of its constituents. Consider the 147 lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 election, interest groups and corporations continue to donate millions to these seditious legislators, this flow of money is financing attacks, pushing fake facts like the big lie, undermining American democracy and institutions. The problem is on both sides of the aisle, consider Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, both beholden to corporations and interests that have stalled their party’s legislative agenda, giving the Republicans more ammunition in their resistance. Both Senators have not only declined to support agendas that improve the lives of Americans, but they also opposed tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, such as stalling any price reform policies for prescription drugs. It is evidently clear that lawmakers listen to policy demands of big business and the wealthy- those with deep pockets that continue to bankroll campaigns and promote their views.

The civil war was about democracy getting in the way of slavery, a business interest, it is no different to how the rich and powerful have always believed that some processes of democracy is a hinderance to their business. The US elites have always looked to despotism inviting civil strife and conflict to destabilise society and the economy, undermining democracy for their benefit; the capitulation and deference to the former president and January 6 was such an act.

Was this the final act of the Civil War? The insurrection was born of a dystopian Trumpian reality, which has resulted in the loss of America’s moral high ground around the world. The United States is no longer the leading light of democracy due to its dalliance with extremism, and undemocratic forces determined to undo the hard-fought gains of the civil rights movement and progressive agenda. In this way, the US Civil War never really ended, it was on a very, very long hiatus as the iniquitous south never really died. Looking at the news cycle today, there is no difference to that Jim Crow era, as the right-wing agenda sweeps the US like wildfire turning Americans, once again, against one another bringing out the very worst of their society.

This could be the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, a revolution continued or an evolution. The reality is a frightening political game that instigated mass crowd violence and laid bare an unstable democracy so alien and disturbing it has left the world in disbelief. What we witnessed was the stripping of the glossed over cracks in US democracy, the known unknowns that lurked in the underbelly of national politics, which rose steadily to the top with the call of ‘America First’- ‘a 1930s nationalist enthusiasm for crushing the left with hyperbole and violence’- reborn on a cold winter’s day in 2017. William Randolph Hearst’s Nazi inspired mantra was sadly used by the 45th president to great effect at his inauguration, it also deepened the age-old fissures in US democracy that finally exploded with ‘hang Mike Pence’ on January 6. Like the former president, Hearst was born to wealth and proved a cunning manipulator of people and the media.

This moment in time, post January 6, should be one of evolution for American democracy, however, failure to capitalise on the “post racial America” that Barack Obama believed in not only proved the naivety of American progressives, but it also unfortunately reinforced the dark forces of the segregationist south. Progressives have not been able to take their cause to the electorate as ruthlessly as the regressive right, and in failing to do so prolonged the revolution of the civil war. In so many ways its neither a revolution nor an evolution but rather the unravelling of its true nature as an undemocratic nation. ‘Merica!    

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