The United States: the Democracy That Never Was

By Marcos Roitman Rosenmann on January 9, 2021

Illustration: Tim O’Brien

Our condemnation can be taken for granted, but passing from that to praising U.S. democracy is disingenuous. Still, less would be highlighting US exceptionalism.  Urged on by President Donald Trump, his followers didn’t hesitate to assault the Capitol under the slogan of having been victims of fraud and robbery in the presidential elections.  There are many who follow him, inside the official institutions of government and outside them.  One hundred House representatives and seven senators have refused to recognize Biden’s victory.  For them, America is being kidnapped by traitors.  As a logical extension of that thinking is U.S. society is the victim of a conspiracy of Black people, Latinos, sexual minorities, communists and socialists, whose objective is to destroy the country.

The images of citizens scaling walls, breaking windows, invading offices, is a bucket of cold water thrown on those who have praised the U.S. as the safeguard of world democracy.  Political analysts, specialists in international relations, correspondents – they all agree that there’s only one person responsible for the violence: Donald Trump, an unbalanced person who cannot come to terms with his defeat.  The radio and television networks keep us posted live, while they also reveal tweets from heads of state and Western governments declaring their repudiation of the take-over of the Capitol and their recognition of Joe Biden.  It was to be an important moment, as they were formally validating, in joint session, the designation of Joe Biden as president.  This is the next-to-last action before the turning over of power in the White House on January 20.  But the symbol of legislative power, the Capitol Building, became a victim of an attack, according to Hillary Clinton, carried out by domestic terrorists.  The formal ceremony was tarnished, the voting that ratified Biden as president suspended.  The “invasion” claimed its first victim, as a woman was taken down as she tried to gatecrash the House chamber.

Defining the U.S. political system as a democracy, except in a sense restricted to the most minimal expression, is kind of a joke.  If it were, dying from hunger or from lack of medical care would be authentic and urgent democratic deeds.  But let us right these wrongs. Those senators and representatives, gathered in plenary session, with a few exceptions, are those who, regardless of party, have supported annexations of territory, wars, invasions, coup d’etats,  third-country blockades; they have strengthened tyrannies and financed dictatorial governments – all of which contradicts their avowed respect for democratic values or their adherence to them.  In Latin America, Asia, and Africa, there are examples that should make any democrat blush in shame.  And, let’s not forget that Trump has not been the first president to lie.  Starting from the genocide of the indigenous peoples, the annexation of territory belonging to Mexico, the war against Cuba, Vietnam and more recently the war on Iraq – all based on lies.  Have they perhaps found the weapons of mass destruction yet? That is the history of the United States.  Howard Zinn, Charles Wright Mills, Sheldon Wolin or Noam Chomsky, among others, have questioned the political system prevailing in the U.S., after the interventions in Vietnam, Central America, Chile, and Iraq, in addition to the laws that emerged after September 11, 2001.  Inverted totalitarianism is the definition of political philosopher  Sheldon Wolin in referring to the political order in the United States, born from the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Presidents like Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Ford, Clinton, Reagan or Bush father and son,  all coming from different political colorings, have breached democratic precepts such as non-intervention, the right of self-determination, or respect for human rights.  Furthermore, during their administrations, they have utilized methods that were rather unorthodox, democratically speaking, such as torture, creating false news, hiring mercenaries and despoiling whole countries of their wealth, while disregarding the persecution of journalists and the censorship of information about spying activities in the U.S. or on allies.  Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are the most know examples of the above.

Criminals and war criminals, whose impunity is guaranteed by the U.S.  non-recognition of the International Court of Justice, are outstanding in U.S. territory, giving conferences and receiving Nobel Prizes. One has to look no further than Henry Kissinger.  No U.S. administration is free of having sponsored wars, sold arms, trafficked in drugs, overthrown democratically elected governments, and twisted the arms of anyone who stands up to them and rejects their unilateral authoritarian-style policies.  But, as if this were not enough, we should remember that Trump has not been an anomaly in his domestic policies, outside of his eccentricities.  He received more than 70 million votes.  Furthermore, the white supremacist and neo-nazi organizations have been in existence for decades.  The National Rifle Association and the special interest lobbies, ranging from the pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, food supply multi-nationals, and Silicon Valley technological enterprises can count on bipartisan support. The Ku Klux Klan, Tea Party, White Power, Skin Heads or Metal Militia were not created by Donald Trump, although he certainly does not condemn them. On the other side, it was Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Laureate, who began building the border wall with Mexico, and, according to José Manuel Valenzuela Arce in his book, Roads of Human Exodus- The Caravans of Central American Migrants, deported 2,800,000 persons during his presidency. All this while he dramatically expanded drone bombing attacks on innocent communities throughout the Middle East. In summary, defining the two-party system that is in effect in the United States as a democratic system is inappropriate nonsense if we are attempting to honestly characterize the political regime.  It is one thing to defend U.S. imperialism, with its power structure and domination and assign them the role of guardian of Western values, supposedly democratic because we already know: democracy and capitalism are incompatible.

Source: La Jornada, translation, Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau