By: Miguel Tinker Salas* and Victor Silverman**
A year ago, we wrote an essay entitled “Coup d’ etat in the US” that analyzed the dramatic events of January 6 and the taking of the Capitol in Washington by followers of then president Donald Trump. One year later, we consider what has changed after the election of Joe Biden and what is anticipated in the US during 2022. Although we would like to be more optimistic, the situation that lies ahead doesn’t permit it. In the face of a Hollywood-style coup, which cost lives, the US lives between a farce and a tragedy.
At the end of a year, the iconic Q Anon Shaman is in prison (without his horns) and the demonstrators and right-wing paramilitaries who were waving flags of the confederate states have been dispersed. In the House of Representatives, a committee “investigates” the January 6 events, but after a year has not established guilt. The country’s Attorney General recently ordered the arrest of 11 people associated with the paramilitary groups, accusing them of sedition.
Today, a president of the Democratic Party occupies the White House and his “party” supposedly controls the House and the Senate, but the liberal agenda that Biden proposed has been paralyzed. In the country that for decades projected itself as the democratic model for the world, today its so-called democracy faces serious challenges. Biden has distinguished himself by his weakness. His administration has been incapable of mobilizing his own party or to ally with popular sectors to advance his agenda. Therefore, the progressive agenda that Biden promised, including an immigration reform that would benefit a million people, has remained stalled. If the polls are credible, the Republicans will most likely gain control of the lower chamber of Congress in the November 2022 mid-term elections and there will be a divided government in the US. That result opens the door for Trump, who could return as president in the 2024 elections. While recrimination predominates among the Democrats, the right, including the paramilitaries mobilize and gain political strength.
Biden is a faithful believer in the cult of consensus, the famous bi-partisanship between Republicans and Democrats that prevailed during the cold war. Biden and some Democrats don’t recognize that the United State has changed, bipartisanship has died, if it ever existed. The country is fractured, including class, racial, ethnic, regional, religious and cultural divisions; 74 percent of the Republicans still insist that Biden is an illegitimate president and that Trump won the election. In the states that they control, Republican governments have dismantled the electoral process trying to reduce the impact of the worker, Latino and Afro-descendent vote. A recent poll indicates that the percentage of people willing to resort to violence to achieve their political objectives has increased significantly. Historically, leaders of both political parties have manipulated these social fissures, but the context in which they operate has changed.
The crisis that US democracy faces is not a problem of personalities, it is rather a systemic condition. In the US, direct voting for president doesn’t exist, rather an electoral college created by slave-holding estate owners in the 18th Century prevails. This implies that changes in control of the Congress and the presidency depend on a small group of voters in some key districts and states. Consequently, although Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes, if 43,000 more voters in just three states (Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin) would have participated, Trump would be president. The system of power in the Senate is anti-democratic and in practice is used to veto the rights of the great majority. Senators of relatively small states, like Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) refuse to support a social agenda, highlighting the limits of democracy in the United States.
Trump manipulated social unrest, the product of neoliberalism, which had made life worse for millions of people, to win the presidency. Like in other parts of the world, globalization only enriched an elite. Biden and his advisors understood that reality, introducing himself as a progressive candidate who won the popular vote, even if not overwhelmingly. Assuming the presidency, he proposed legislation that broke with some of the existing schemes among some sectors of Democrats, including a 1.9-trillion-dollar economic rescue plan, and a trillion-dollar infrastructure project. His social agenda has not materialized.
In the beginning, Biden prioritized the pandemic and the number of people vaccinated increased. Omicron showed that the government had no plan in the face of the new variant. Biden also underestimated the inflation that was gradually increasing while wages remained frozen. Social discontent has become palpable, especially among working sectors. This occurs when the Federal Reserve has indicated that it plans to increase interest rates multiple times during what will be an electoral year. If the Democrats don’t achieve any success in the coming months, they will lose the House and the Senate.
Biden has completed one year as president, but the impact of January 6 remains palpable. If in 2024 Trump should lose the presidential election it’s probable that he won’t accept the results like he did in 2021. He would mobilize his base again. The extreme right that participated in the 2021 insurrection has grown in power, and now controls a large part of the Republican Party. What happens in the US makes us think of the famous expression of Karl Marx, the great events of history appear twice, once as farce and the other as tragedy.
*@migueltinkersalas Department of History, Pomona College
**@victorsilverman, Fulbright/GarcíaRobles Professor of US Studies, ITAM
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee